Like all cultural events, everywhere, the Jerusalem International Oud Festival missed out on a live program for actual audiences in 2020. But now it is back for its 22nd rollout, under the aegis of Confederation House and perennial base institution general manager, and festival artistic director, Effie Benaya, with 16 productions lined up for the 10 dayer (November 18-27).
The festival kicks off with a bang, with veteran iconic pop-rock pianist, singer and songwriter Yoni Rechter fronting a gala performance at the Jerusalem Theater called “Musical Pictures from Pirkei Avot.” Rechter has an all-star cast along for the ride, including vocalists Eviatar Banai and Ester Rada, as well as the Israeli Vocal Ensemble. Rechter, one of the most respected musicians on the popular music scene in this country for close to half a century, takes the ancient texts and fuses them through a multifarious stylistic prism, ranging from baroque to rock-jazz, with segments of free improvisation in there too.
The program ends with a blast of similar musical and star value proportions with a reprise of the high profile well-received “Adumei Hasfatot” show, first presented at the 2007 edition of the festival, and featuring megastar rock guitarist-singer Berry Sakharof alongside celebrated percussionist-composer Rea Mochiach. The musical repertoire feeds of the writings of 11th century Jewish Andalusian poet and philosopher Solomon Ibn Gabirol. Sakharof and Mochiach wrote the score inspired by the unique creative cross-fertilization of Jewish-Islamic and Christian cultures of the time, and place. The aforementioned stars will be backed by a class instrumental act, including keyboardist-trumpeter Adi Rennert, percussionist Itamar Doari, oud player Yaniv Rabah and fiery reedman Eyal Talmudi. The vocal offering will receive heavyweight support from renowned ethnic musically inclined singer songwriter Shai Tsabari.
Elsewhere across the Oud Festival agenda there is an intriguing intergenerational encounter between seasoned multi-instrumentalist Eliyahu Digmi and feted percussionist Ronny Ivrin, and their respective sons, drummer-percussionist Danny Digmi and bass player Daniel Ivrin. Naturally enough, the slot goes by the name of Fathers and Sons.
As per usual, there is a tribute to some of the iconic figures of Arabic music across the ages, when venerated oud player-violinist and educator Taiseer Elias leads the “The Three Greats” tribute to Muhammad Abd al-Wahab, Farid al-Atrash and Abd al-Halim Hafez.
And if it’s star attraction you’re looking for, the November 24 confluence between vocalists Yasmin Levi and Dikla, at the Jerusalem Theater, fits that bill to a tee. Levi will unfurl a bunch of Ladino and flamenco numbers, while Dikla is due to perform some of her own rock-seasoned Middle Eastern repertoire based on special arrangements.
Elsewhere in the festival itinerary choreography meets vocal and instrumental music at the Zappa Club, when septuagenarian singer-dancer Leah Avraham joins forces with younger fellow singer-hoofer Eviatar Said, with Tsabari, Ofer Kalaf and Tom Fogel swelling the vocal ranks. Oud player Elyasaf Bashari and drummer Einat Harel provide the instrumental underpinning for a Yemenite take on “The Story of Joseph.”
Maureen Nehedar will provide her Zappa audience with a taste of Iranian pop and rock, and Neta Elkayam fronts a special festival production that celebrates the musical heritage of Jewish female vocalists from Algeria, with husband longtime creative sparring partner Amit Hai Cohen responsible for arrangements and musical direction, as well as playing keyboards and electric guitar.
Poetry, Berber music from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and Jewish liturgical music from Turkey, Iran and Kurdistan also feature in a richly variegated program.