Beyond life

Composer Noam Sivan talks about his latest work ‘Death and Birth’ premiering this week.

Composer Noam Sivan talks about his latest work ‘Death and Birth’ premiering this week (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
Composer Noam Sivan talks about his latest work ‘Death and Birth’ premiering this week
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
‘Although people say, ‘To excel, you should concentrate on something specific,’ I find it more appealing to experience music in its entirety: To compose, to play, to be able to read the score. And when you explore the same thing from different angles, your experience is richer,” says multifaceted Israeli musician Noam Sivan, 35, as he speaks from his New York home.
June 15 in Tel Aviv and in Kfar Shmaryahu, the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble together with Collegium Choir singers Inas Masalha and Einat Aronstein as well as Sivan at the piano, will world premiere his 40-minute-long piece Death and Birth.
Sivan, who is pianist, composer, conductor and improviser says that creation of the piece was triggered by his four-year-old son’s question: “Dad, when somebody dies, at the same time is somebody born in some other place?”
The text of the piece is in Hebrew and Arabic and comes from 25 sources, both ancient, like Hebrew Bible, the Midrash, the Zohar and the Muslim Hadith and contemporary prose and poetry – texts by A.B. Yehoshua, Rachel the Poetess and Mahmoud Darwish, among others.
“Granted, we know so little about our existence in this world,” says the composer, “but we at least can try and find parallels between these two important points, death and birth. As poet Khalil Gibran said – and I use these words in my piece – ‘Life does not start with birth and certainly does not end with death.’” T
he piece starts with the question of the composer’s son, then a prayer about infertility and a text about why death has to be so hard follow.
“The singers share their firsthand personal experience,” explains the composer about the way his piece is written. Then a text about birth as a sublime experience comes, and another one about the pains of birth follows. Everything is interconnected and interwoven – the mother sings in Hebrew while the child replies in Arabic. There are parallels, there is duality – two singers, two languages and then – soloists and the choir, etc.”
The composer says that preparation of the text demanded a lot of work and many people were of great help to him, such as singer Inas Masalha, his wife, Maya Hartman and Dr. Hannah Amit-Kochavi among others, who shared their ideas with him.
The Jewish New Year is the turning point of the piece, which ends with the words “Let it be light.” Born in Haifa, Noam Sivan started playing classical piano, as well as improvising and composing, at an early age. He learned piano and later composition first in his native city and at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Thirteen years ago he moved to New York, where he continued his studies at the Mannes College, The New School for Music and in the Juilliard School. He lives in New York with his wife and their three kids and, in addition to his vast performing activities, he teaches orchestral improvisation at Mannes, Juilliard and Curtis Institute of Music.
“What I teach is orchestral improvisation for classically trained musicians – exactly the place where I come from. It demands from the artists no less work and preparation than the performance of existing pieces, yet creates a totally different refreshing experience both for the audience in the concert hall and the orchestra players on stage. This is something that did not exist before – it happens that it was me who has created this new field.”
Sivan makes a point to visit his homeland at least twice a year, both to see his family and to teach and perform.
The concerts take place at the Tel Aviv Conservatory June 15, 054-494-0317, and at the Weil Auditorium in Kfar Shmaryahu, (09) 956-9430 the next day. The program also features pieces by Brahms.