Israeli music for all

The annual Israeli Music Festival takes place October 5-10.

Artistic director Boaz Ben-Moshe (photo credit: PR)
Artistic director Boaz Ben-Moshe
(photo credit: PR)
Yoram Youngerman says he is blessed – blessed with the riches of wonderful musicians this country produces year in, year out. That’s not a bad thing for Youngerman, personally or professionally, considering he serves as administrative director of the nationwide annual Israeli Music Festival, which this year takes place October 5-10.
All told, the six-day program takes in over 20 concerts, with one multidisciplinary slot – at the Elma Arts Complex in Zichron Ya’acov – that features music, illustrations and animation, and four video screenings at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
The latter comprises two showings each of The Lesson, a 40-minute movie based on a chamber-music opera by Romanian composer George Enescu, and Adapa, a 60-minute film of a grand opera composed by celebrated composer, musicologist and Israeli music researcher Tsippi Fleischer, with a libretto by Semitic language expert Shlomo Yizrael, written in the ancient Mesopotamian language of Akkadian.
All concerts and other events, in Haifa, Beersheba, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Zichron Ya’acov, offer free admission, although advance registration is required. There will also be a throwback to the silent movie era when the Jerusalem Music Center hosts a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 The Lodger, with musical accompaniment provided by multi-instrumentalist and composer Stephen Horenstein on woodwinds, percussion and electronics, and Lior Navok playing piano, keyboards and percussion.
The fun starts at the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art in Haifa, at 2 p.m. on October 6, with the Women’s Voices piano and voice recital with a wide-ranging repertoire of works by women. These include Five Songs by Verdina Shlonsky, who died in 1990 and was the State of Israel’s first female composer, Yardena Alotin’s Stream Songs, and Los Angeles-based Israeli composer Sharon Farber, who contributes three songs from her Time cycle based on texts by British poet W. H. Auden, and by American counterparts Lucille Clifton and Emily Dickinson.
The feminine-tilted opener is not the result of a random selection. “Each year the festival highlights the work of a composer,” Youngerman explains. “It’s normally a member of the founder generation, like [Paul] Ben-Haim or Josef Tal. This time we decided to go for women composers, who generally get less of the limelight anyway.”
This year’s lineup also salutes the work of little-known Israeli composer Marie Ben Or, with a Zichron Ya’acov airing of a work for strings.
A respected violist and educator, forty-something Youngerman brings a breadth of experience to his position as director of the Israel Music Institute in Tel Aviv, and has been ensuring all runs smoothly at the festival for the past four years. He moved into his role at the festival shortly after returning to Israel, following a 17-year sojourn in the US, predominantly as a faculty member of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and at nearby Duke University.
He was delighted to return home and take over at the IMI, and says he has come back to a classical music powerhouse.
“You could put together two high-class full orchestras just from musicians of my generation,” he notes, “including conductors,” he adds with a laugh.
The Israeli Music Festival is a showcase vehicle for the national, largely classical music output. As such, there must be quite some responsibility heaped on the captains of the annual event. “The festival is supposed to present the scene of everything that is happening in Israel today, and everything that has taken place in the past,” Youngerman says.
The country’s classical music heritage is suitably represented in the six-day program, with works by iconic Israeli composer Ben-Haim and Mordechai Seter in the lineup, and there are contributions from some of our finest contemporary writers, such as Gideon Lewensohn and Ron Weidberg, with an entertaining offering from Rali Margalit, who plays a unique instrument called a chel-hu.
Margalit’s work, called The Israeli Birds’ Guide, is described as “a whimsical song cycle to music” which forms “a collage of Israeli portraits emerging from manbird encounters.” The piece will be performed at the Jerusalem Music Center at 1:30 p.m. on November 9 and, in addition to the composer’s one-of-a-kind instrument, features two vocalists, a flutist-recorder player, a drummer and percussionist, with a sampler operator.
Shlomo Gronich, best known for his large body of pop hits stretching out over the last four decades, weighs in with Flute 3000, for flute and symphony orchestra, which forms part of “The Song of Deborah” concert, which will take place at the Jerusalem Theater on October 8 (9 p.m.).
It is a grand affair incorporating no fewer than three choirs, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and instrumental and vocal instrumentalists, with the evening’s program also including the eponymous oratorio by Yedidia Admon, for narrator, mezzo-soprano, mixed choir and symphony orchestra, and Yoav Talmi’s Animi Motus for orchestra with children’s or women’s voices.
Artistic director Boaz Ben-Moshe has done an excellent job in portraying as many sectors, nooks and crannies of our national musical offerings yield as possible.
“This festival has been going for 19 years,” says Youngerman.
“It started out as a one-day event which took place between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. People queried the timing, but it’s become a staple of the calendar at this time of year.”
Youngerman says that the festival acts as a vehicle for the fruits of Israeli composers’ labors wherever they may be. “There is a sort of historical thing in Israel that if you don’t live in Israel, you are ignored. I am talking about composers.”
It is a sticky issue. “There are Israeli composers whose careers took them abroad, just like I spent a long time abroad – people like Chaya Czernowin who teaches at Harvard, and there’s Shulamit Ran in Chicago. The question is whether we define them as Israeli composers or not, for the festival; will we play their works or not? It is a political issue.”
Thankfully, Ben-Moshe and Youngerman have managed to neatly sidestep that political minefield. “We don’t get into politics,” continues the administrative director. “If someone defines themselves as an Israeli, who are we to say they are not?” That sounds like a perfectly respectful and nicely apolitical stance to adopt.
Earlier this year the Israeli classical music community lost one of its most distinguished and beloved members, Hungarian-born composer and ethnomusicologist Andre Hajdu. The Israel Prize laureate will be honored with a concert at the Jerusalem Music Center on November 9 (6:30 p.m.), with the concert comprising arrangements, by some of his students, of works performed by Hajdu himself on piano, and which appear on his last recording The Milky Way. Hajdu’s Divertimento is also in the lineup of the October 10 (2 p.m.) “Music for Strings” concert in Zichron Ya’acov.
Other standouts include a rendition of Kibbutz Sde Boker resident musicologist and composer Michael Wolpe’s Piano Trio No. 1, on the roster of the Southern Wind concert, due to take place at the Beersheba Conservatory Auditorium on November 6 (7 p.m.). And things take a decidedly ethnic turn with the “Voices and Colors” slot, which follows on the heels of “Music for Strings,” and includes works by vocalist Esti Keinan- Ofri, and tar player Piris Eliyahu, with an arrangement of a Ladino song by Eliyahu’s son Mark, and yet another salute to Hajdu in the form of 36-year-old composer Matti Kovler’s The Soul Descends.
For inquiries and registration: (02) 624-1041, israeli-music- and