Friday, May 2, 2008

Daniel Pearl,Homage to a Life

Daniel Pearl was bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal in Karachi, Pakistan. An excellent journalist, curious and willing to engage in dialogue, he was there investigating fundamentalism. He was kidnapped in January 2002 and beheaded nine days later. In the horrific video film of his last minutes, Daniel affirms his Jewishness with calm conviction. Three months later, Adam Daniel Pearl was born, a child who would never have the privilege of knowing his father.

Daniel was also a musician and his parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl have established the “World Music Days”, a series of concerts celebrating Pearl in more than 60 cities. To quote Ruth and Judea Pearl:
“Certain kinds of music cannot be silenced.
The music of truth and honesty cannot be silenced.
The music of freedom and human dignity cannot be silenced.
The music of the Jewish journey cannot be silenced.”

The first Jerusalem Daniel Pearl memorial concert – “Daniel Pearl – Homage to a Life” was held October 20 at Kol Haneshama Synagogue. After greetings from Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, we heard veteran broadcaster, reporter and tireless outreach-worker Freda Keet talk about Daniel Pearl, his work, his story and his exceptional personality.

The Tel Aviv-based Alei Gefen Chorus performed an evening of mostly Jewish choral works. This very fine choir of wonderful voices and musicality , formed in 1990 by its conductor - violinist, baritone and bassoonist- Eli Gefen, aims to use devotional music as an instrument of tolerance and understanding to deliver a message of reconciliation between faiths and peoples.

Cantor David Grosz, Eli Gefen’s father, perished in the Holocaust, probably in Auschwitz. The manuscript of his “Tabernacle of Peace” for choir and solo tenor was discovered in Vienna four years ago. This piece is reminiscent of the luxuriant and emotional 19th century style of choral synagogue music. Tenor Ronen Lazaroff, a choir member, sang the solo magnificently. Of similar style, Louis Lewandowski’s “Alleluia”, celebrating musical instruments and praise, was well layered, rich in harmonies and joyful.

Two important classical Israeli composers were represented: Paul Ben-Chaim – Psalm 121- and Yehezkiel Braun – Hallelujah, Psalm 111. Both pieces are challenging and use harmonies that are an integral and Israeli part of their works. In the realm of “Israeli song”, we heard beautiful arrangements of Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” and David Zehavi’s “Eli, Eli”, both performed with artistry and fine choral musicianship. Soprano Svetlana Babajanoff’s solo in the latter was very moving.

In Franz Schubert’s setting of Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd” – a very suitable text for the event – I enjoyed the group’s choral blending and excellent diction. It was unusual to hear this work sung by mixed choir and also sung in Hebrew!

American composer, educator and conductor Randall Thompson (1899-1984) was best known for his choral music. Among his students was Leonard Bernstein. The Alei Gefen chorus gave us a very sensitive and well-crafted reading of Thompson’s anthem - “Aleluia”. The program ended on a calm note with John Rutter’s (b.1945, UK) “The Lord bless you and keep you” (Psalm 67); Eli Gefen then invited the audience to join the choir in the singing of “Eli, Eli” and “Jerusalem of Gold”. These moments of togetherness were a fitting ending to this significant event in Jerusalem.

Daniel Pearl – Homage to a Life
Alei Gefen Chorus, Tel Aviv
Eli Gefen – conductor and artistic director
Kehilat Kol Haneshama
October 20, 2007–10–22

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