'We all originate from Spain’

The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra performs in January.

(photo credit: RAFI DELOYA)
Rather than intimating a much of a muchness approach to the art form, there can’t be many greater compliments to confer upon a musician than saying that he or she relates to music simply as music. The postmodern mindset provides artists with much wider scope for maneuver rather than confining themselves to some genre or other. And while that may sometimes be challenging for music consumers used to getting what they expect from a concert or a recording, it offers rich rewards all round.
That is certainly a line of creative attack that sits comfortably with Michael Wolpe.
A venerated musicologist, composer and conductor, Wolpe will have a baton firmly in his grip when the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra takes the stage between January 3 and 26, with concerts lined up for Beersheba, Kiryat Motzkin, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as in the ensemble’s home base of Ashdod, as part of the Golden Voice series.
Wolpe and musical director Yoram Azulay have, by all accounts, cooked up some intriguing sonic fare for the eightperformance national circuit. For starters, the front of the stage will be occupied, alternately and jointly, by two eminent vocalists of seemingly very different stripes.
The singers in question are seasoned performer of Sephardic liturgical music (paytan) Emil Zrihan and his female cohort for the series Zehava Ben. While Moroccan-born Zrihan is almost exclusively known for his emotive renditions of liturgical material, Ben has roamed across numerous musical tracts since she first burst onto the Mediterranean pop scene in 1988.
As far as Wolpe is concerned, we all come from the same starting point.
“What we are trying to do is to connect with the classical roots of our nation, one of the most important classical roots of our people. We all originate from Spain; the Diaspora spread out from Spain all over the world,” notes Wolpe. “Andalusian music also spread across national borders and found its way into all sorts of cultures. We want to give the music the respect it deserves and to delve deeper into it.”
Zrihan has fronted the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra for some time now, and Wolpe is a great fan of the religiously observant Moroccan-born singer’s vocal abilities and his willingness to venture into uncharted waters.
“Emil is a wonderful singer who, along with other paytanim, has helped to spread the world of Andalusian music around Israel and all across the world,” he says.
Wolpe is just as appreciative of Ben’s gifts.
“She is a great singer with an enormous repertoire, a wonderful voice and great sensitivity. I think there will be rich dialogue between her and Emil,” he says.
The accent, says the conductor, is very much on discourse and bringing together a wide range of musical strains.
“All our concerts try to create some sort of dialogue between Andalusian music and all kinds of other roots,” he explains.
By now it has become clear that Wolpe takes an all-embracing approach to music. Contrary to the profit-oriented philosophy of wily marketing executives who aim to contain musical products within narrow, easily defined and therefore more easily tagged brackets, for Wolpe music is just music. He demonstrates his eclectic take on music on a regular basis as exemplified by the annual Desert Sounds Festival, which takes place at Wolpe’s home base of Kibbutz Sde Boker around Hanukka, with Wolpe serving as perennial musical director. This year’s four-day bash at the kibbutz, for example, incorporated pop and rock music, Western classical and Eastern works, Latin numbers, jazz-oriented shows and some Israeli folk music.
Although the material that Zrihan presents to audiences here and abroad stems from religious climes, Wolpe says he also wants the public to appreciate the music per se.
“Just as they took Bach’s music out of the church and put it on the concert stage, we can take the music of Spain out of the synagogue to the concert hall and give it its due respect. We should relate to the score itself and to how the music fashions the lyrics,” he says.
The border-leaping ethos also informs the personnel makeup of the ensemble.
“The orchestra itself is a sort of special confluence of various cultures,” says the conductor.
“There are Arab players and musicians from the former Soviet Union and also Andalusian musicians who came to Israel from the Maghreb region [of Northwest Africa]. It is a coming together of cultures that also mirrors the population of Ashdod, which includes people who came here from North Africa and people from the former USSR. So I believe there is no better place for this orchestra to come from than Ashdod.”
Three of the Golden Voice series concerts will take place at the Performing Arts Center in the southern Mediterranean port town.
The repertoire for the upcoming shows includes such yesteryear hits as “Zemer Shalosh Hateshuvot”, based on lyrics by Israel Prize laureate poet Natan Alterman, which was made famous by Rivka Zohar in the late 1960s and was later recorded by Ben. Her side of the concert program also features “Tipat Mazal,” which is also the name of Ben’s 1989 debut album. There will be a nod towards classical Arabic material with a stirring rendition of “Inte Omri,” one of the signature songs of iconic Egyptian singer Oum Kulthoum.
While driven to spread his writing and conducting fingers as far and wide as he possibly can, Wolpe admits that he frequently works without a net.
“We need to maintain this dialogue between different cultures.
It takes courage to create without limits. It is more challenging, and it means you have to constantly consider which way to go next,” he says.
That may sound like hard work, but it also offers a constant supply of fresh air.
For tickets and more information: 1-800-693-693 and http://www.andalusit.co.il