Museum on song

From July 27 to August 24, the country’s national repository of artworks will host five big-name musical acts that offer an enticing mix of quality fare and intriguing confluences.

Achinoam Nini (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Achinoam Nini
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Over the years, the Israel Museum has developed a knack for coming up with surprising entertainment packages, and this summer is no different.
From July 27 to August 24, the country’s national repository of artworks will host five big-name musical acts that offer an enticing mix of quality fare and intriguing confluences, as part of the museum’s ongoing jubilee festivities.
Consider the internationally acclaimed countertenor David D’Or, who will enjoy some vocal sparring with all kinds of klezmer musicians from around the world, while globetrotting singer-guitarist David Broza will feed off the characteristically wideranging output of the Mediterranean Andalusian Orchestra Ashkelon, Christian-Arab singer Mira Awad and the Israeli and Palestinian members of the Jerusalem Youth Chorus.
Add a 30th anniversary show by seminal Israeli rock group Mashina and yet another milestone item, when diva Rita proffers a Tu Be’av musical lovein to mark two decades since she first unleashed her mega-successful Big Love show on the Israeli public.
When it comes to success, Achinoam Nini – a.k.a. Noa – has most of them beat. The 46-year-old singer has been doing the rounds of the global circuit for over a quarter of a century, and has graced some of the world’s most glittering stages.
On July 29 she will make her way to Jerusalem to add her compelling vocal performance to a concert that features the Israeli Opera soloists and The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion, along with conductor Daniel Cohen. The show offers something of a whistle-stop tour of some perennial favorites, taking in arias from Rossini’s ever-popular The Barber of Seville, other beloved operatic favorites and a bunch of items from “The Israeli Songbook.”
Nini is no stranger to mixing and matching musical sentiments. Her grandmother hailed from Yemen, and Nini spent most of her formative years in the United States, where she imbibed a heady mix of pop, rock and classical sounds.
“My Yemenite grandmother lived with us in the States, and I got a lot of the culture of Yemenite Jewry from her,” recalls Nini. “Both my parents were fans of classical music, and particularly opera, so I was introduced to the genre through their love.”
Even so, Nini had her own teenaged musical preferences.
“I was always drawn to artists like Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell,” she notes. “They were powerful influences on me.”
Nini’s iconic singer-songwriter impact roster was later augmented by ’70s and ’80s pop acts Police and Sting, and Billy Joel, and her inspiration spread also took in jazz and musical heavyweights such as Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand.
With such a powerful musical backdrop, it is little wonder that Nini’s youthful thoughts quickly turned toward following in their footsteps, even though it took a while for her to take things seriously.
“I guess I always knew [I’d be a professional singer],” she says. “I sang and wrote songs from a very young age.
But I was in a state of denial until after the army.”
Nini’s on-off relationship with getting serious about music also meant that she took a left-field path to developing her natural talent. It facilitated a less structured attitude toward the discipline, she says, and allowed her to ebb and flow as she pleased.
“I have very little in the way of formal musical education. I only did voice training with a private teacher, and not on a continual basis. My approach to music is very intuitive and deep, and I learn as I go along, from my musical partner Gil Dor and my voice-training teacher Hanna Hacohen.”
Nini says she has always adopted an uncluttered mind-set as regards her artistic choices.
“I only sing what I like, try to do the best I can, and try very hard not to create or perform music that I wouldn’t like to hear myself.”
That may be a simple, or even simplistic, line to follow, but it has clearly worked for Nini. Over the last 25 or so years she has performed to packed houses all over the world – from Carnegie Hall to the Barbican in London, the Olympia in Paris and Rome’s Colosseum – as well as at major musical events such as the Montreux Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival and the Ravinia Festival in Chicago. Nini also performed the English version of Ave Maria for a live audience of 100,000 and a TV audience of millions at the culmination event of the International Year of the Family at the Vatican, in the presence of pope John Paul II. She sang the theme song for 1997 Oscar Awardwinning Italian movie Life Is Beautiful, and represented Israel, together with fellow Israel Museum summer lineup star Awad, at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest with “There Must Be Another Way.”
Nini says her Middle Eastern, Yemenite, familial roots have little to do with her close bond with Awad.
“We connect like two entities, forthright and creative women, with rich shared cultural baggage, from Shakespeare to the Beatles, and a similar outlook on life. I love Mira dearly and I have boundless admiration for her.”
Rather than being fazed by some of the iconic stars with whom she has performed over the years, such as Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones, Nini says she has learned important lessons from sharing a stage with some of her childhood idols.
“I have learned from them that great talent generally comes with great generosity and great modesty.”
Nini is going to be generous with her repertoire at the Israel Museum’s Billy Rose Art Garden next week as she performs some of her own and others’ best-known numbers, such as “Bo’i Kala” (Come Bride) and Sasha Argov’s enthralling score to “Bereshit,” with her salute to the world of opera featuring works by Rossini and Leonard Bernstein.
For tickets and more information: (02) 677-1300 and