Capital Cool: It's not over till the skinny lady sings

This summer's Season of Culture in Jerusalem comes to end with a performance by world-class soprano Renee Fleming.

Israel Museum (photo credit: Courtesy Barak Aharon for the Israel Museum)
Israel Museum
(photo credit: Courtesy Barak Aharon for the Israel Museum)
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Is the Jerusalem cultural scene essentially poly-ethnic? Do its underground, progressive elements define it? Is it ancient and holy? Is it defined primarily by sophistication and cosmopolitanism, or by kitsch? If you answered "yes" to all of the above, then you've probably been enjoying the summer of 2011 as the premiere Jerusalem Season of Culture, an umbrella that amplifies a litany of cultural initiatives in order to showcase the Holy City's best, brightest and quirkiest.
This week is last call for your Season of Culture enjoyment, though, as it's all over when the skinny lady sings. The event series comes to an end this Thursday evening at the International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha'uma), where world-class soprano Renee Fleming is set to be accompanied by Zubin Mehta and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Season of Culture is the brainchild of billionaire Oklahoman philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, who told The Jerusalem Post two years ago that "Jerusalem has huge potential, and I want to encourage more young people - Israelis and others - to come and visit." The Schusterman Foundation soon partnered up with the city government and wisely chose to avoid any attempt to reinvent the wheel; it's been estimated that 70 percent of the events covered by the Jerusalem Season of Culture umbrella existed prior to the 2011 launch.
But where this initiative differs from others that call attention to Jerusalem's vibrancy (the Jerusalem Arts Festival, Musrara Mix, the Front Stage, the Israel Festival, Defrost Jerusalem and Hamshushalyim come to mind) is the manner in which the Season of Culture melds all of the elements that make the capital's cultural landscape uniquely Jerusalem-flavored. Case in point is Thru Jerusalem, an original music video created by master-masher and Kutiman, "2011 Artist of the Season."
Additional offerings have included audience-generated art at Bezalel Academy's new downtown gallery space, DJ Spooky's participation in a philosophy symposium, performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as part of its 40-city farewell tour, interpretive movement shows in private residences, a guerrilla-style mobile radio station and live video art at the Uganda comics shop/watering hole.
Over at the Machane Yehuda market, last year's weekly Balabasta carnivals, originally organized to celebrate the shuk's centennial, have returned thanks to help from the Season of Culture. Organized by Kobi Frig, 35, who grew up helping out at his family's spice stall, Balabasta included live music sets, tours, contests, cooking lessons and dance parties. The community of market vendors has been ecstatic about the fairs. "They never expected so many people, so many types," Frig told What could be more distinctly Jerusalem-flavored than that?
Also especially noteworthy has been the nearly three-week residence at the Tower of David for a Swedish production of composer Steve Reich's avant-classical Grammy-winning piece Different Trains. The multimedia "visual concert experience" was conceived by The Jewish Theater of Stockholm's Director Pia Forsgren to include a set of glass teardrops surrounding the seating areas, film loops, a light show, spoken-word audio samples and a live quartet.
Forsgren told that the idea was to create "something that is not theater and not pure art but combines elements of both.... With the glass art and lights, and people seated among the pieces, it's really an art installation. It's a full experience; we have to give people 15 or 20 minutes after the performance is over to get up and come back to reality. It can be overwhelming."
On the night of July 14, guest experimental artists, members of the general public and a team of experts across many fields convened at the Israel Museum for Contact Point, where all were prodded to "respond" to the museum's collections via dynamic installations and performances.
Thursday's Renee Fleming concert is set to be broadcast (almost) live to audiences at nearly 500 cinemas in the United States, providing a fitting end to an initiative intended to raise global awareness Jerusalem's thriving cultural scene. But we're not even in August yet. There's still plenty of summer to go, and Jerusalem hardly lacks entertainment options.
For complete listings of everything going on around Jerusalem, check out's calendar of events and latest articles.