Rustic rhythms

The Abu Ghosh Festival continues to be a popular attraction for lovers of classical, contemporary and ethnic music in a picturesque setting.

Avishai Cohen_521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Avishai Cohen_521
(photo credit: courtesy)
The tried and tested marketing dictum “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” could well apply to the Abu Ghosh Festival. The twice-yearly predominantly vocal classical music festival, in its current format, has been going on for nigh on to two decades, and its appeal seems to just grow and grow. Naturally, it can help if you offer your public a program chock full of perennial favorites, richly sequestered works and some innovative departures. Add that to a bunch of sumptuous venues and inspiring and relaxing rustic surroundings, and you’ve got a winner on your hands.
Next week’s festival (June 7-11) features items for beaten track adherents, patrons looking for something slightly outside the box, and others who – to somewhat misquote 1980s pop singer Cyndi Lauper – just wanna have some fun.
There are plenty of proven classical goodies in there, such as the opening concert, Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and Schubert’s Mass in G Major, all of which will be performed at the Kiryat Ye’arim Church.
But if you’re looking to vary your Abu Ghosh program, you can also catch some Brazilian and Argentinean songs, spirituals and gospel numbers, staples of the Israeli Songbook and even something with some jazzy seasoning. The latter will be provided by longtime festival producer Gershon Cohen’s internationally acclaimed bassplaying son Avishai, who will sing and play material specially written for the occasion, at the Kiryat Ye’arim Church on the opening day of the festival.
“Avishai is world famous, although he won’t exactly be playing pure jazz at the festival,” explains the event artistic director Hannah Tzur, who has had a long association with the festival, including in its previous life. “The festival initially ran between 1956 and 1972, and I started performing there in 1962.”
Tzur also earns a crust or two as a conductor and vocalist, and is the founder and director of the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir. The festival’s first run ended in 1972 when the Kiryat Ye’arim Church authorities decided to stop hosting it and the festival resumed in 1992 under Gershon Cohen’s aegis.
One of the innovative items in next week’s program is the inclusion of some of the winning participants in last month’s Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition, as well as a key figure in that event’s lifetime to date. “That will happen on Saturday morning, June 11,” says Tzur. “We will start with Love of Hadassah by Eyal Bat, that’s for piano and choir – with my choir from Ramat Gan. Then we’ll have [Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition artistic director] Idit Zvi playing Robert Schumann’s Zigeunerleben [Gypsy Life] with the choir. Then the Arthur Rubinstein winner will play a 25-30 minute solo, and we’ll end with the winner playing a piano duet with Idit Zvi – Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzer [Love Song Waltzes] – together with the choir. Brahms’s waltzes aren’t anywhere as difficult as the works they perform in the Arthur Rubinstein competition, but I think we have put together a good program.”
Tzur says that connecting Rubinstein with church concerts is a good marriage. “I remember being at a classical concert in a church in Paris many years ago, and I heard the piano sing and the choir play. Rubinstein always said that the piano should sing, and the acoustics of the church are perfect for this.”
Anglophiles – or, more accurately, admirers of ethnic music from the British Isles and their nearest neighbor – should enjoy the closing slot in the festival, which glories under the suitably bucolic title of “In the Green Pastures of Scotland, Ireland and Wales.” The concert features four classical singers and pianist Yair Polishook, along with ethnic music band Evergreen, complete with stellar Celtic music percussionist Abe Doron and bagpiper Uri Miles.
The Israeli Songbook will be front and center on the Friday, at a 4:15 p.m. concert at The Crypt, with songs based on several Nathan Alterman poems, including “Layla Layla,” “Kalaniot” and Nigun Atik.” Soprano Haggar Leibovich and baritone Yair Polishook will provide the vocal interpretation, along with Efrat Levi’s piano accompaniment.
For some years now, the festival has hosted outdoor sing-alongs based on the works of one or other of our iconic songwriters. This time, Naomi Shemer is the featured songstress at the communal singing sessions on Wednesday and Saturday.
As for the last 16 years during which she has been at the artistic helm, Tzur is looking forward to next week’s musical feast in the country. “The settings are so gorgeous and the ambiance is tranquil,” she says. “I don’t think there is anything better anywhere.”
For tickets and more information:, (03) 604-5000 or *8965, (02) 62307000 or