Treading the scores

Irit Dekel and Eldad Zitrin render a musical tour de force at the Piano Festival in Tel Aviv.

Piano (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The annual Piano Festival in Tel Aviv will close tomorrow evening with a flourish. Some 180 artists will have appeared at various venues across the city over the four days, presenting material from all kinds of genres, but it is safe to say that few will have offered the stylistic breadth of Eldad Zitrin and Irit Dekel.
The multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, who will appear tomorrow at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art at 10:30 p.m., will perform music from their new release Last of Songs. To say it is a widely roaming affair would be akin to damning with faint praise. There is so much in there – gorgeous pop ballads and jazzy lines to bluesy sentiments and Middle Eastern sounds, with much more betwixt.
Dekel says that her multifarious take on music comes from a basic natural instinct.
“I think it is a result of my curiosity, and that led to checking out all kinds of media, and not necessarily just music,” she states simply.
That cross-disciplinary mindset also takes in something of a visually dramatic approach. After all, Dekel also earns her honest crust as a member of the Gesher Theater troupe.
“Anything that moved me or that I connected with led to my getting deeper into the material and the art form,” she says.
We are not just talking about zapping over to YouTube for a couple of minutes of online grooving here.
Dekel took everything she liked with the utmost seriousness and delved into the intricacies and emotions endemic to the work in question.
“A lot of my knowledge comes from studying and working through the music,” she explains.
That takes in both the sonic and thespian sides of the business.
“For me, music and theater are one and the same. It’s not so much a matter of acting the music out. It is about how to present the song. I relate to the text like a script written for an actor, and not necessarily as something that has been set to music,” she says.
That, for Dekel, actually entails a surprise role flip.
“I experience acting more strongly when I sing than in theater,” she declares. “I prefer that line of approach.”
Dekel’s vocal presentation is, indeed, visually arresting. Her body language and facial expressions are captivating, and they enable her to convey the feel and emotional content of the score and lyrics in an unequivocal manner. It also helps to have someone like Zitrin by her side.
Zitrin moves seamlessly between instruments – which take in piano, accordion and various wind instruments – and weaves his way between styles with consummate ease.
When it comes to someone as free flowing as Dekel, checking back into their personal history can help to get a handle on where they are coming from.
“I grew up in a house where the radio was on all the time,” she recalls. “So, as a child, I was exposed to Israeli music – old stuff and contemporary.” Interestingly, Dekel notes that it led her into all kinds of musical avenues.
“Israeli music is not actually from here. There are all sorts of folk things in it from Europe, and that brought me into Balkan music – that comes from home,” she says.
There is some of that and plenty more in Last of Songs. Consider a track list that veers from a highly inventive eight-minute rendition of the perennially popular 1957 rock and roll hit “Bye Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers, which features some operatically inclined departures, an ethnically seasoned version of jazz diva Carmen McRae’s “No More Blues,” with the ever-bustling Bukharan Alaev Family on board, and an ear-opening reading of Bette Midler’s late 1970s pop hit “The Rose,” which incorporates an emotive solo on kamanche (Central Asian spike violin) by Mark Elyahu. And the delightfully sweet “Skylark” ballad is delivered with almost ethereal delicacy. In temporal terms, the CD stretches from the 1920s to the latter parts of the 20th century.
Dekel says it is a natural continuation of her early formative autodidactic musical path.
“I listened to all that stuff on the radio, and when I was around 15 I started making my own choices about what music I wanted to listen to and finding my own way through it all,” she says.
She was not alone in that.
“There was a bunch of us. It was a sort of ‘music club,’ and we all listened to all kinds of things. There was no senior figure there who advised me about what to listen to.
My musical choices back then were intuitive, and most of the work on Last of Songs was intuitive and evolved naturally,” she days.
The go-with-the-flow perspective, says Dekel, is second nature to her and her comrade in musical creation.
“The relationship between Eldad and me flows naturally, and what I bring with me from my musical world is not necessarily something I acquired cerebrally. There is a lot of intuition there,” she elaborates.
Mind you, it is not as if Dekel and Zitron simply hit on some tune or another and decided to run with it. A lot of grafting went into laying the groundwork for the creative endeavor.
“We did a lot of research before we started putting together the arrangements,” says Dekel.
She and Zitron also took the source material way beyond the writers’ original intent. “The Rose” is a case in point.
“I love Bette Midler,” says Dekel. “I have liked her stuff since I was a kid, so I really wanted to have something of hers on the album. The idea was to taken that song and the others and turn them completely inside out and present them in an improvised form,” she says.
That meant running with the scores into ethnic and jazz-related areas too, while not delving too deeply into any particular genre.
“We took, for example, Arabic music lines, but we didn’t get into some maqam (Arabic musical modal system). We took lighter things and also classical music motifs. Basically we did what we like,” she says.
It is odds on that tomorrow evening’s Tel Aviv Museum audience will like it, too.
For tickets: *9080 and http://