Vocal tasters and testers: 23 Israeli Music Festival to go online

This year’s significantly pared-down edition will take place at 1 p.m. on October 30 and goes by the title of “From the Drawer to Song – Choir Lab.”

THE ISRAELI Vocal Ensemble. (photo credit: NIV SHIMON)
THE ISRAELI Vocal Ensemble.
(photo credit: NIV SHIMON)
 The Israeli Music Festival has been with us for 23 years now. The country’s principal vehicle for contemporary classical Israeli fare, like all cultural events here over the past seven or so months, has had to move into Internet-based realms to get, at least, a diminished version of its usually expansive range of sounds, rhythms and styles across to the public.
This year’s significantly pared-down edition will take place at 1 p.m. on October 30 and goes by the title of “From the Drawer to Song – Choir Lab.” The diminished program features three short works all performed by veteran internationally acclaimed choral outfit The Israeli Vocal Ensemble.
And intriguing wide-ranging material it is, too. The lineup includes a dramatic piece called “At Ein Dor” by 79-year-old Canadian-born composer Aharon Harlap which feeds off the eponymous poem by Saul Tchernichovsky written in 1893. The latter is based on a biblical tale about King Saul consulting a witch before doing battle with the Philistines, a battle in which the Israelites were defeated and the king lost his life. The typically dark and evocative Harlap score was inspired by Israel Philharmonic Orchestra bassoon player Uzi Shalev, who was born at Kibbutz Ein Dor. Shalev also performs alongside a pianist and a string section, as well as the choir.
The other two pieces in the Zoom lineup are purely a cappella affairs, written by Sarah Shoham and by Alon Nechushtan. The former’s composition – 74-year-old Shoham has been writing for choirs for many a year now – is based on Psalm 23, a popular textual base for musical presentation. Nechushtan’s contribution comes from a very different neck of the historical, disciplinary and musical woods.
Over the past couple of decades the 46-year-old New York resident Israeli pianist-composer has made a name for himself as a front grid writer and performer of leading-edge jazz creations. And, even though his jazz-based writing is particularly eclectic this is his first foray into choral climes.
His slot in the Choir Lab agenda includes five songs, culled from a mammoth 70 poems put to music that comprise a tome written in Hebrew by Ukrainian-born David Vogel called Lifney Hasha’ar Ha’afel (“Before the Dark Gate”) published in Vienna in 1923. The full score stretch tops three hours, but the Choir Lab offering makes for a concise 10 minutes. The Harlap and Shoham works are of a similar duration, with edifying short interviews with each composer taking place betwixt and between.
Nechushtan says “Beyond the Dark Gate” which, earlier this year, won him the ACUM (Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers in Israel) Mark Kopytman Award for composition, was a slow burner. “In my reading of David Vogel I was always astounded by the lyricism and expressiveness. I recall trying to compose some of the poems – perhaps two or three – as a teenager, around the first time I was exposed to them.” He soon got down to trying to complement them with sonic underscoring, but needed time and some accrued life wisdom to really do them justice. “I never really felt the mental maturity to dare do something with this, as if I wasn’t emotionally ready for the depths and abysmal strange world within that realm.”
As he developed his jazzy nous he kept his poetic aspirations in mind, albeit to the rear thereof. “Fast forward to our times,” Nechushtan explains. “As I was going through my poetry books in my closet, I stumbled again, into this book. Its mint condition was kept for all those years as if it was waiting to me to read it in its entirety as an adult. I started toying with the idea of setting a few poems out of this haunting collection of over 70 poems [to music]. I was blown away, anew, just like in my juvenile days reading Vogel for the first time.”
The flame of cross-disciplinary creation was well and truly rekindled. “I slowly started to compose a few songs and simply could [not] stop. I had a strong epiphany.”
It was a bumpy, but ultimately highly rewarding, ride for the jazzman. “I found myself drawn into the nightmarish world of Vogel’s work, but surprisingly also to his tender, loving side – stunned by the variety of the themes in these poems: love, hate, dark, light, horror, great joy.” Should make for compelling viewing and listening next week.
There is also an interactive side to the “From the Drawer to Song – Choir Lab” with viewers able to choose the work, out of the three, they prefer. The winner will then be reprised at the end of the Zoom session.
To register for the event go to www.nive.co.il or email to: nive.contact@gmail.com