A musical bridge to Abu Ghosh?

Finding parking in Abu Ghosh on a Friday afternoon or a Saturday morning is always difficult.

Abu Ghosh 88 (photo credit: )
Abu Ghosh 88
(photo credit: )
Finding parking in Abu Ghosh on a Friday afternoon or a Saturday morning is always difficult. But twice a year, on Succot and Shavuot, when the Abu Ghosh Vocal Festival comes to the village, it is nearly impossible. Abu Ghosh is a picturesque village, famous to most Jewish Israelis for its fine restaurants. But during the festival, as the lucid and vibrant sounds of Baroque and Renaissance music fill the air of the Jerusalem mountains, thousands of visitors from all over Israel fill the streets. The Vocal Festival in Abu Ghosh is considered to be one of Israel's musical gems, one of the most, if not the most, important and prominent vocal festival in Israel. Concerts are held at one of four locations - the Kiryat Yea'rim Church, the largest venue, with 580 seats; the Crusader Church at the center of the village, with 300 seats; the Crypt under the Crusader church, with 150 seats; and out in the open, under the shade of the ancient pine trees. The churches of Abu Ghosh have some of the best acoustics in the country. Festival producer Gershon Cohen says that it was the beauty of the churches and those fine acoustics that initially brought him to consider Abu Ghosh as the location for the festival. The repertoire, predominantly liturgical, is performed by world-renowned soloists, choirs and orchestras from Israel and abroad, including rare pieces that receive their premiere in Israel at Abu Ghosh. This year's program included medieval music from Spain, Italy and France; instrumental and vocal works of Scarlatti; Russian liturgy from the 17th to the 19th centuries as well as numerous other outstanding pieces. Although Cohen resumed the festival in 1992, the very first Abu Ghosh Festival was actually launched by the Benedictine monastery in 1957. Israel was popular then, and internationally regarded performers from around the world came to play before the music lovers of the young state. But the festival was discontinued in 1971. According to Cohen, the festival is produced in close cooperation with the Abu Ghosh local council and its head, Salim Jaber. However, the municipality is not a financial party to the festival, sharing in neither the profits nor the costs. "The festival is definitely beneficial to the village, as the people who come to attend the concerts also need to eat, so the restaurants profit," Cohen says. Ibrahim Musa, owner of the venerable "Caravan" Restaurant, says that this year the festival actually didn't bring a tourist boom. "Thank God," he says, "the business is going well, off-festival or on-festival." But he agrees that the festival has a positive effect on the village and local businesses. "It's a cultural thing, a spiritual thing and it's good that it takes place in Abu Ghosh... There is more movement, more life. It gives a totally new perspective to the place." He adds that he is also pleased with the organization of the festival - although sometimes the roads are crammed with cars and people after concert hours. Cohen acknowledges that "only a handful" of local residents actually attend the festival. "It is understandable, since they were brought up in a totally different musical tradition," he says. "However, everybody is welcome to our events and we always invite the inhabitants of Abu Ghosh to come and attend without paying a fee." Council head Jaber views the relationship that has developed between the festival and the village as deeper than finances or even music. "Abu Ghosh is a genuine example of peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews, and although we do not benefit from the festival directly, we are thrilled to welcome its guests in our village," he declares. Muhammad Abu Ghosh, 56, a vendor at the local supermarket, has never attended a festival yet agrees with Jaber, "It's good that lots of people from all around Israel come to visit us. This way they can see for themselves that an Arab village can be a very peaceful and nice place." Omar, a university student, says that the festival also emphasizes the benefits in the village. "It's good to see people who come to Abu Ghosh from Haifa, Beersheba and Ra'anana to enjoy it. Sure, some come to listen to the music but then they discover the beauty of Abu Ghosh, and next time they might want to come to eat and travel here." However, Omar adds, "It's a pity that there is no such festival for Eastern and Arabic music. I'm sure that such an event might also attract a large crowd, both Jews and Arabs. It could be just the right thing for Abu Ghosh and also unify the two nations who share their love for music." In fact, Omar's idea might become a reality soon. Says Jaber, "We are considering launching a festival of Eastern music, and are currently discussing this project with various parties."