Made in Israel

The Feast of Israeli Music festival gets under way.

Israel Music Festival  (photo credit: ROLANDO PAOLO GUERZONI)
Israel Music Festival
The 20th annual Feast of Israeli Music, one of the country’s most important musical events, will take place from September 24 to 28 in Haifa, Zichron Ya’acov, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The idea behind the programming is to present Israeli music in all its richness and variety.
The program features ethnic, vocal, choral, electronic music, pieces for orchestra, concerti and more. The festival provides a stage for world premieres of new pieces, as well as those that have become Israeli classics.
The long-awaited Israeli premiere of the monumental Fuga Perpetua by renowned Israeli composer/ performer/video artist Yuval Avital is pne of the most intriguing events of the festival.
Jerusalem-born Avital, 40, began started his music career as a classical guitar player.
“Later, I studied at the Jerusalem School of Contemporary Music, which opened for me the world of improvisation, of contemporary music, of interaction between music and dance and more. As a student of the experimental school, I received many important instruments, which were very helpful for my future activities in theater, literature and so forth,” says Avital in a phone interview from Milan, where he lives.
Entering the Academy of Music, he continued his classical guitar studies and, at the same time, took courses in jazz. That was when he met professor Daliah Cohen, “one of my major spiritual teachers of non-European music and various cultural languages,” he says.
Together with his friends Avi Avital (mandolin) and Yizhar Karshon (cembalo), Avital formed a trio that performed contemporary Israeli music.
“Looking through the eyes of the first-generation Israeli composers, such as Avel Ehrich and Yehezkel Braun, I started to realize that there is music that contemplates reality and is not only about technique. Music is a poetic response to reality and, as such, it can turn into a sound and not only to music,” he says.
In 2003 in Italy, while touring Europe with the trio, he met guitarist and composer Angelo Gilardino, artistic director of the Andres Segovia Foundation of Linares. He invited Avital to stay in Italy and continue his studies with him.
“Settling in the tiny quiet town of Biella, I worked like mad, exercising eight and more hours a day, but the world that I came from – the world of Jerusalem – never let me go,” says Avital.
He looked for experience beyond the limits of purely classical music.
“Through Gilardino, who was very sensitive to his students, I learned about prominent US-based Egyptian Coptic composer and musicologist Halim El-Dabh, for whom there’s no distance between the ancient tradition and contemporary music. For example, he traveled to Africa, where he researched music of various tribes and then composed electronic music,” he recounts.
And again, cooperation with El-Dabh opened yet another world for Avital. In addition to his classical solo career, he entered the world of dance, theater and vocal music.
In 2005, together with Israeli composer Beni Yusupov, he traveled to remote countries such as Kazakhstan, “where I worked with musicians from nomadic tribes, which included video and electronic music. After that, I simply could not be totally devoted to my career as a classical performer. In 2007, in Toronto, I gave my last concert as a solo guitarist,” he says.
He continued with his studies in Milan – electronic music and video – and in 2008 he presented his first opera, Kolot. It was an observation of Israel in all its cultural complexity – ancient Jewish traditions, Christian and Muslim cultures, ancient populations and contemporary reality. It featured 12 singers, who vocally represented them. Other pieces followed.
Avital worked with Samaritan and Ethiopian communities, among others.
“Back to Jerusalem, places like the Western Wall, which is full of voices, of endless layers of voices – all caused me to create pieces in which sounds become almost material,” he says.
Mise en abîme, Avital’s first large-scale sonic work, was composed for a choir of 100 people, 34 accordions, two bass tubas, bass clarinet, soprano, percussions, didgeridoo and four conductors. This was his new direction.
But he still composes “regular” music and works in the field of video art.
“My projects are about putting different worlds together and, as such, they might seem eclectic, but there is always a tremendous amount of research work and search for truth behind them,” Avital stresses.
“Fuga Perpetua was born as a result of my encounter with Amit Dolberg and Ensemble Meitar three years ago,” Avital recounts. “I told him about how I work, and he liked it. We decided to compose something together – something that was not only esthetic but somehow also related to reality. Following leading Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, I believe that artists in the 21st century should create not only for the sake of art but also for the sake of society, to express the voices of society. That was how we came up with the idea of composing a piece about refugees.”
Avital says that he and Dolderg were very cautious approaching that theme.
“There is an ethical conflict here: Should an artist put on stage something that people are suffering right now for other people to enjoy? Another question is: Are we exploiting this highly charged theme just for the sake of success?” he asks.
Only after coming to the conclusion that it would not be a piece about refugees but a piece with refugees as participants and storytellers could Avital start working.
He approached UNHCR with his vision, and the UN Refugee Agency fully supported him, providing him with a lot of material – numerous interviews with refugees in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
“And then I decided to do so-called silent interviews – not to talk to them but to ask them to recount important moments in their lives, while their faces said it all. There is a lot of sincerity about the silence. But they occasionally said a word or two in their language. So as not to hurt them, we used special interviewing techniques for people who had traumatic experiences in the past,” he says.
Some 31 refugees participated in the project: “Kurds, Syrians, Afghans, Sudanese and more. Young and old, men and women. They spoke about their journey and shared with us themes that are in a way basic to us as humanity – childhood, images of mother and father, night, distance.
Through this, they invited us into their world, which is not that different from ours. After all, Fuga Perpetua is not a piece about refugees but rather about home, about home sickness and about heroism. The title of this polyphonic piece has a double meaning. One is purely musical – fuga, which is familiar from the days of Bach. But literally translated from Italian, it also means ‘endless escape.’ I intentionally composed the piece in a way that it would be almost impossible to perform in order to express the very sensation of a flight,” he explains.
The music performance is accompanied with video fragments.
Some of them come from UNHCR archives, while others were filmed by Avital.
The composer sums up: “This piece speaks to various audiences, not especially classical music lovers. This is a story of human identity – not national or territorial or religious. This is a story of our identity as human beings.”
‘Fuga Perpetua’ will be performed by Yuval Avital and Ensemble Meitar on September 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
The Feast of Israeli Music concerts take place on September 24 in Haifa; September 25 in Zichron Ya’acov; September 26 & 27 in Tel Aviv; and September 28 in Jerusalem.
Admission to all festival events is free, but seats must be reserved in advance at For more information and reservations for groups: (03) 740-4438.