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Leveling the playing field
By JONATHAN BECK
06/06/2010
A new attitude to orchestral music.
Revolution, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, is “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about something; a change of paradigm.” There may be many associations that come to mind when one thinks of the words “orchestra,” “concert,” “conductor” and “concert hall,” but “revolution” is not one of them.

Still, the choice by conductor and composer Roy Oppenheim and his colleague Zohar Sharon to name the small orchestra they established in 2004 the Revolution Orchestra has certainly proved appropriate. Oppenheim and Sharon were unhappy with the prevalent concept of “the orchestra” as a group of people in tuxedos playing the same pieces of old music, with the most exciting thing likely to happen being a change of tempo to a piece that countless orchestra and conductors have been playing in the past.

They wanted to challenge all that, and their initial vision was based on two goals: making the orchestra “cool” again, and revitalizing and encouraging the local cultural scene. Their impressive track record has proved that they’ve remained true to both.

Typically producing one or two programs a year, the ensemble has in its first three years concentrated on fusing the world of rock and pop with concert music. Thus, in their first concert, composition students arranged Israeli rock hits for a classical ensemble. In following shows, the orchestra teamed up with Yirmi Kaplan and Evyatar Banai to perform their music in an orchestral setting.

In 2006, they expanded into film, with Oppenheim and Sharon commissioning animated shorts from Bezalel students, and projecting them on a screen as the orchestra played soundtracks composed by young Israeli composers. Think Disney’s Fantasia, but played live and comprising only original material.

Taking another artistic detour, the revolutionaries teamed up with Israeli jazz combo Third World Love for a joint performance of newly composed material. In 2008, the Revolution Orchestra reinvented itself again, this time performing The Day Martin Buber was Buried – originally written by poet Yehudah Amichai as a radio play – a one-act opera, to music by composer Daniel Ran, where the ensemble was sitting on the stage and playing an essential part in the action.

Earlier this year, the orchestra presented Words at an Exhibition – a concert of true fusion between the arts and between different kinds of music.  Pieces by local composers, inspired by Hebrew words, phrases or concepts, were written for an amplified ensemble. Every instrument was connected to a pick-up and the scores included an electric guitar and a laptop. The sounds coming from the acoustic orchestra instruments were electronically manipulated.

THE UPCOMING production of the Revolution Orchestra for the Israel Festival, Peter and the Wolf: The True Story – produced by Hai Merizadh under the auspices of the Holon Mediateque, where it premiered late last month – takes the combination of animation and live sound a step further to create a singular performance event.

In the first part, the orchestra plays Sergei Prokofiev’s well-known piece in sync with a BAFTA- and Oscar-winning animated short by British animator Suzie Templeton; for the second half, the orchestra commissioned a companion piece by Israeli composer Rafi Kadishzon to text by Efraim Sidon, based on a dialogue with Templeton’s unique take on the story. The piece is narrated by famed Israeli theater actor and director Natan Datner.

In the film, Templeton changes the events so that Peter ultimately releases the wolf, much to the annoyance of the grandfather and the hunters. And so, Kadishzon and Sidon’s piece presents the freed wolf’s point of view – as an unjustly maligned innocent canine rather than the evil predators that he is.

In an interview with the The Jerusalem Post, Oppenheim shed some light on the production.

“Admittedly,” he says, “this concert is a statistical deviation” in the sense that the first part comprises a well-known piece by a composer who died more than 50 years ago, rather than an original Israeli composition. “But who is likely to see Peter and the Wolf today? Only grandmothers taking their grandchildren to the concert – in Israeli orchestra season programs, the piece is performed only in series for kids. We believe it’s a masterpiece that should certainly not be denied audiences between the ages of 7 and 70.

“Since the movie takes out the traditional narrator, we thought of commissioning a piece that would reinstate him. The show combines animation, music and theater, but the music is not lost as accompaniment; in Kadishzon’s piece, the narrator works for the music, not the other way around. The music stays in the center.”

In the beginning of the show, before the film, Datner recites a short introduction, then returns afterwards for the complete performance of the Kadishzon-Sidon piece. Oppenheim says that this is in keeping with the orchestra’s vision.

“It’s not a concert, it’s a whole show; we’re an ensemble that creates culture, not one that performs it,” he says. “The orchestra is a creative force and now has also grown to have its own unique sound. In a sense, we’re a bit like a traveling dance troupe with a choreographer.”

It is this indivisible fusion, a hallmark of all their shows, which makes the orchestra’s programs deserving of the term “revolutionary.”

Peter and the Wolf: The True Story will be performed on June 9 at 7 p.m., at the Henry Crown auditorium in the Jerusalem Theater. For more information: www.israel-festival.org.il.
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