Zimbalista's global beat

The opening concert of the Voices & Beats series covers a wide range of musical disciplines and approaches.

voices and beats 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
voices and beats 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This week, the Voices & Beats series of world music concerts will kick off at Einan Hall in Modi’in, with further shows in Tel Aviv and Haifa. The first of the five series slots features a quintet of percussionist Chen Zimbalista, violinists Igor Frug and Ganrich Rupin, with Ella Primstein on viola and Andrea Markush on cello. Zimbalista, a seasoned performer of classical music and ethnic material, with some improvisational departures, also fills role of series artistic director.
The percussionist has set out his artistic stall from the start, and the repertoire of the opening concert covers a very wide range of musical disciplines and approaches, with works by the likes of Bach, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Piazzolla and contemporary US composer Mark Hagerty. Three of the eight pieces in the first concert are world premieres, including an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite written specially for Zimbalista by Yvgeny Levitas, and Healthy Mass, which Hagerty composed for the percussionist.
The opening show is called Zimba. “Zimba is two things. The first part of Zimbalista but also the name of a work written for me by Yvgeny Levitas. I just thought it made a neat title for the show too,” laughs the percussionist.
While much of the source material for the Zimba concert is classical, the shows in the series – which runs until May – feed off a multitude of cultural sources.
The second slot, next month, features the veteran Vocal Octet troupe performing the highly popular Misa Criolla work, which is based on various Latin folk music styles. Next up is the high-energy Kabako percussion and dance group, which gets its grooves and beats straight from Africa. The Vocal Octet returns in February, this time with a program based on its singular renditions of numbers from The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album.
Zimbalista appears in the closing three-show run in May as part of the gypsy Balkan Experience alongside accordion virtuoso Emil Eibinder, vocalist Nadia Kocher and a host of instrumentalists in a program based on folk tunes from Greece, Romania, Macedonia and other countries in that neck of the woods.
Zimbalista says that the series’ genre spread is a natural extension of his own programming. “Yes, it is a very eclectic series,” he notes. “When I put together works for my own concerts, I always look for a wide spectrum of material, whether I am playing solo or with a piano or a string quartet or even with an orchestra. I always look for a range of works that are interconnected but, on the other hand, that doesn’t stick just to Baroque or just to South American music. I believe that anyone can connect with the programs I offer.”
The percussionist also obviously has a fondness for good food, as he borrows from gastronomic terminology to shed further light on his entertainment ethos. “It is as if I am preparing a gourmet meal through which I lead my audience from course to course. Each course is different, but the bottom line is that you enjoy yourself.”
Zimbalista stresses, however, that his “musical meals” are always well thought out. “I don’t want to end up with a mishmash of a salad with all sorts of things thrown in. I want my audience to experience a natural progression and leave the auditorium with a smile on their faces and with an experience they will remember for a while.”
The name of the series alludes to the crux of Zimbalista’s artistic approach. Vocals & Beats naturally infers singing and drumming, the two original and most basic forms of musical expression.
“That’s where everything, all of music, comes from you,” he says. “The human voice is the simplest and the very first means of making music. Even if you don’t have any musical instruments, you can always sing or drum on a table or on your legs or chest. And if you have a sense of rhythm, it will sound good. And if you are in any way musical, you can sing as well.”
Zimbalista believes he has covered most bases with the upcoming series. “On the one hand you have Bach, which is a given basic. Whenever I sit around with musicians anywhere in the world, we generally ask ‘Who are your favorite five composers ever, after Bach?’ Bach is always number one, whether you’re talking about classical musicians, jazz players or ethnic artists. Then there’s music from Africa, which is the source of everything, and we have vocal music from the Vocal Octet. Kabako perform African music, which they got straight from there. They studied tribal music in Africa. I can play African rhythms, but they got it straight from the horse’s mouth. And we have Balkan music, which comes straight from the streets of that part of the world.”
Zimbalista is already planning the next series of Vocals & Beats and believes his programs will be a success. “Israeli audiences are great. They are far more open to different kinds of music than in Europe and the States – other than in New York. I think people of all ages will like what we’ve lined up for them.”
The Voices & Beats concerts take place on November 10 at 8:30 p.m. at Einan Hall in Modi’in; November 12 at 9 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art; and November 19 at 9 p.m. at Abba Hushi House in Haifa.