Then, here and now

With the likes of Bernius and Kammerchor Stuttgart around, now in its 28th year, the Abu Gosh Festival appears to be staying ahead of the game.

(photo credit: JENS MEISTER)
As usual, the biannual Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival is jam-packed with lip-smacking vocal offerings, to be performed at the village’s regular berths of The Crypt and Kiryat Yearim Church.
The latter is a visually and acoustically inviting venue that has been enjoyed by a glittering spread of ensembles, and their audiences, over the years. The forthcoming Sukkot edition of the festival takes place October 18 to 21 with the 16-concert lineup taking in classical music of various stripes and jazzy-leaning material, with some pop- and rock-sourced numbers given the classically trained vocal treatment, too.
Frieder Bernius is happy to be returning to the Jerusalem Hills village. The 72-year-old German conductor has been entertaining music lovers in this country for many years now, primarily at the helm of the Kammerchor Stuttgart, which he founded over half a century ago. He says he always likes coming over here – and tucking into a falafel between professional duties.
“We have performed at Abu Gosh three times before,” he notes. “We started to come to Israel in 1984. The first cooperation was with the Israel Chamber Orchestra. That was when Yoav Talmi was the conductor [and artistic director].”
Bernius and his vocal troupe worked with the chamber orchestra several times over the years, and there have been synergies with the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion.
Bernius says he has enjoyed joining forces with some of our top instrumentalists over the past three-and-a-half decades, but that he is also more than happy to deliver purely vocal renditions, too.
“A cappella is one of our favorite repertoires. The a cappella concerts we are doing now at Abu Gosh are a very important part of our being, of our repertoire. So we like to come especially for a cappella concerts.”
Over its long and illustrious history to date, Kammerchor Stuttgart has flung its entertainment net far and wide. Works by the usual suspects, such as Bach and Mozart, have been given polished renditions across the globe, but the founder-conductor says he has always been keen to push the boat and tackle material that feeds off more here-and-now sensibilities. He adds that the choir came about almost by default.
“I was 20 years old when I started the choir. I studied violin at a conservatory, but after the first semester I realized it was not my direction. I had 10 years of lessons on violin during my school time, but then I learned I was not the type of a professional violin player.”
It was time for a change of professional musical tack.
“I also studied organ and I thought that, maybe, conducting is an interesting job,” Bernius continues. “So I started the choir and now, after 51 years, and we have recorded over 100 CDs, over many genres and styles. We like to do baroque music in its authentic style, and also romantic and contemporary music.”
ALL OF the above is represented in the choir’s slot on October 18 at 11:30 a.m. with works by 17th century Italian composer Gregorio Allegri, Verdi, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Bruckner and Mahler all in there, along with a couple of works by 20th century French composer, and electronic music pioneer, Olivier Messiaen.
Bernius says he readily acceded to festival artistic director Hannah Tzur’s request to feature a work by Messiaen, but he wanted to double up on that.
“Hannah wanted to have us do “O sacrum convivium” by Olivier Messiaen. I told her, OK we do it but I also told her we want to sing “Cinq rechants” (Five Refrains), and we go to a compromise that we would do both pieces.”
The conductor is all for giving his audiences opportunities to feed off more contemporary vibes, and helping music lovers venture out of their comfort zone.
“It is not good to do only historic music,” he states.
Bernius also tries to stay on top of developments by commissioning new works when the opportunity arises, challenging listeners and performers alike to rise to the occasion.
“Next year the choir is going to the World Symposium on Choral Music, in Auckland [New Zealand], and we are bringing a piece with overtones there. We will, of course, do Messiaen, Mendelssohn and early music but I wanted to take this kind of music too. It is quite new for overtones to be combined in classical vocal compositions, so we have commissioned a piece with overtones.”
The German clearly wants to provide the public with value for money, but also wants to keep the choir and himself on their toes.
“It is very important that I give the choir singers my ideas of developing, which means every style of music should be done with contemporary music and all types of vocal techniques. The singers should not come to me and say we are perfect already now we want to show you what we are able to do. That is not enough. That should have new ideas.”
That goes for the audience, too.
“The public should also be educated in this direction,” Bernius proffers before backtracking a little on the semantics. “Actually, educated is not the right word,” he chuckles. “I don’t want them to feel they should be educated. I wish them a good atmosphere at our concert. I know how important it is for them, and how important music is in this context. But they should not only enjoy it. They should and get new ideas, new atmospheres, new sounds. They should be coming for a new experience.”
With the likes of Bernius and Kammerchor Stuttgart around, now in its 28th year, the Abu Gosh Festival appears to be staying ahead of the game.
For tickets and more information: *3221, *6226, and