Festival Review: Oud Festival

"Egyptian Songs" at the Jerusalem Theater, November 13.

Oud Festival (photo credit: OMRI BAREL)
Oud Festival
(photo credit: OMRI BAREL)
The oud (Middle Eastern lute) was represented, in the Oud Festival’s Egyptian music concert, by Taiseer Elias, an Israeli Arab academic, graduate of the Hebrew University, who also directed and edited this program. This master oud player enchanted with short, extremely imaginative and highly skillful virtuoso improvisations.
Though a repertory of non-traditional popular, emotional-to-sentimental Egyptian hit songs by Umm Kulthum and Farid al-Atrash, among others, this concert’s performers were almost entirely Israeli Arab musicians, except for vocalist Avi Cohen. With his rich baritone he held operatic-sounding long notes emphatically, like a veritable heldentenor.
Singer Violet Salameh’s husky voice, spiced with microtonal embellishments, sounded authentic and expressive in the Arab music style.
The instrumental ensemble deplorably lacked transparency and balance. The characteristic traditional instruments, such as the qanun (Middle Eastern zither) and nai (Middle Eastern vertical flute) were left with only little chance to make themselves heard. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see and hear that there are so many expert Israeli Arab instrumentalists.
The lighting, manipulated as though it were the main hero of this performance, seemed designed to prevent the audience from concentrating on the music.