High notes and low points

A review of the Israel Festival reveals some magical moments and a few flaws.

As these lines are being written the Israel Festival is drawing to a close - an appropriate time to assess its successes and failures. Despite all the cuts in funding and support experienced by this institution, the festival managed to present a full program. However, as in previous years, it suffered from a fundamental problem: the lack of a cohesive artistic overview and direction. True, this festival administration has some of the best people available in all spheres. At the top of the management pyramid is the affable CEO Yossi Talgan and his dedicated staff. The public relations mechanism, in the experienced hands of Ora Lapidot, works smoothly and professionally - not a negligible issue in such a context. And, of course, there is the faithful public, including a large participation of visitors from the center of the country. However, over the years the festival has lost sight of one of its primary objectives: to create a special atmosphere in the city. Granted, the Jerusalem Theater and its plaza offered free entertainment every evening, with orchestras, performers and pantomime, in addition to the Jazz Club in the foyer. This year, during the second week of the festival, the Jazz Club moved to the Elrov-Mamilla Mall, attracting even more of Jerusalem's residents. And that is precisely the problem. If you didn't go to the Jerusalem Theater or to the Mamilla Mall, you might not even have known that the festival was going on - and that is a pity. In another vein, in quite a few of the festival brochures there were errors in spelling and translation. In one particular case, it appears there was some lack of coordination between the festival administration and one of the venues. As a result, the audience had to choose between listening to the performer on stage and the music and whoops of joy emanating from the guests of a bar-mitzva being celebrated one floor below. During its three weeks, the festival included an international jazz festival (quite successful) and a world music festival (music from Azerbaijan, India and Portugal), in addition to theater, dance and classical music programs. I will focus on two of the musical performances: the Cantus Colln ensemble's pre-Bach program and the fado evening presented by Portuguese singer Mizia. Listening to the music of the forefathers of Johann Sebastian Bach is a frustrating task. Once you know what the genius from Eisenach brought to the world of music, your judgment of what his predecessors did cannot truly be fair. Nevertheless, the members of the Cantus Colln rose to some incredible heights, thanks to a superb interpretation of the motets and cantatas by Nikolaus Bruhns, Dietrich Buxtehude, Matthias Weckmann and Johann Rosenmuller. Such perfection, such harmony between the singers and the musician, such precision in the ensemble of the entire work. It was a breathtaking performance, which elicited respect from even the Israeli audience members, usually known for their inability to control their bursts of coughing. As for the Portuguese singer Mizia, apart from the somewhat problematic beginning (not to mention the bar-mitzva cacophony), the first part was a sheer pleasure : traditional fado presented with the traditional Portuguese musical accompaniment, including a brief appearance of the guitarist dressed as the famous Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. The second part was a journey through the streets of the world through songs and music. Mizia, who was raised on the fado tradition revealed by the late Amalia Rodriguez, succeeded in transporting the audience to her native Portugal and then through Turkey, France, England and even Japan.