Bluming up north

Kfar Blum’s musical weekends have come a long way since Pastoral Hotel owner Dubi Ben-Ari asked his brother, almost 10 years ago, to play a few numbers for the guests.

The Pastoral Hotel with Mount Hermon in the background 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Pastoral Hotel with Mount Hermon in the background 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There’s nothing like a luxurious hotel room, three-plus square meals a day and some sumptuous classical music, seasoned with some learned but not overly cerebral analysis, to make for a fine weekend. Add to that a grand view of snow-capped Mount Hermon and a spa offering all manner of massages and other relaxation-inducing treatments, and you get a package designed to delight.
Mind you, the staff at the Pastoral Hotel at Kibbutz Kfar Blum have chalked up an impressive track record of providing a wide range of musical weekends over the past decade or so.
Practice evidently does make perfect.
The current season kicked off in November with a salute to the pantheon of Israeli music, with the likes of Si Himan and Sassi Keshet offering their renditions of perennial Israeli songbook favorites penned by Himan’s dad Nahum (Nahcheh), Haim Hefer and Ya’acov Orland. That was followed, in December, by a nod in the direction of the Mediterranean genre, with an eclectic lineup of performers including Eli Louzon, who joined Felix Livshitz and Boris Yarupeev in singing Italian love songs, Russian material and hassidic songs, with Louzon belting out some of his big hits, like “Ezo Medina” and “Geshem.”
Later in the weekend program there were spots for veteran singer-songwriter Shlomo Gronich, with some of his most popular numbers like “Yesh Li Simpatia” and “Bab El Wad,” and there was even room for some high-energy gypsy endeavor with the Ashdod Orchestra, stellar percussionist Chen Zimbalista and veteran accordionist Emil Aybinder.
Pastoral Hotel owner Dubi Ben-Ari says it took a while to piece the program together, and adds that he has been working long and hard to provide clients with their money’s worth.
“We started out, almost 10 years ago, with a low-key affair. My brother Ronnie is a musician and I had been looking for something to offer some added value, to make a stay here really special. So I asked Ronnie to come here to play.”
Ben-Ari was looking for quality and variety.
“I asked Ronnie to play different kinds of music, like Israeli music and bluegrass,” he says.
Initially, the musical entertainment was something of an incidental add-on, but the hotel manager knew he had a success in the making by the end of the weekend.
“There weren’t organized concerts like we have now but, when I saw people getting up and dancing in a line to ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ I realized I had hit on something that worked.”
By the following year Ben-Ari had started mixing classical music and various other genres, and he began developing plans to expand the facility.
“We started out with a 58-room guest house and now we have 152 rooms. We’re also building another wing which will have 46 rooms.”
A couple of weeks ago, Mozart was the theme of the Genius Weekend. The program kicked off with a suitably fortifying dinner – after the long drive north – on Thursday evening, followed by a concert at the 600-seater Beit Ha’am auditorium on the adjacent kibbutz.
The show opened with the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra, with Armenianborn Israeli conductor-pianist Vag Papian energetically overseeing a stirring rendition of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major. That was followed by a choral work, Ave Verum Corpus, featuring the Hefer Valley Choir, with the centerpiece of the evening provided by Mozart’s Requiem.
As with all musical programs at the Pastoral Hotel, the Genius Weekend offered a wide range of active and passive items, including an organized trip to catch a glimpse of some of the local flora. Later on Friday there was an opportunity to get the gray matter working, with an intriguing lecture by Yossi Schiffmann called “Can You Write Opera in German?” which included video clips of a number of classic opera performances.
Elsewhere in the musical program there was a highly entertaining spot presented by pianist Dudi Zeba, and featuring one male and two female vocalists performing some of Mozart’s best-known arias. The weekend closed with the Intimate Charm concert, with an oboe and string quartet playing Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
The proceedings ended around 3 p.m., with snacks in the lobby, and the guests could pack up and head off home before the traffic became too heavy.
Ben-Ari is certainly following through with his plan to vary the entertainment.
Last weekend starred veteran singer-songwriter Chava Alberstein, with mathematician Dr. Haim Shapiro taking a look at some romantic musical works from Russia, with a heavy slice of nostalgia.
Meanwhile, Yonit Shaked Golan performed a tribute to some of our and the world’s most popular female singers from across the genre board, including Shoshana Damari, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey and Ella Fitzgerald, and a show based on lyrics written by some of most celebrated poetesses, like Rahel, Dalia Rabikovitch and Agi Mishol. The Alberstein-based program proved such a success that Ben-Ari decided to run the whole program a second time.
The May 10-12 weekend goes by the title of The Scents of Dad’s Home and opens with an intriguing confluence between the veteran Re’im Duo and Habreira Hativit, in a crossover program that incorporates popular Israeli songs, liturgy and Jewish songs from both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi sides of the ethnic tracks. Later in the weekend there will be more nostalgia on offer with a program of youth movement songs, followed by a program of Ladino songs presented by Dorit Reuveni.
This season closes on June 21-23 – by which time the kibbutz swimming pool should be open for business, and available to hotel patrons – with a trip back in time to songs written and performed by Naomi Shemer and Arik Einstein, with a percussion workshop by Chen Zimbalista and a performance of lyrics by Israel Prize recipient poet Dubi Zeltser, courtesy of singers Gila Hassid and Hanni Livneh and accordionist Uzi Rosenblatt.
With other weekends in the 2011-12 lineup featuring gypsy music and the hits of Seventies Swedish pop group ABBA, and Beatles songs, Ben-Ari is certainly making good on his promise to cover as many bases as possible.
For more information about the Musical Weekends at Kfar Blum: www.kfarblumhotel. and (04) 683-6611