Music is music at this year's Tzlilei Stav music festival

Tzlilei Stav started out at Tefen in 2016, moving on to Ein Kerem for a couple of years before ending up in Abu Gosh.

 SOPRANO NOUR Darwish will be featured at the Tzlilei Stav (Fall Sounds) Festival. (photo credit: SABRIN KHOURY)
SOPRANO NOUR Darwish will be featured at the Tzlilei Stav (Fall Sounds) Festival.
(photo credit: SABRIN KHOURY)

As far as Chen Zimbalista is concerned, music is just music. While that may sound a little simplistic, take a look at his programming offering at this year’s Tzlilei Stav (Fall Sounds) Festival (October 15-16) and you get a deeper understanding of the musician’s nondiscriminatory philosophy.

Zimbalista is best known as an internationally acclaimed percussionist, having played with top orchestras on some of the world’s biggest stages across a 30-year and counting career, primarily on marimba. More recently, he has increasingly occupied the conductor’s dais along with his sterling work as founder and head of the Zimbalista Music Factory nonprofit, which is supported by the Recanati Family Foundation and the Culture Ministry, and promotes artistically and personally fruitful synergies between budding Arab and Jewish musicians.

So it makes perfect sense for Zimbalista to oversee the program of the festival, which, for the past couple of years, has been taking place in Abu Gosh in the wake of the now seemingly permanent decampment of the long-running Abu Gosh Festival vocal venture to Tel Aviv. It also follows that having a bunch of Music Factory students in the Tzlilei Stav lineup is a natural fit.

Actually, in Zimablista’s book, there does not seem to be much that does not seamlessly flow together. Take, for example, the curtain raiser at 6 p.m. on October 15 with the Chamber at Sunset concert. The show opens with Tchaikovsky’s stirring Souvenir de Florence followed by Bach’s Violin Concerto in G Minor performed by the conductor’s charges from the Music Factory Orchestra.

Zimbalista makes a point of offering youngsters a chance to shine in the limelight and he gets that in the Tzlilei Stav agenda from the off. The second slot in the concert is called The Next Generation of Classical Music with promising students from some of the country’s music academies playing works by Dvorak, Sibelius and Borodin. And just in case the musical layout was not already sufficiently expansive, the first day’s offerings end with a jazz outing with local musicians joining members of the Music Factory Ensemble.

Chen Zimbalista (credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)Chen Zimbalista (credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)

The artistic director says he is delighted to have the festival hosted in the Arab town in the Jerusalem Hills, and was clearly looking to imbibe and proffer some of the local vibes and talent. “We play an instrumental version of [jazz standard] ‘Night in Tunisia’ in the first concert and I believe it is the first time that the festival in Abu Gosh will feature musicians from there.”

The idea was also to allow homespun artists to strut their own stuff alongside the out-of-towners. “We will also perform material written by musicians from Abu Gosh,” Zimbalista states. “There is a young man called Ayman Marey. He is a songwriter and plays oud and guitar. He will be in the concert.”

There’s no place like home and Zimbalista is keenly aware that, while he made be ruling the programmatic roost during the course of the festival, he is just passing through. “I am the guest there,” he laughs. “Yes, we come in with the initiative, the idea and we produce the festival. But we open up the stage and we ask the people of Abu Gosh what they want to say.”

The Music Factory has been asking young musicians what they have on their minds and in their hearts for a while now. Tzlilei Stav started out at Tefen in 2016, moving on to Ein Kerem for a couple of years before ending up in Abu Gosh. Zimbalista says none of that was a serious proposition back then.

“I didn’t know that the amuta (nonprofit) would lead to the festival in all these places,” he observes, adding that multiculturalism and programmatic bifurcation were always very much part and parcel of the Music Factory philosophy.

Multiculturalism in Abu Gosh performance

THAT NATURALLY informs the annual performance agenda at Abu Gosh. He sees no problem, for instance, with slotting “Stabat Mater” by early 18th-century Italian baroque composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi cheek-by-jowl with pop nugget “The Purple Dress” crafted by Israel Prize laureate songsmith Sasha Argov, in the Vocal at Sunset program on October 16.

Keeping the eclectic train firmly on track, that is followed by another jazz session fronted by the Music Factory crowd, closing with the most wide-ranging repertoire of the festival. The Paris-Beirut concert, which features the Music Factory Orchestra and Palestinian soprano Nour Darwish, a frequent performer with the Israeli Opera, takes in operatic favorite Carmen by Bizet, and Habaitak, which is universally identified with now 87-year-old Lebanese singer Fairuz. And if the genre net was not spread quite broadly enough, the evergreen jazz standard “Autumn Leaves” gets an intriguing Arabic-language rendition by Darwish with the show closing with “Ir Holadetee” (My Hometown) by 59-year-old Tajikistan-born Israeli composer Benjamin Yusupov.

Open-minded and open-eared

Evidently, as far as Zimbalista is concerned, we should take an open-minded and open-eared approach to the musical sounds we encounter. Still, in a world where genres, styles etc. are carefully pigeonholed and channeled by the music industry powers that be in order to reel in their intended consumer groups, presumably that line of thought and artistic presentation doesn’t make life any easier for the percussionist-conductor and his nonprofit colleagues.

Zimbalista is heavily invested in working out how to help us to keep our cultural options open. “I am currently doing a Ph.D. on new ways to bring audiences back to the concert halls,” he says. He is painfully aware of the scale of the task in hand. “It is obvious that we have to educate audiences. The situation is catastrophic.”

That took me by surprise, particularly in a world in which diverse programming events are increasingly the norm. That may be so but Zimbalista says he and his ilk are still fighting an uphill battle against mainstream fare. “It makes me angry when I see [pop diva] Britney Spears playing to 60,000 people and, regardless of the orchestra on the stage, we take a whole year of performances to accumulate crowds of 60,000.”

Age group classifications, and contemporary viewing and listening habits also come into festival planning considerations. “Youngsters today are used to hearing music standing up, walking and doing all sorts of things,” Zimbalista notes. “The middle concert at the festival, each day, is for standing audiences. It takes place next to the bar and the pieces are quite short.” Hopefully, that will do the age group-tailored trick.

Zimbalista and the Music Factory may be on the marketing margins of the entertainment scene but there are clearly rich sonic pickings to be had at Abu Gosh this weekend and in the loveliest of settings.

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