Voices male and female at Abu Ghosh

A look at some of the music offerings at the Abu Ghosh Festival, taking place October 21-24.

Soprano Rona Israel-Kolatt (below) will perform with the Naama Women’s Ensemble (photo credit: Courtesy)
Soprano Rona Israel-Kolatt (below) will perform with the Naama Women’s Ensemble
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rona Israel-Kolatt says she is looking forward to some coalescent added value at her concert on October 22. The show is scheduled to take place at the Kiryat Ye’arim Church as part of the forthcoming Abu Ghosh Festival (October 21-24), where the soprano will be joining forces with a female choir and a male one. The former is the Naama Women’s Ensemble, while their male counterparts will come over from Russia, and go by the name of Simvol Very.
Israel-Kolatt is delighted to be fronting two such fine singing troupes. “Simvol Very is one of the best choirs in Russia,” she notes. “They don’t do modern material.
They generally stick to the regular classical stuff. They are in such popular demand that they can dictate their own programs.”
It’s good to know we are going to get some quality vocal output from the Russian guests, although one would expect nothing less from the Abu Ghosh Festival, which has been putting together fine biannual vocal lineups now for close to 25 years.
In addition to the venue for the Israel-Kolatt slot, concerts are held at the Crusader Benedictine Church, which was built in the 12th century. Both Christian edifices overlook the village of Abu Ghosh, which, as all festival-goers know, also proffers plenty of tasty sustenance to complement the musical fare.
As befitting the foreign group, the lineup for October 22 has a decidedly Russian slant to it, and takes in the All-Night Vigil by Rachmaninoff, a number of songs by Tchaikovsky, and some specially arranged popular Russian folk sings, with the only non-Russian contribution coming in the form of Dvorak’s Te Deum.
Russian choir Simvol Very (photo credit: Courtesy)Russian choir Simvol Very (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel-Kolatt has a starring role in the latter. “There is a soprano solo in Te Deum,” she notes, adding that she is very happy to have the opportunity to stand alongside Georgian baritone Anton Dabrundashvili. “I am going to sing next to one of the great singers around today. It’s going to be wonderful.”
It should also be interesting to see how the two ensembles find their balance. Israel-Kolatt foresees no problems in that regard. “Naama is a great choir. They have been working for many years, and I am sure that any conductor worth their salt can get something really good from them and from the Russians.”
The baton wielders in question for the Abu Ghosh concert are Pnina Inbar and Seraphim Dubnov. Inbar certainly knows her way around her choristers, having founded the choir herself, back in 1989.
“Naama has some really great voices, and they are extremely professional,” the soprano continues.
“They pay attention to even the finest details, and I think the fusion of their voices with the Russian choir should work really well.”
Israel-Kolatt is looking forward to some added value from the choral interface. “You know, choirs that work for such a long time – they can tend to get used to each other. They still sing very well, but they may need a little shaking up from time to time. There are always fireworks when choirs come together – good fireworks,” she adds with a chuckle.
Israel-Kolatt is probably better equipped than most to judge the merits of her Abu Ghosh brothers and sisters in vocal arms. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from universities in the UK and Germany, is a qualified musicologist and also runs a master-class program for budding singers from Israel and around the world.
She is also, naturally, pretty good at detecting pitch.
“When I came back to Israel from Germany I did an MA in music and cognition. My thesis was on people who sing off-key.”
For those of us who may not be exactly pitch perfect, Israel-Kolatt has glad tidings, and says that the ability to sing accurately may be more important than we thought. “I called my thesis ‘Singing Off-Key As a Dynamic Phenomenon.’ The premise was that it is possible to correct singing out of tune. The premise was that the ability to sing in tune is crucial for our survival. It’s not just some kind of bonus, like eating a tasty cake.
Prehistoric man needed his singing ability in order to survive.”
That may sound a little threatening for anyone who can’t quit nail a tune, although apparently it is a seemingly existential problem that can be addressed. “It matters very much what music you play for people, which instruments you play for them, and the conditions in which you play them,” she notes. “Most people, if they are asked to copy a human voice, they manage that well, without going out of tune.”
The fact of cold cultural reality in this country is that the vast majority of performers also have to teach in order to make ends meet. Israel-Kolatt is keenly aware of that, but says she has absolutely no problems with engaging in off-stage work. “I teach a lot, and I do it with the greatest of pleasure. I don’t believe that you can teach music without knowing how to sing yourself.”
That offers some added value, in helping to extend the soprano’s repertoire.
“I sing in order to teach, and I teach in order to be able to sing,” she declares. “I have to sing to know exactly what it is I am teaching. For me, it’s one and the same. It’s an oral tradition.”
Israel-Kolatt’s performance schedule takes her to all manner of venues, and she places the Kiryat Ye’arim Church near the top of her favorite concert locations.
“Singing in that church is such a boon. The acoustics are simply a gift. It is one of those places where you feel that the acoustics and the works you are performing blend perfectly. It’s going to be great at the festival.”
The Kiryat Ye’arim Church (photo credit: Courtesy)The Kiryat Ye’arim Church (photo credit: Courtesy)
As usual, the festival offers an eclectic musical agenda, taking in classical music, sounds of a more ethnic nature, and slots that feed off 20th-century commercial music and even jazz.
The lineup for the closing day of the festival includes a 2 p.m. slot that goes by the self-explanatory title of “Exciting Meeting Between Jazz and Classical” and features jazz instrumentalists, guitarist Uri Bracha and double-bass player Oren Sagi, alongside soprano vocalist Sharon Dvorin. Together they will offer their singular readings of such cross-disciplinary material composed by the likes of Bach, George Gershwin and early 20th-century Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, as well jazz luminary Chick Corea and R&B artist Percy Mayfield.
That will be followed by the festival closer which takes in works by English Baroque composer Henry Purcell and compatriot Renaissance composer John Dowland, interspersed between Beatles hits “Something” and “Blackbird” and three numbers by Paul Simon.
Elsewhere on the Abu Ghosh roster, you can find Brahms’s A German Requiem, and Stabat Mater, written by 18th-century Italian composer, violinist and organist Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, while veteran violinist and oud player Yair Dalal will join forces with sitar player Yotam Haimovich for the Sundown View cross-cultural concert on October 21.
For tickets and more information: (02) 623-7000, *62268, *3221, www.bimot.co.il and www.agfestival.co.il