A home for all arts

For the past two years and there have been musical events of a more classical nature held in various indoor galleries and outdoor spots around the Israel Museum grounds.

Mad King: The Psappha Ensemble will perform Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 in E major and Peter Maxwell Davis’s ‘Eight Songs for a Mad King’ on June 15 (photo credit: PSAPPHA ENSEMBLE)
Mad King: The Psappha Ensemble will perform Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 in E major and Peter Maxwell Davis’s ‘Eight Songs for a Mad King’ on June 15
(photo credit: PSAPPHA ENSEMBLE)
The Israel Museum is our national repository of artworks and artifacts from across the centuries and, indeed, millennia. However, in recent years, it has increasingly opened up its walls and spaces to artistic pursuits of a more sonic nature.
The Jerusalem International Jazz Festival, for example, has been happily and successfully ensconced there for the past two years and there have been musical events of a more classical nature held in various indoor galleries and outdoor spots around the museum grounds.
The latest in the latter category will take place May 29 to June 24, with the “See the Sounds” program, proffered as “a four-week celebration of classical European music,” in collaboration with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and renowned international museums the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and the British Museum in London.
The program was compiled by Hamburg Symphony director Daniel Kühnel, who is returning to Jerusalem, his hometown, in a professional capacity for the first time since relocating to Germany more than two decades ago. The festival roster features international ensembles that will perform a total of 23 concerts tailored to represent a range of musical styles and time periods that reference some of the most significant artworks and artifacts in the Israel Museum’s galleries.
Each performance will take place in a specific setting chosen for its connection to the music and there will be guided tours that will explore the correlation between the musical and visual. A similar event took place at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in 2015, with a third lined up for the British Museum toward the end of the year.
The classical music fun started earlier this week, with an outdoor rendition of the B Minor Mass by J.S. Bach, with Stanley Sperber conducting the Israeli Chamber Orchestra and the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir, while today’s offering is an intriguing item that goes by the name of “Psalms from Renaissance to Today,” which will be performed by the European Academic Choir in the Shrine of the Book.
Elsewhere in the four-week roster, on June 8, the celebrated Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani will present the all-encompassingly entitled Origins of Culture, which incorporates works by Welshborn 16th century composer Thomas Tomkins, and contemporary English Renaissance and Baroque composer Giles Farnaby, as well as works by J.S. Bach and his son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.
There will also be some quality vocal entertainment, courtesy of Israeli opera soprano Chen Reiss, whose “La Rose et le Rossignol” recital takes in a broad range of charts, including works by Henry Purcell, Richard Strauss, early 19th-century Italian opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, Schubert, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Eastern Romance, and Two Roses by Israeli composer Mordechai Zeira. The cultural and disciplinary spread will stretch even further with the June 20 appearance by iconic 80-year-old jazz bass player Ron Carter, evergreen 77-year-old Jerusalem-born crooner Yehoram Gaon and internationally acclaimed rock singer Asaf Avidan.
It appears that Kühnel has got practically every cultural base well and truly covered.
The conductor-artistic director notes that the forthcoming Jerusalem format had a decent trial run in his adopted country. “We all learned together [in Dresden] how a museum can communicate with its audience, and with its environment through music, too,” he explains.
Kühnel points out that each of the three prestigious arts venues plays a very active role in presenting the multisensory final product.
“There is nothing new in having music played in a museum, but that has generally meant that the museum has served as a space, which is attractive in itself and which is made even more beautiful by the addition of some music. That is not the intention in Jerusalem now, or in London this fall. The idea is to create a special relationship between the music that we are playing in a particular location, vis-à-vis a specific exhibition or specific display in a specific place.”
It is, he feels, a telling triad.
“The three elements – the space, the specific exhibition and the music – spawn a kind of bond which, in the moment in which it is created, is unique.”
The cultural identity factor also comes into play strongly in the three-city program mix.
“The backdrop to all of this is the search for the origin of the European idea,” Kühnel continues. “We are not talking about the European concept in terms of the European Union, in political terms, although of course there is an aspect of that. We started in Dresden, which is in central Europe, and so we realized that we could consider how the center looks outward, in all four directions, but now we are looking at starting from east [in Jerusalem].”
Wednesday’s opening slot was, for Kühnel, a clear statement of intent.
“The B Minor [Mass] was written by Bach, a Protestant, for a Catholic royal house. With this we are creating a sort of moment.”
Political developments over the past year or so have created an intriguing contemporary backdrop for the London leg of the three-parter.
“After Brexit, now we are having a whole festival at the British Museum that searches for European identity. That will look at the European idea which has to, possibly, develop while we are there.”
Meanwhile, back in our own capital, fans of Beethoven are in for a treat, although the hardened followers of the archetypal classical composer may be in for something of an endurance test.
“There will be six concerts on three evenings,” Kühnel explains.
“The idea was to perform something very rare, with three marathons covering all of Beethoven’s quartets. It is a giant undertaking, which raises the temperature of every true musician.”
Sounds like quite a venture and the festival is, basically, a sizebased project.
“The idea was relatively simple – to look for proportions,” says the artistic director, “The idea here is that Jerusalem, as a city, is more than a place. It is an idea and it is a measure – a measure for a city, and a measure for a place that serves as a seat of God, of a transcendental God. That is a very powerful concept. It is an idea that still provokes problems, although that is a subject for debate.
“There is also the urban idea. You have the Christian image of Jerusalem as the Garden of Eden – the celestial Jerusalem and the terrestrial Jerusalem. The balance between these two concepts and how they are interconnected generates proportions. And this festival is taking place at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the state museum that seeks to explain it to the world.”
Kühnel posits that his chosen field is an ideal vehicle for exploring all the aforementioned cultural tracts.
“As someone who engages in music, I cannot isolate myself. The museum is not, really, the ideal place to perform music. I play music in ideal locations everyday – I have an auditorium. But you have to take other spaces very seriously, and to see what they have to offer and where they are located. That is part of music too.”
For tickets and more information: ticketing.imj.org.il/?culture=en-US