Fantastic voices

The second annual Choral Fantasy in Jerusalem Festival has something for everyone.

The Baroque Orchestra 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Baroque Orchestra 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Whether you have a penchant for baroque beats, prefer your vocal entertainment to be more classically inclined, have a hankering for some good old Israeli songs or tend towards jazzier climes, the three-day lineup at the Choral Fantasy in Jerusalem Festival, which kicks off October 31 at the YMCA, should be able to accommodate your tastes and then some.
Musical director Oded Shomrony has put together a program that is about as eclectic as you can get for a vocal-based event, even for an area of music that allows for a pretty extensive stretch. There is a wide range of themes across the individual shows and there are concerts that draw on a surprisingly diverse range of styles and genres. Take, for example, the November 2 morning slot, which features the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble together with the Tel Aviv Collegium Singers.
The lineup incorporates songs by the 19th century German composer Felix Mendelssohn- Bartholdy, followed by six Ladino (Judeo- Spanish) songs written by 20th century Israeli composer Paul Ben Haim. It will then progress to an intriguing work by Oded Zehavi – who will also conduct the proceedings – and finally close with Mass No. 4 by the prolific 19th century Viennese composer Franz Schubert.
Shomrony says the festival’s base genre offered him plenty of scope for maneuver.
“It is something of a natural product of working with vocal music, particularly if there is a cappella material in there. A cappella music has been around more or less since the dawn of time.
Music with string instruments, for example, has of course only been around since the instruments were invented, but we have documented evidence that shows that a cappella has been here ever since written music has been around, in the ninth century. To this day a cappella music is being written.”
The genre has also evolved greatly over the centuries and particularly since the 20th century. While all you need is a voice to produce a cappella music, by the same token you could say that all you need to make percussive sounds is hands and some surface on which to produce an audible beat. Shomrony notes that the two came together in the last century.
“Singers began to make percussive sounds with their voices, in the West, like they had been doing for some time in other parts of the world, such as in Africa and Mongolia.”
The items in Choral Fantasy are also likely to appeal to all age groups too and involve junior and senior performers alike. The whole shebang kicks off with the Children’s Choirs from Jerusalem slot, with children from the Hefer Valley-based Efroni Choir teaming up with four children’s choirs from around Jerusalem and conductor Nathalie Goldberg for the occasion. The junior Efroni choristers will also be on duty outside the YMCA for an intriguing al fresco confluence on October 31 and November 2 (both 7:15 p.m.). The youngsters will perform outside the building while famed psychoanalyst and university lecturer Gabi Shefler flexes his muscles at the top of the YMCA tower and rings the bells on high as part of the Carillon Concert. That is a free event, and there will also be a number of free musical vignettes in the lobby between 5 and 6 p.m. on November 2. Shomrony is clearly doing his best to make vocal music as accessible as possible to all and sundry.
The genre boundary hopping ethos is maintained in the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir concert, which will take place at 6 p.m. on the last day. The show goes by the chronologically expansive title of “From Byrd to Barber,” with works that take in the uplifting Sing Joyfully unto God by William Byrd – who lived in England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries – to 20th-century American composer Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei. The lineup also features songs by 20th century Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch, Mozart, Britten and Brahms. It is some centuryspanning exercise which will be overseen by conductor Stanley Sperber.
There is more to “From Byrd to Barber” than will meet the eye and ear, with some audience participation lined up for two excerpts from Mozart’s Requiem in the repertoire.
“The audience for that concert will include many people who have sung in all sorts of choirs,” explains Shomrony, adding that there will be some pre-performance training on offer. “The members of the audience who are going to join in the singing will be split up into four groups and there will be rehearsals beforehand. And there is another benefit of singing – anyone who registers for the concert will not have to buy a ticket for it.”
Shomrony, who holds a teaching post at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Rubin Academy of Music and Dance, will also be on call in an on-stage capacity when he joins the other members of the Thalamus Vocal Quartet for the The Voice of Colors concert at 2 p.m. on November 2. The a cappella foursome will present a wide ranging offering that incorporates Renaissance, Israeli and American music, with works by late Renaissanceearly Baroque Jewish Italian violinist and composer Salamone Rossi, Byrd, 20th-century Jewish American jazz oriented composer and pianist George Gershwin, and even iconic Israeli songstress Naomi Shemer.
While quite a few of the compositions throughout the three days are contemporary, Shomrony says the skills and approach to externalizing them remain completely organic and physiological.
“John Dornman, assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, has this joke about the difference between a pop singer and an opera singer – the location of the microphone. With a pop singer it’s outside, with the opera singer it’s inside the body.
When an opera singer sings he has a whole orchestra, of trumpets, trombones, tubas, giving their all, and he has to sing to 4,000 people, and make himself heard. Auditoriums have grown in size, orchestras have grown in number and the vocalist has to make sure he is heard properly and without shouting. That is down to the techniques that have developed. It really is amazing.”
Although the YMCA hall is not quite that capacious, and the singers on shows at the Choral Fantasy in Jerusalem Festival will have far fewer instrumental decibels to contend with, the quality of vocal delivery no doubt will be right up there. The Choral Fantasy in Jerusalem Festival takes place at the YMCA over a long weekend from October 31 to November 2. For tickets and more information call (054) 462-1060, *6226, and