The time for music

Six cities host concerts of the four-day Israeli Music Festival.

Israeli Music Festival (photo credit: ILAN SFIRA)
Israeli Music Festival
(photo credit: ILAN SFIRA)
We all know that Israel is a global powerhouse on the world music and jazz scenes, but it seems we aren’t doing too badly when it comes to contemporary classical music, either. That will be apparent when the 18th annual Israeli Music Festival takes place in six cities across the country between September 16 and 21.
The festival will take place, on consecutive days, in Netanya, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Jerusalem and Rishon Lezion. The sixfold one-dayer will offer fans of here-and-now classical fare a taste of some of the latest works by the likes of Oded Zehavi, Menachem Tzur and Gil Shohat, as well as an intriguing working of rock artist Yehuda Poliker’s Afar Ve’avak (Ashes and Dust) 1988 Holocaust-related album. There is also an 80th birthday celebratory slot dedicated to composer Noam Sherrif and a salute to iconic poet, playwright and novelist Leah Goldberg, whose works have provided the textual bedrock of hundreds of pop and folk songs over the years. The Goldberg tribute, which will take place at the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art in Haifa, will feature scores written by 20th-century German-born Israeli composer Haim Alexander and composer and conductor Michael Wolpe, performed by vocalist Ofer Kalaf and the Atar Piano Trio.
“We have expanded the festival this year,” notes artistic director Boaz Ben- Moshe.
That, presumably, reflects a growing demand for contemporary classical music.
“Yes, I would say that is the case,” says Ben-Moshe, adding that there is plenty on offer for music lovers looking for envelopepushing entertainment. “There is demand, and there is also supply. We have an abundance of composers who produce wonderful work.”
This year’s festival focuses on the perspective of pluralism which, in a nutshell, describes the Israeli approach to music.
“I do my best to ensure that all the voices we have here are heard, the voices of today and of the past, and some of the voices of the future,” continues Ben-Moshe. “That is why the festival exists.”
Each year, the event trains a spotlight on a particular composer. This year’s tribute subject is celebrated German-born Israeli composer Josef Tal, who died in 2008 at the age of 97. Pluralism is a fitting epithet for Tal’s oeuvre, and Ben-Moshe has lined up a wide range of Tal’s creations, which will be performed at each of the festival’s venues. During his long career, Tal wrote three Hebrew operas, four German operas, six symphonies, 13 concerti, dramatic scenes and chamber music, including three string quartets, instrumental works and electronic compositions. He is considered one of the founding fathers of Israeli art music.
“Josef Tal comes from the far right of the Israeli stylistic map,” says Ben-Moshe. “He didn’t really connect with the Mediterranean side as a source of musical or esthetic material. He fed off the European music on which he was educated.”
While Tal may not have been a flag bearer for pluralism in the ethnic sense, he certainly cast his net far and wide across extensive contemporary classical terrain.
That is reflected in the selection of his scores in the festival lineup, which take in his Imago orchestral work, which premiered in Washington, DC, in 1983, Five Densities, String Quartet no. 1 from 1954, and a chamber work called Else – Homage based on a text by Jerusalem poet Israel Eliraz.
The September 18 festival agenda at the Tel Aviv Museum includes a screening of a documentary on Tal taken from the Israel Film Service’s Sounds in Blue and White series on Israeli composers.
“Tal defined the line of Israeli contemporary music, which is the essence of our festival,” says Ben-Moshe. “He engaged in Israeli material, with [operatic] works like Masada [1967] and Ashmedai.
And the programmatic material in which he engaged were Israeli material, it is just that he addressed them less in an ethnic roots-oriented way but more in a global sense. But, don’t forget, he was a key figure in the education system here. He taught at the academy, and he established an electronic music laboratory at the Hebrew University. So he was a central player in the contemporary music scene in Israel, even though he didn’t look to local ethnic music much.”
The Holocaust also features in the festival program in the form of the Memories from Thessaloniki concert, which will take place in Beersheba. It is based largely on orchestral arrangements of numbers taken from Yehuda Poliker’s Afar Ve’avak album, which came out in 1988. Poliker made his name as a member of 1980s rock outfit Benzene, and Afar Ve’avak was his first non-rock venture. It was inspired by his own family’s Holocaust past.
“The concert started out from a work by [composer and guitarist] Danny Akiva, which is based on poems in Ladino. They tell the story of the Thessaloniki community and its destruction in the Holocaust,” explains Ben- Moshe. “We thought it would be a good idea to complement that work with a more contemporary angle on the community through Poliker’s songs. I think the combination of the works make for a very interesting concert.”
Memories from Thessaloniki also includes Symphonic Suite on Greek Themes by German-born Israeli composer, singer and organist Karel Salmon and features the Israeli Sinfonietta Beersheba ensemble conducted by Doron Solomon, with the Nitzan children’s choir, with Akiva soloing on guitar and lute and soprano Keren Hadar adding stirring vocals.
Other Israeli Music Festival standouts include Reflections by Dan Yuhas, a leading figure on the Israeli contemporary classical music scene and founder of the Israel Contemporary Players.
The Tel Aviv leg of the festival will host a tribute to Sherrif’s own milestone anniversary with performances of two of the 80-year-old composer’s string quartets.
Concerts will take place at Heichal Hatarbut in Netanya on September 16; the Rappaport Center and Tikotin Museum in Haifa on September 17; the Tel Aviv Museum on September 18; Heichal Hatarbut in Beersheba on September 19; the Jerusalem Music Center on September 20; and Heichal Hatarbut in Rishon Lezion on September 21. Admission to all concerts is free, but advance registration is required. For reservations and more information: (02) 624-1041 and