Sound stretching

East melds with West at the Israel Festival.

the Israel Festival (photo credit: PR)
the Israel Festival
(photo credit: PR)
The entertainment sector has abounded with numerous crosscultural works for many years. It hardly seems possible that there is some disciplinary confluence that has not been given a whirl. But then again, it is not necessarily about what you do but how you go about delivering the end product.
This year’s Israel Festival features the From East to West event, which will be presented at the Jerusalem Theater on May 31 by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. The repertoire takes in music from Russia to Yemen, from Vienna to Cairo, from Lebanese singer Fairuz to Yemen-born Israeli singer Shoshana Damari and from Mozart to Scheherazade. The festival organizers describe the performers’ intent as “the blurring of musical boundaries and creating an inspiring intercultural dialogue.”
The creative minds and talent behind the project include conductors Eitan Globerson and Michael Wolpe, and there are arrangements by Ehud Perlman, Yoav Shemesh and Yisrael Gliksberg. The works in the lineup all feed off cultural nourishment seasoned with local spices.
Voices of Memory, composed in 1981 by Soviet-born Mark Kopytman, who served as rector of the Rubin Academy, merges Yemenite folk song with contemporary classical music.
Then there is the overture to Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, with an Arabic music-based arrangement created for the concert by Prof. Taiseer Elias. It incorporates excerpts from a song performed by late Egyptian diva Oum Koulthum.
Musicians from the academy will also perform Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which uses elements of Arabic music in a Western musical context.
Does Globerson feel that the audience will raise an eyebrow about the mix of sonic endeavor on offer? “We did not approach this project with the notion that we had hit on the formula for successful [musical] integration,” says the conductor. “I think that each of the works offers a mix of East and West. I’m not sure I would naturally have looked for common ground between Scheherazade and the songs of Fairuz, but each item in the program combines elements of East and West.”
He adds that there is nothing forced about the musical mingling. Take, for example, Russian works of the late 19th century, which frequently mined seemingly extraneous sonic seams.
“You can look at the Romantic era of Russian music, when Russian composers looked to the East to find all sorts of exotic elements. The Rimsky- Korsakov composition feeds off Turkey, but also from the East as a whole and A Thousand and One Nights.”
The latter, which is also known as Arabian Nights, refers to a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age, between the 8th and 13th centuries.
The Russian component and the relevant Easterly ethos in the upcoming concert is provided by Kopytman. “His work represents the Jewish take on the East, aimed at Yemenite Jewry,” notes Globerson, adding that the bridge between the featured Lebanese singer and the Occident was much shorter. “She uses very Western arrangements for her songs, so that is a comfortable West- West marriage.”
Globerson adds that he and his colleagues will take the Fairuz material a step further. “We are using arrangements that will be performed by a Western classical orchestra, which is a rare occurrence in the classical Arabic musical sphere.”
Even so, Globerson is fully aware of the fact that musical melding has been around for some time.
“I think the difference between what is happening today compared with, say, the Romantic era is that there is much more knowledge around now. Ethnomusicology has become an important field of research, and musicians now invest in exploring other cultures much more thoroughly than in the past,” he says.
That augurs well for a successful event on Tuesday evening. Globerson says the venture is part of a long-term eye-opening continuum. “The Department of Arabic Music of the Rubin Academy also has Jewish students, and they study Eastern music very seriously. There are bands that engage in fusion [of different musical cultures] all over the world, and in Israel too.”
The latter has been an open secret for quite some time. “I think Israel is a sort of musical Galapagos Islands,” says Globerson. “Everything flows through this country. We are a land of immigrants, and the Jews who came from all over the world brought their music with them.”
Add to the fact that many Israeli composers who hailed from Europe, such as German-born Paul Ben-Haim, sought to interweave Middle Eastern motifs and textures into their own sonic fabric.
The conductor says there is more where that came from. “We have not exhausted the possibilities [of intercultural investigation]. The general Israeli public, for example, knows little about Ethiopian music. There is a lot more work ahead of us.”