Sunday, July 10, 2011

The 2011 Sounding Jerusalem Festival presents a mix of european- and oriental music

The Sounding Jerusalem Festival, under its founder and director - Austrian ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter - took place June 26th to July 2nd 2011 for the sixth year running. This year’s festival included eight concerts, the last of which was held July 2nd 2011 in the courtyard of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem. The festival’s mission is to embrace the region and its people with the artistic event, to offer concerts not usually available to all people and to take the listener on a musical journey that evokes the rich sites of Jerusalem and the region. In addition to concerts, a team of three people interacted with and entertained children in the various locations of the concerts.

As daylight was fading, the Redeemer Church’s tranquil courtyard, built in the 12th century and restored in 1995, was filling with people from many local communities, as well as tourists, enjoying a glass of wine and relaxing in the tranquil, leafy outdoor venue and enjoying the balmy Jerusalem evening air.

Waving in the evening breeze, a cloth screen showed photographs taken by Christian Jungwirth (Austria) – pictures of Sounding Jerusalem Festival concerts and their audiences, as well as the street people and sites of East Jerusalem – forming a reminder of the region inspiring the concert series titled “Village Voices” or “Mélange oriental”. The music was performed by an ensemble consisting of Erich Oskar Huetter (‘cello), Mahran Moreb-qanun (Rama village, Galilee), Stefan Heckel-accordion (Austria), Raed Saed-percussion (Jerusalem), Michel Lethiec-clarinet (France) and Wassim Odeh-oud (Nazareth).

Setting the musical scene was Stefan Heckel’s piece “Zenobia’s Desert View” (Zenobia was a 3rd century Syrian queen who conquered- and ruled over Egypt) a piece peppered with the rhythms of Arabic music. Heckel’s piece “Bab al Amud (Damascus Gate) - a tripartite piece, its outer sections monodic, its inner section graced delicately with harmonies played on the accordion – is an evocative work featuring improvisations. The performances of two Armenian dances – “Zouika” and “Zartounk” – reflecting a dance tradition going back 1000 years – were highly energetic and laden with temperament, as was the Longa Sakiz. The longa is a genre of Turkish music that was adapted from the Gypsy music of Eastern Europe in the late 19th century. The latter piece displayed fiery, brilliant playing, the ensemble’s playing accurate and polished.

The ensemble played songful and touching arrangements of “Asentada en mi Ventura” (Sitting at my Window), a Sephardic song of the Ottoman Empire speaking of disappointed love and “Irme Kero Madre”, a 15th century Sephardic song, describing a longing for Jerusalem:
‘O Mother, I want to leave for Jerusalem,
To eat of her fruits, to drink of her waters.
I will make a home there.
I will worship there…’
No less poignant was the gentle and charming arrangement of eclectic American composer John Zorn’s (b.1953) “Mahshav” (Hebrew: thought), a meditative, klezmer-style piece.

Addressing Christian sacred music, the ensemble played an arrangement of “Jerusalem”, the soprano aria from Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) compelling first oratorio “Paulus” (St. Paul), composed in 1835. The combination of clarinet, accordion and ‘cello, playing homophonically produced an effective timbre somewhat associated with that of the pipe organ.

Palestinian singer Rula Hazzan (b.1985) sings both western- and Arabic music, performing in Israel and abroad. At the concert, she sang a selection of Arabic songs, to the filigree accompaniment of oud (Odeh), qanun (Moreb) and percussion (Saed), with the accordion playing an interlude in the love-song “El Bint in Shalabia” (The Shalabi Girl), a song made famous by the great Lebanese singer Fairuz..
‘You appear in the distance and my heart is wounded
And I reminisce about days past…’
Hazzan has a well-anchored, imposing and stable voice, moving among registers with ease and confidence.

Raed Saed performed an intricate, poignantly integrated solo work on percussion instruments, his technical skills matched with a wealth of ideas and good taste.

The three Austrian team members, who had spent the week communicating with local children in a language of non-verbal gestures, entertained us in the same fashion: Günter Meinhart and Bernhard Richter encouraged the audience to be active, conducting all assembled in a whimsical ad hoc “vocal” work, later inviting some audience members to join the instrumental ensemble. People watched with bated breath as Nicole Kehrberger, utilizing two lengthy pieces of red cloth hung from cables from high above the courtyard, performed a wonderful acrobatic act, accompanied by improvisations played by clarinetist Michel Lethiec in synchronization with her display.

The 2011 Sounding Jerusalem Festival concluded with an evening of music from many of the region’s ethnic groups, It was a meeting of local artists and European musicians collaborating in fine music-making that was polished, elegant, inspired, finely balanced and respective of style.

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