Field songs

Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival offers a diverse range of sounds.

The Kolan Quintet, with Simon Kricheli (second from right). All singing troupe members originate from Georgia (photo credit: YOSSI TZVEKER)
The Kolan Quintet, with Simon Kricheli (second from right). All singing troupe members originate from Georgia
(photo credit: YOSSI TZVEKER)
Simon Kricheli didn’t really have a choice to make when career issues came into view. “You can’t find a Georgian anywhere in the world who doesn’t know how to sing, cry and play an instrument,” he declares. “I have sung as long as I can remember. My parents had perfect pitch, but didn’t make a career out of music.”
His genetic gems will be put to good use when Kricheli joins forces with the other members of the Kolan Quintet at the forthcoming Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival, which will take place at the scenic village in the Jerusalem Hills from October 1 to 5. The 47th edition of the twice-yearly event will proffer a typically wide-ranging swath of material and genres, including works by classical composers, operatic slots, baroque songs, Mediterranean love songs, numbers from musicals and pop songs, as well as folk songs with various ethnic origins.
The Kolan concert, which will take place at 2 p.m. on October 2 at the Crypt, is also a varied affair. As all of the members of the singing troupe originate from Georgia, the main thrust of the program features stirring and entertaining fair from the former Soviet state, but there are also Russian folk songs in the mix, alongside Neapolitan songs and even hassidic numbers.
Kricheli, who made aliya at the age of 18, says that while he was heavily exposed to Georgian folk music at a young age, there were plenty of other sounds and energies around in his formative years. “I have been listening to jazz since I was 12. I like [celebrated pianists] Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington, and [trumpeter] Miles Davis. I principally grew up with their music. I learned to play the saxophone, but I mostly play jazz on piano.” Unfortunately, although for the best possible reasons, Kricheli’s day job tends to keep him away from the keyboard – exercising his impressive vocal chords in various areas of the music business.
In addition to his Kolan Quintet slot, Kricheli plies his trade in the operatic sphere. Prior to the Abu Ghosh festival, he was gainfully employed at a Chicago synagogue, offering his cantorial skills to a community in the Loop area over the High Holy Days.
Growing up on a rich jazz diet tends to lead one in a free-flowing artistic direction and, thankfully for Kricheli, Georgian folk music allows for a fair bit of leeway when it comes to the final rendition.
“We are talking about folk music, and folk music is malleable,” notes the singer. “There is always a degree of improvisation in what we do.” The jazz correlation goes a little deeper. Jazz grew out of the blues, which, in turn, owes much of its evolution to the ditties put together in situ by African-American slave laborers working in the fields.
“Georgian folk songs were created in the fields,” says Kricheli. “In the old days, Georgians would go off to work in the field, without a telephone or Internet – this is many years ago – and, say, someone with a tenor voice would begin to sing, and then he’d be joined by a bass singer, then a baritone, and that’s how the songs came about. They’d sing in harmony.”
That is a tradition that tenor Kricheli and his Kolan cohorts are doing their utmost to keep alive. Tastefully delivered numbers, such as the fun “Gogli Gogo,” are testament to the preservation of that time-honored practice, with all five singers dovetailing and fusing their rich seasoned vocals in tight formation, interspersed by solo slots.
The Kolan fivesome started out more than 30 years ago, and Kricheli is the new singer on the block. “Avraham, Yosef and Reuven founded the group in 1982,” notes the tenor. Fellow tenorist Avraham Kosashvili, baritone Yosef Adar and pianist Reuven Bar Yosef, with bass vocalist Matanel Vahtang complete the lineup. “They performed a lot, for many years, but the bass singer Avi Shilo died and the group broke up,” Kricheli recounts.
It took the newcomer to get the guys back together. “I perform a lot in opera and people kept asking me where the Kolan Quintet disappeared to,” says Kricheli, adding that he’d also chalked up some road time with the group before reestablishing the ensemble. “I replaced the first tenor several times, once about 15 years ago and another time about 13 years ago. But then I went to study in Italy and I lost touch with the Kolan singers.”
But you can’t keep a good group down and, once back in this country on a permanent basis, after countless queries from the public about the quintet, Kricheli eventually summoned up the courage to approach the surviving four members and broached the reunion idea. “At first they were hesitant,” he recalls. “They said they weren’t so young anymore – they’re all past 60. I’m 44 and Matanel is 71. I think I brought a younger second wind to the group and they are now very grateful that I pushed them to regroup.
Age gap notwithstanding, Kricheli says he and the others have bonded well. “We are like a family, and we also argue, quite heatedly, during rehearsals.
If you overheard us you’d think we were about to come to blows,” he adds with a chuckle. “But it is all in the best of spirits.
We enjoy singing together and being together.” No doubt the audience at the Crypt on October 2 will be able to vouch for that, too.
Elsewhere on the Succot Abu Ghosh roster you can find celebrated soprano Daniela Skorka, who will team up with the Hortus Musicus ensemble from Estonia, headed by violinist-conductor Andres Mustonen. Together they will traverse expansive musical areas, including baroque, Renaissance and operatic material. In recent years Mustonen has become a familiar and popular figure on the music scene in this country, and founded the annual Tallinn Tel Aviv Music Festival. Verdi’s Requiem is also in the lineup, as is Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater and King Arthur by Purcell.
Patrons looking for more contemporary fare with more than a modicum of entertainment thrown in could do worse that go for multi-talented veteran actor, singer, comic and cellist Eli Gorenstein’s “Tel Aviv-New York” spot, which also takes place at the Crypt on October 2 (4:15 p.m.). Gorenstein will perform numbers written by jazz and musicals composers such as Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, as well as deliver a fetching reading of Paul Anka’s “My Way,” and “And We Shall Live (Venihye)”, with Gorenstein’s score based on lyrics by 20th-century Israeli writer Avraham Halfi. 
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