Percussion for peace

Chen Zimbalista heads the Tefen Musical Fest, which raises the banner of coexistence through music.

Chen Zimbalista (photo credit: ANJELICA SHER)
Chen Zimbalista
(photo credit: ANJELICA SHER)
Chen Zimbalista is one of the recognized titans of the global percussion fraternity. Over the last three decades or so, he has performed across the world with a dazzling array of top classical orchestras, jazz musicians and leading world music artists. He displays his talents and skills on more than 40 instruments, from marimba to darbouka and beyond.
For the past couple of years, 52-year-old Zimbalista’s bulging bio has also featured the Tefen Musical Fest, the third edition of which is due to take place, under the aegis of industrialist and philanthropist Stef Wertheimer, at the Tefen Industrial Park Open Museum in the Upper Galilee August 15 to 18.
The four-day program features a generous spread of classical works by the likes of Mendelssohn, Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart, many of which have been rearranged to accommodate significant percussive input courtesy of the festival founder and artistic director. There is also an intriguing work by veteran Haifa-based educator, oud player and violinist Taiseer Elias, called “Mabrouk,” a jazz concert and family-oriented entertainment fare. The festival also offers Zimbalista an opportunity to unveil material from his latest album, Levitation.
The concept of music serving as a universal language was very much in the percussionist-conductor’s mind when he conceived of the event. The festival is principally aimed at youth from across Israel’s ethnic board. As the event blurb notes, “the festival raises the banner of coexistence through music. The project includes Jewish and Arab children and youth,” noting that some of the latter hail from east Jerusalem and the Palestinian autonomous areas and come to the festival by virtue of special security forces permits.
“I believe the festival is of great importance,” says Zimbalista. “It incorporates Israel’s cultural human fabric, and promotes openness, tolerance and a positive attitude toward the different and the multifaceted, through the musical repertoire and working together at rehearsals and concerts.”
The artistic director notes that much of the event’s ethos is based on accessibility and user friendliness for all concerned. In addition to, and in contrast with, other music festivals, [here] the work and playing is shared and is open to the general public.” The latter is a linchpin of Zimbalista’s line of thought. He wants to get everyone actively on board.
“Besides listening to concerts, the public is invited to attend master classes and open rehearsals, which enables them to look inside into the world of classical music from a slightly different perspective.”
As he approaches the third annual offering at Tefen, Zimbalista says he feels blessed to have made it this far, and is delighted with the progress that has been attained.
“I am very excited that the festival is gaining momentum. Vision and love were needed to establish a festival like this in the country’s periphery. The whole process, like getting sponsorship, would have undoubtedly been easier in the center of the country.”
Even so, the percussionist says he harbors bigger and better objectives for the project in hand, and that all the various events he organizes are designed to promote musical excellence in Israel and to support the periphery.
“The NPO [behind the events] opens its doors to children from at-risk regions and irregular groups,” he explains. “The festival gathers outstanding students from all over the country to take part in exciting joint musical activities with leading music teachers from Israel and around the world. When I plan the festival, I try to think big, to test and retest the limits and to stretch the horizon.”
There are added values to be had.
“I believe that the power of music is a sort of healing, a bridge to cultures and across conflicts, and I am proud to head this important project.”
At the end of the day, Zimbalista is first and foremost a musician, and he is looking forward to playing material from his latest album.
“The record opens with the title track, ‘Levitation,’” he says. “The work was composed especially for me by the amazing Evgeny Levitas, who wonderfully fused electronic music with acoustic instruments,” says Zimbalista. “The work comprises multilayered music – with marimba, vibraphone, drums and an electronic looper system for a solo player.”
Support technology notwithstanding, Zimbalista says he’ll have his work cut out for him.
“This is a great challenge for a musician and I am delighted and excited to perform this work at the Tefen Music Festival, on August 17 at 11:30 a.m.”
Looks like there’s plenty for everyone, musicians of all ages and audiences alike, at this year’s music bash at Tefen.
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