Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jerusalem - City of Peace concert, Israel Festival 2008

“Jerusalem – City of Two Peaces: Heavenly Peace and Earthly Peace”, in the 2008 Israel Festival, was a musical event that attracted a large and decidedly curious audience to the Henry Crown Symphony Hall June 4. This concert is the outcome of a research project carried out jointly by Jordi Savall (Spain) and Yair Dalal (Israel) and it aims to present many aspects of this city through the musical traditions of all three monotheistic religions….no mean task considering the religious, political and cultural complexities of a city whose history is one of destruction and war, creativity, spirituality and a yearning for peace.

With the hall plunged into darkness, the event began with a startling, intense fanfare played on seven shofars (with some players in the gallery), early wind instruments and percussions, issuing in the first section of the concert under the category of “Heavenly Peace: The Prophets of the Apocalypse and of the Last Judgement”. This began with a piece from the 3rd century based on Jewish sources and Aramaic music. With the everyday world suddenly left behind us, we found ourselves drawn into the inebriating world of the music of this region, with the ever expressive, fresh voice of Montserrat Figueras against a gentle instrumental drone punctuated by men’s voices of La Capella Reial de Catalunya responding in parallel octaves.

In addition to the above mentioned vocal quartet, Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XXI group of early music instrumentalists was joined by Israeli players, artists from Armenia, Greece and Turkey as well as the very fine Al-Darweesh Sufi group from the Galilee

In “Jerusalem, a Jewish City (1000 BC – 70 AD)”, we heard Israeli singer of the Andalusian style, Lior Almalich (b.1984), intoning Psalm 122. His voice is natural and effortless, his understanding of this style of singing profound, and his performance was moving and sincere. He was joined by Delal playing imaginative, creative oud solos. Oud player and violinist Yair Dalal (b.1955) composes and teaches and is a specialist in ethnic Israeli music.

In the third section, dealing with “Jerusalem, a Christian City (326-1244)”, a Crusaders’ Song, performed by the vocal men’s quartet, was introduced by Christophe Tellart on bagpipes. This section ended with a mournful 12th century song from the 2nd Crusade, an intimate piece in the Chejaz mode, sensitively sung and accompanied on strings.

In “Jerusalem, a City of Pilgrimage (383-1250)” we heard Spanish virtuoso psaltery player and researcher Begona Olavide this time singing Judah Halevy’s (1075-1141) “Zionida: Beautiful land, delight of the world”. Olavide’s interest in the nexus between Spanish and Arabic music has taken her to Morocco, where she studied singing, qanun and the theory of Maghrebi-Andalusian music.

Turkish composer, arranger and virtuoso oud player Mutlu Torun, backed by minimal, light percussion sounds, set the scene for “Jerusalem, an Arabic City (1244-1516) and an Ottoman City (1517-1917)”. Singer Muwafak Shahin Khalil, symbolically placed apart on a raised platform at the back of the stage, presented an impressive rendering of “Mohammed Goes to Heaven after the Temple Mount”. In another solo, he stood at the front of the stage. In the Dance of the Soma Sufi Group Al-Darwish, drum and flute interacted in an intense, rhythmic duet. Usama Ghanayin Abu Ali’s brilliant flute solos dazzled and delighted the audience throughout the evening.

“Jerusalem, a Land of Refuge and Exile (15th – 20th Centuries)”, opening with Savall’s playing of a poignant string solo, was a reminder of much suffering. A candle was lit at the front of the stage. Figueras performed the tragic “Palestina hermoza y Santa” (oral tradition, Sarajevo). We then heard Manuel Forcano reading a poem by the great Jerusalem poet, Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000).

‘On a rooftop in the Old City
Washing is spread out in the evening sun:
The white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
The towel of a man who is also my enemy,
To wipe the sweat from his brow.

In the sky above the Old City
A kite is flying
And on the other end of the string –
A child
I cannot see
Because of the wall.

We have put up many flags,
They have put up many flags
To make us believe that they are happy,
To make us believe we are happy’.

After a Palestinian lament, we heard the very fine Razmik Amyan (b.1982) in the Andouni Armenian Lament (1915). Amyan’s singing was beautifully phrased and nuanced, tragic and convincing. Lights were turned out and a historic 1950 recording of Cantor Shlomo Katz chanting “El male rahamim” to the memory of the victims of Auschwitz was heard. The recording was crackly and indistinct, distracting one somewhat from the drama of the moment. There was a Funeral March played on shofars and percussion, with this section of the program finishing with an anonymous Sephardic prayer “El Pan de la afliccion” sung in rich harmonies by La Capella Reial de Catalunya. Lights went on and the candle was then extinguished.

Dalal performed a meditative oud piece, providing a transition into “Earthly Peace: a Duty and a Utopia”. This was a series of prayers for peace sung in Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian Ladino and Latin, with some of the prayers performed instrumentally. The evening ended as it had begun - with a noisy, cacophonic shofar and brass improvisation. I asked myself whether this idea really needed a second airing..

Savall and Dalal’s presentation was meaningful and profound. Savall’s instrumental arrangements are always delicate, imaginative and polished; transitions from piece to piece are smooth and pleasing to the ear. His choice of artists is impeccable and he goes for authenticity of instrumentation and style; there was a strong feeling that all performers presented their contributions to the evening with a sense of deep humility. This was truly a multinational group of players and singers. Manuel Forcano, lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic at the University of Barcelona, read various texts eloquently in Hebrew, adding interest. The evening was a veritable Jerusalem mosaic. The audience found it inspirational and showed its appreciation. If the Jerusalem Festival’s aim is to bring high quality performance and a taste of something very different, this was it!

“Jerusalem – City of Heavenly Peace and Earthly Peace.”
Jordi Savall-director
Yair Dalal-oud
Montserrat Figueras-voice and cithara
Begonia Olavide-voice and psaltery
Lior Elmalich-voice
Razmik Amyan-voice
Muwafak Shahin Khalil-voice
Hesperion XXI
Al-Darwish Sufi Group
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Mutlu Torun-oud
The Trumpets of Jericho
Manuel Forcano-readings
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts
June 4, 2008

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