A little light music

One of the Jerusalem Arts Festival's most innovative events combines concerts at never-seen venues with a tour of the area.

maayan 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
maayan 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When you have a long-running annual event, it is generally a good idea to offer the public something new each time round to keep their interest duly piqued. Holding a concert or two at an otherwise never-seen site with great aesthetic appeal and a wealth of history behind it isn't a bad way to go about it. And showing off some outside spots with similar attributes only adds to the appealing mix. The St. Vincent de Paul Monastery in Mamilla is never open to the public, but next week's annual Jerusalem Arts Festival (March 23-29) offers a unique opportunity to get a glimpse of the 19th-century edifice tucked away behind the shopping mall. It is unlikely that visitors to the mall and the new office buildings give the church much thought, probably considering it just another of "those buildings" in a district that, until the recent surge in construction and development, went largely ignored since the Six Day War. Next week, however, the monastery and church will be unveiled to the general public for three festival events, including Thursday's Light of Jerusalem Concertour program which, as the name suggests, combines indoor musical entertainment with an ambulatory foray to some of the nearby noteworthy sites in and near the Old City. The Light of Jerusalem intramural program features the 45-member Ma'ayan choir from Tel Aviv performing a repertoire of works of a largely Jewish or Israeli nature. The official Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipal choir is conducted by Anat Morag and will appear at St. Vincent de Paul on March 26 at 7:30 p.m. "We tried to include material that is suitable to the location and its history," explains choir director Nirit Ben-Yishai. "It will certainly be a thrill to perform at the church. We have given many concerts in Jerusalem but probably nowhere as special as St. Vincent de Paul." The concert line-up is a varied affair, including Vivaldi's "Beatus Vir," with words taken from Psalm 111, and "Gloria," as well as a little-performed version of "Shalom Aleichem" and an adaptation of the "Veyimalet Kayin," originally recorded by the Gesher Hayarkon Trio 1960s pop group of Arik Einstein, Yehoram Gaon and Benny Amdursky. Other contemporary popular items in the concert include the anthemic "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" and the 1960s folk-pop hit "Tzippor Shniya." The Ma'ayan choir will also include several culturally extraneous works, such as a medley of Slovakian songs by Bela Bartok. "We wanted to vary the program as much as possible," explains Ben-Yishai, "and the Bartok songs add a gay Gypsy air to the proceedings." The second part of the Concertour program, which starts at 9 p.m., features a bus and walking trip that takes in striking local locations with views of the Old City and the surrounding area, led by Ein Kerem Legend representative Pnina Ein-Mor. Tickets can be bought separately for the concert and the tour. Ein-Mor will also lead a tour of the Old City on March 27. "There is such a wealth of history in Jerusalem, and it is wonderful to see the city lit up at night too," says Ein-Mor. The tour will take in exhilarating vistas from the Mount of Olives and Armon Hanatziv, with Ein-Mor seasoning the factual material with intriguing anecdotal material. "How many people know, for instance, that emperor Josef of Austria gave Austrian Jews in Jerusalem funds to complete the construction of the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue in the Old City?" The Friday trek will also take in the Emmanuel Church near Jaffa Gate, which has more Jewish motifs inside than Christian ones. "The first bishop of the church was born as a British Jew who converted to Christianity," Ein-Mor explains. "There are lots of interesting stories about that church, and there are still some wonderful religious rituals practiced in the Old City to this day." One of the latter is the practice of using kawafs, or bodyguards, to protect groups belonging to different religious sects. "The Assyrian sect in Jerusalem, for example, is so small that kawafs have to make a lot of noise with their rods to make sure people notice the group." There is certainly plenty to notice elsewhere in the Jerusalem Arts Festival program, with half a dozen dance shows at the Jerusalem Theater and Gerard Behar Center; concerts at the St. Andrew's Church, YMCA, Hama'abada and Beit Shmuel; drama at Hama'abada, Beit Shmuel and the Khan Theater; and an assortment of free events. Anglophiles should enjoy the March 25 (8:30 p.m.) concert at St. Vincent de Paul, which marks the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II and features works from various parts of the British Empire performed by the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Chorus and a string and wind instrument ensemble. For more information about the festival: www.arts-festival.jerusalem.muni.il For more information about the tours: www.einkerem-legend.co.il