Sounds Israeli

Ben-Moshe says there’s no consensus on whether there’s a, ‘Israeli music’ genre, but put together a varied program nonetheless.

Boaz Ben-Moshe 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Boaz Ben-Moshe 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
You’d think that, if you’re in charge of a music festival, it would be a given to focus on the aural experience you want to proffer to the paying customer. But sometimes, even the seemingly obvious has to be said.
“I am only interested in the music making its way from the stage to the listeners’ ears,” says Boaz Ben-Moshe, the incoming artistic director of the annual Israeli Music Festival, which will take place at various locations around the country from September 19 to 23. “It is not about my own personal tastes in music at all.”
Ben-Moshe has clearly taken great pains to make the sounds on offer over the five-day festival as palatable as possible to ears used to hearing music from a wide swath of styles and ethnic origins.
The expanse of the cultural embrace is evident from the outset, as indicated by the choice of Mordechai Seter as the festival’s featured composer.
Ben-Moshe calls Seter “one of the founding fathers of Israeli art music” and one of several Russian-born Western classical composers who explored the rhythmic and melodic possibilities of Eastern material, and incorporated Yemenite motifs in his works.
The festival’s opening gala concert, which will take place at the Jerusalem Theater on September 19, starts off with Seter’s celebrated Tikun Hatzot (Midnight Vigil), Rhapsody of Yemenite Themes. The concert program also includes works by Binyamin Yusupov, whose oeuvre also delves into Ethiopian, Central Asian and South American cultural domains, 43-year-old composer-conductor-pianist Yaron Gottfried and Rubin Academy- and Columbia University-trained composer Menachem Tzur, who has written chamber music and symphonic works, as well as operas and electronic music.
In his program notes, Ben-Moshe describes the evening as incorporating “four works by four composers that reflect the multifarious aesthetics of Israeli music.”
In academic circles there is an ongoing debate about whether there is such a thing as Israeli art, so what about music from this part of the world? After six and a half decades of independence is it possible to define something as “Israeli music”? Ben-Moshe is primed and ready to offer his viewpoint.
“I have addressed this topic quite a few times in the run-up to the festival,” he notes patiently. “It is a legitimate question to pose.”
For the artistic director it all boils down to individual perspective. “I maintain an open stance that says that [viewing something as] Israeli music is only contingent on the definition of the person who created it. I take the carte-blanche approach. Israeli music can even be music that was not written in Israel, or not even composed by an Israeli citizen.”
Ben-Moshe says that there is no consensus on the topic, and that he has no problem with that.
“That is the best position to be in, because that offers Israeli music the widest possible space for maneuvering. It allows composers to express their ideas and to work in a more special and totally independent way.”
He feels that the unfettered ethos is not only the most natural road to true creativity, it is also the fairest.
“In the early years of the state there was an attempt to forge a unique culture that, of course, is a product of the cultural melting pot we have here.
Although that spawned some very interesting works, there were also some very troubling phenomena of cultural repression too – against Eastern culture, but also against street-level dialogue, and such like.”
While Ben-Moshe clearly advocates a non-personalized approach to formulating music festival lineups, he just happens to accommodate an eclectic approach to the art form as a music lover himself. His fondness for jazz, for example, comes through loud and clear with the Israeli Swing concert, which is schedule for the Rappaport Hall in Haifa on September 20.
The show traverses stylistic boundaries with gay abandon, and includes Arnon Palti’s “Moroccan Medley,” John Bostok’s “Mr. Gong” and “Symphony for Big Band, First Movement” by Sivan Shinhav.
“These are Israeli composers who have one foot entrenched in Israeli concert music, and the other in the world of jazz,” says Ben-Moshe. “The composers were asked to write works for big bands, which is the orchestral ensemble that sets jazz music apart.”
The Israeli Swing concert features the Hod Hasharon Big Band, the Thalamus vocal quartet, vocalist Esti Keinan-Ofri, oud player Wisam Jubran and conductor Guri Agmon. Composer-saxophonist Agmon’s work “The Music Knows” is also in the concert repertoire.
“Judaism, and Jewish tradition, do not play an integral role in what Israeli music is, or isn’t,” declares Ben-Moshe.
“When our festival includes a concert in Nazareth, with the Arab Israeli Orchestra, you see that Israeli music can come from Arabic origins, or from Turkish roots or anything else.”
The concert in question will take place in Nazareth on September 22 and will encompass classical Arabic music alongside more modern works and songs. Nizar Radwan will be on the composer’s dais for the occasion.
The closing slot of the festival will take place at the Performing Arts Center in Beersheba and brings together two acclaimed soloists from very different cultural worlds. Over the past half century septuagenarian clarinetist Giora Feidman has gained a global reputation for his silky skills in the klezmer section of the musical field, and is also highly adept at performing western classical works. Meanwhile, 57- year-old oud player and violinist Yair Dalal has spent much of the last three decades traipsing across the world to perform his own singular multicultural mix of scores, as well as classical Arabic music and Iraqi-based material.
The Feidman-Dalal synergy will take place in a performance of Dalal’s “Jethro,” originally recorded on his 2003 CD The Perfumed Road, which crosses numerous cultural patches, together with the Beersheba Israeli Symphonette conducted by Amos Boazsson.
The festival program also devotes generous space to Israeli poetry with musical compositions inspired by poems by Yona Wallach, Miron Izakson, Yisrael Eliraz, Leah Goldberg and Natan Alterman.
“The Hebrew word has always acted as a sort of creative anchor for Israeli music,” explains Ben-Moshe, “both in solo vocal work and in choral music.”
The Haifa leg of the festival includes a concert called Women’s Song which features the premiere of Tzippi Fleischer’s Avram choral work, as well as compositions by Yael Tai, Moshe Zurman and Hagar Kadima.
Other festival standouts include a performance of Paul Ben-Haim’s landmark Symphony No. 1, Seter’s Cantata for Shabbat and Mark Kopytman’s Beyond All This.” The latter will be performed at the Tel Aviv Museum on September 21, with Seter’s Jephthah’s Daughter also on the program.
For more information about the Israeli Music Festival: and (03) 624-7095, For tickets: (04) 833-0625, (08) 626-6422, (03) 696- 1593 and (02) 560-5755.