West, East and back again

The Gary Bertini Israeli Choir performs Near Eastern Voices at the annual gala fund-raiser for the Woman to Woman association.

The Gary Bertini Israeli Choir (photo credit: RAZ ROGOWSKY)
The Gary Bertini Israeli Choir
(photo credit: RAZ ROGOWSKY)
Haggi Goren wants us all to get it together, and to get together. Goren serves as manager and producer of the Gary Bertini Israeli Choir, which has been doing sterling cross-cultural musical work for nigh on a decade.
The ensemble recently put out the Near Eastern Voices album on which the 20+ piece choir collaborates with the five-member Abaad Ensemble instrumental group. The works from the record will form the backbone of next week’s concert, which is due to take place at the Jerusalem Theater on Monday at 8:30 p.m., following a reception.
The forthcoming event is special for various reasons, musical and street-level practical alike. For starters this is an annual gala fundraiser for the Isha Le’Isha (Woman to Woman) association, which, among its various praiseworthy activities, runs a shelter in Jerusalem for women and their children who have suffered domestic violence. All proceeds from the evening will go to the association.
Besides being the founder of the choir, together with conductor Ronen Borshevsky, Goren is also serving as the administrative and technical honcho, chief cook and bottle washer of the choir. He came up with the idea for the Near Eastern Voices as a way of “Doing my small part in promoting better understanding between the people who live here,” as he puts it.
33 year old Lod-born celebrated Arab-Israeli pianist and composer Nizar Elkhater, an internationally acclaimed pianist, came up with the idea of the Abaad Ensemble. Both the choir and the quintet follow an eclectic line of thought and action. Abaad comprises Arab and Jewish musicians, who play Eastern and Western instruments, including violin, flute, a unique variation of the cello called a Cellhu, oud and Eastern percussion.
Under conductor Ronen Borshevsky, and with soloist Maria Joubran upping the vocalist ante appreciably, the marriage of East and West flows seamlessly through the vocal and instrumental offerings. Having Elkhater, who lives comfortably in both sonic worlds, at the musical helm also helps to keep the multidisciplinary synergy on track.
Over the past 30 or so years, since world music took the western part of the globe by storm, there have been numerous cross-cultural fusions between areas of musical exploration which were previously considered unmarriageable, or simply were not considered at all.
Even so, Goren says finding a common language between Western classical music, the choir’s principal line of musical endeavor, and Arabic-based material, took some doing. “On our little patch, the musicians’ patch, cooperation between cultures - like the traditional Israeli Jewish culture and Arab culture - you need to bridge a wide gap. They are very far apart from each other, in musical terms.”
Goren says the two musical fields are fundamentally different, and any attempt to find common ground can be fraught with danger. “When I started thinking about this concept, four years ago, most people told me it’s not doable. I also wondered whether it was possible.”
There was a core sonic issue to be deftly navigated. “You have East-West orchestras, or Andalusian orchestras, but they basically play Arabic music, or music that was influenced by Andalusian material, which is, anyway, a synthesis of different genres, or works by composers like Fairuz, a Christian Lebanese, or Farid al-Atrash from Egypt, which is really semi-Ashkenazi. When you listen to their orchestras, they are all playing the same melody.”
It is all about melodic stratification. “It doesn’t make any difference if you have 60 players or 100. They are all playing the same melody. There’s no harmony. As soon as you introduce Western harmony, you can destroy the basis of the Arab musical work. Arabic music was not created with any harmonic thought.”
That might be so, but, judging by the 10 pieces on the Near Eastern Voices CD, Elkhater, Borshevsky and company have managed to find their way through the musical minefield with great aplomb. The members of the choir perform songs in Arabic and Hebrew, feeding off the delicately delivered instrumental anchor provided by Elkhater and the quintet, with Joubran leading the vocal way.
Over the past nine years, the choral ensemble has worked with such globally renowned conductors as Zubin Mehta, Roberto Abbado, Krzysztof Penderecki and Noam Sheriff, and has performed across Europe. It has proved its worth in the Western musical sphere, and has now earned its interdisciplinary spurs, too.
It promises to be a fascinating musical evening, and probably a heartwarming one, too. This is clearly a worthy choice to help the Isha Le’Isha association cause.
For tickets and more information: (050) 857-3357 and https://www.jerusalem-theatre.co.il