A bountiful season

The directors of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, which aims to bring worldclass performers to Jerusalem, hope the events will bring about a profound change in the way this city is perceived.

Dance (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Remember the date – May 2011: Jerusalem will enter a new era, at least as far as culture is concerned. Those were the words of the heads of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, Naomi Fortis and Itai Mauntner, when they recently announced the ambitious program made possible through the generosity of philanthropist Lynn Shusterman. Fortis and Mauntner were chosen to head a totally new concept for the cultural life of the capital: It is no longer about quantity or even quality. Rather, the project is earmarking Jerusalem as an international stage for cultural events, the kind that find their way to the most prestigious milieus and magazines.
While the municipality, the local foundations and many other organizations are involved, the whole event comes under the banner of the Shusterman Season of Culture, touted as the best thing that could happen to this city in terms of culture and tourism.
After the tremendous change, at least in quantity, brought about by the culture team at Kikar Safra under the baton of Mayor Nir Barkat, everyone involved with culture was expecting that the next step would be a move from quantity (so locals and visitors would stop complaining that there’s nothing to do here) to quality, or at least some aspect of how culture in such a special city should look and sound.
Shusterman, who lives here for much of the year, is deeply involved with the needs of Jerusalem – through various important projects, mainly in the area of welfare and education – and has become part of this city’s life. This time, she is turning her attention to culture and has decided to invest in it. She believes that culture could change the way Jerusalem is perceived, both here and worldwide, and her project, which is slated to be an annual spring/summer event, aims to change the image of the city.
“The idea is to transform Jerusalem from a city connected with news and politics into a dazzling place where things are happening – and happening only here, so that culture and art aficionados around the world will include it in their entertainment and cultural itinerary,” explains Mauntner.
However, and without detracting anything from Shusterman’s initiative, the Season program may have to compete with the established cultural events, such as the Israel Festival and the activities at the Israel Museum.
That being said, there is no doubt that this project – with some of the most prominent names in the arts and culture world agreeing to take part – will definitely add a more cosmopolitan character to this city. As Mauntner puts it, “Jerusalem deserves to be connected to things beyond the issues of political and security tensions, and culture could be the key for this very desirable change.”
So what is the JSC proposing? First of all, two really exceptional events, in addition to a long roster of very attractive programs.
One is the Merce Cunningham Legacy Tour, which will take place at the Israel Museum. According to the legacy of the late choreographer, the dance company named after him cannot survive without him. The last show of the company, which is considered by experts to be the most influential in the field of modern dance, will take place in Jerusalem, thus creating an event of tremendous international interest. Immediately after the Jerusalem performance, the company will cease to exist, adding an extra dramatic dimension to the performance.
The other event is a one-time concert given by one of the finest divas of the operatic stage, American soprano Renee Fleming.
Considered the best lyric soprano, she specializes in both opera singing and 18th-century lieder, or art songs. Her arrival for one concert at the Sultan’s Pool is a mega event by international standards.
Fleming will perform with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of legendary conductor Zubin Mehta.
Although the concert was already scheduled as part of the Israel Festival 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of the collaboration of Mehta and the IPO, the concert comes under the umbrella of the Shusterman Season.
“The idea is to put a kind of projector on the city – its special qualities, flavor, characteristics, architecture and whatever it has to propose – and it is quite a lot – and to thereby raise Jerusalem to a totally different level, to emphasize its uniqueness, to create through this season a new public debate about this city,” adds Mauntner.
Among other events in the long list of programs scheduled for the first Season, Mauntner and Fortis (until recently the director of the Batsheva Dance Company, whose title is senior cultural strategic consultant), say that since this is not a one-time project, the season aims to achieve a profound change in the way this city is perceived, expecting that the change obtained through enhancing culture will eventually lead to a shift in the young generation’s attitude as well.
Some of the scheduled events started last summer, as a kind of pilot, such as the Balabasta at the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
A series of Alternative Art under the Mountain will gather young artists to think and present their artwork created under the impact of the city’s history and characteristics. Another interesting event will be Different Trains, which will inaugurate the new hall inside the Kishle, the old Ottoman police station and prison near Jaffa Gate. A new work by American Jewish contemporary composer Steve Reich, famous for his minimalist attitude in music composition, will be performed there and will apparently be a “must” for aficionados around the world.
Last, for the moment, is the First International Contemplation Festival, scheduled for May 18-20 at Mishkenot Sha’ananim. It aims to gather some of the most influential thinkers and philosophers from Israel and abroad to meditate and enhance the intellectual thought through melding the past and the future of this very special city.