A liturgical renaissance

Piyutim, the festival of traditional liturgical music, reflects the growing popularity of the genre.

ethiopian piyut 248 (photo credit: )
ethiopian piyut 248
(photo credit: )
Piyutim, the annual fall festival of traditional liturgical music, may only have taken place for the first time last year, but it is already making a name for itself among the city's music festivals. While Jewish music, and in particular liturgical music, has undergone a renaissance with concerts popular throughout the year, Piyutim's artistic director Yair Harel says "a festival is a very special kind of event. It is a kind of peak that allows unique things to happen, as well of course as gaining wide attention and allowing the kind of festivity that you cannot encounter in a regular concert." Harel is himself a musician and a singer and also the chief editor of the Web site Invitation to a Piyut (www.piyut.org.il), which gathers and preserves thousands of various traditions from Jewish communities around the world. "The festival," says Harel, "serves as a platform to enable an expression of all the richness and variety of this unique genre." He continues, "It has to become a stage for a creative dialogue between traditional Jewish culture and contemporary Israeli artists. We enable the real 'hard-core' liturgical music to step out from the synagogues on to center stage. By doing so, by presenting the authentic tunes and performances, we enable not only those who regularly attend synagogue to enjoy those jewels but also lay people.". The second Piyutim festival will take place from Monday to Thursday mostly at Beit Avi Chai (in the main hall and the courtyard) but also at the Gerard Behar Center, and will offer exciting programs from the Sephardi, Ashkenazi and - a less known but no less fascinating tradition - the Ethiopian liturgy, introducing on the same stage a group of kesses (priests) and musicians. The festival has the support of the Jerusalem Municipality. "The program creates also one more important thing," says Harel. "Encounters between communities that do not usually mix . We will have among our performers - and naturally as a result among our audience, too - haredim, religious, secular and traditional. It is basically an opportunity to bring the fringes together. It allows an encounter between the generations. We want to say, through the Piyutim: 'Look, it's right here, under your nose, and it's yours; it belongs to you all.'" Harel has a wider vision for the festival: to bring together not only Jewish communities but also to expand its framework farther afield. "Our aim is to reach out to a wider audience and to make this an even more important event: to become a stage for a Jewish- Muslim encounter through common musical traditions and shared monotheistic faith." The festival will open with an evening dedicated to the Jerusalem tradition, with three generations of paytanim from the most famous synagogues of the Nahlaot neighborhood. The festival will include an evening of Ethiopian liturgy, an evening of traditions from Morocco, Spain and Israel, featuring renowned paytan Haim Lock and programs of Ashkenazi hassidic liturgy, Yemenite liturgy, Spanish-Portuguese liturgy and a North African evening. Popular Israeli singer Kobi Oz, who recently released an album incorporating recording of his father - himself a famous paytan - will make a guest appearance at the festival, which will close with a encounter between contemporary Israeli performer Shlomi Shaban and paytan David Menachem. Tickets and details at Beit Avi Chai, 621-5900 or at www.bac.org.il