Monday, February 18, 2013

Moran Choirs' 2013 gala concert

The Moran Choirs 2013 gala evening was held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on February 10th. The first Moran Choir was started in 1986 on Moshav Beit Yitzhak (Emek Hefer) by conductor and musical director Naomi Faran. Establishing a very high standard of choral singing from the outset, the choir has gone from strength to strength in performance and educational projects, winning several competitions, touring and singing at international festivals (this past year saw the choir performing in Hong Kong and China), singing with orchestras and in opera houses and performing works of prominent Israeli composers.  Faran’s aims have always been to instill the value of choral singing in young Israelis, to encourage natural, cultured singing and to further understanding among children of different sections of the community. Today there are four Moran ensembles, with the young singers taking their musical work with the utmost of seriousness; they also take on a variety of community activities - with at risk youth, special needs children, children in the Schneider Children’s Hospital pediatric cancer unit and with young Ethiopian immigrants. On entering the Tel Aviv Museum on February 10th, guests were invited to enjoy a light supper, circulate and talk to people, hear first-hand about the experience of singing in Moran choirs from some of the young singers and also to meet with Naomi Faran.

Opening the event, Naomi Faran greeted all guests and supporters, expressing her appreciation to them for believing in the work the Moran Choirs do. Mr. Rani Idan, mayor of Emek Hefer, spoke of Faran’s enormous community involvement, mentioning “The Valley Sings”, a project to develop the love of singing  Faran has introduced into all the local primary schools. Mr. Shmuel Dror, chairman of the Moran Choirs executive committee, spoke of the aim of the evening being to bring the public closer to Moran Choir programs and to display the very fine results of the tireless work of its conductors and other music professionals. Speeches were kept to a bare minimum, giving priority to the evening’s musical program.

Much thought had been invested in the concert program, offering the audience the opportunity to hear several of the choirs as well as much and varied repertoire. The Moran Singers Ensemble comprises experienced singers, graduates of the Moran Choir, outstanding musician soldiers and music academy students. As a professional ensemble, one of its aims is to promote solo singing. Naomi Faran continues to be its musical director and conductor, with soprano Sivan Rotem and pianist/composer Eyal Batt also working with the singers on a regular basis. The Ensemble opened the evening’s program with a finely shaped, restrained, gentle and blended performance of the “Kyrie” from (the 18-year-old!) Franz Schubert’s Mass no.2 in G major. Soprano Hadas Faran-Asia addressed the work’s lyricism in the solo. We then heard the male singers in Raymond Goldstein’s arrangement of the traditional Jewish prayer melody “Ein Keloheinu” (There is none like our God), together with soloist mezzo-soprano Zlata Hershberg. In the soulful, sensitive rendering, conducted by Guy Pelc, Hershberg’s feel for the piece together with her richly endowed voice made for fine listening. Following the Ensemble’s recent participation in the Israel Camerata Jerusalem’s concert production of Gluck’s “Orpheo ed Euridice” (January, 2013), we heard impressive performances of the funereal, poignant “Ah, se intorno” (If around this sad tomb) and the opera’s finale “Trionfi amore” (Love triumphs).

Some 50 singers between the ages of 12 to 18 make up the Moran Choir, a choral group performing with orchestras, the Israeli Opera and in festivals, competitions and workshops around the world. Several Israeli composers have written works for the choir. In superb harmony and musical competence, the Moran Choir members performed Eyal Batt’s poetic arrangement of Naomi Shemer’s “Grasses” (text-Rabbi Nachman of Breslau); the singers’ intonation, blend and sensitive singing of “HaDudaim” (The Mandrakes’ Aroma) to a text from “Song of Songs” was followed by a precise- and  dynamically rich reading of the Amen to G.B.Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater”. One of the strengths of the Moran Choir is its strong commitment to the community; in “Yesh Li Tsipor K’tana b’Lev” (I have a troubled heart) the members were joined by young people from the Dana Club for special needs youth of the Emek Hefer region, a centre promoting social- and cultural interaction. Uri Moustaki directs the musical program there. The young people choose their own repertoire; their musical activities include a weekly choir practice plus rehearsals together with the Moran Choir. Naomi Faran established this project in 2001. In “Coffee at Bertha’s” (lyrics-Ehud Manor, music-Natan Cohen) and “I Have a Troubled Heart” (Lyrics-Igal Bashan, Yossi Banai, music-Igal Bashan) members of both choirs intermingled, held hands, made music and harmonized together. Faran danced as she conducted and the audience hummed along.

Another project in which Faran has been involved since its initiation in 2006, with the Nordau Center for Enrichment, the PACT Project, the Ministry of Education and the Netanya Municipality and directed by Varda Perry, is aimed at integrating small girls  from the Ethiopian community into Moran choirs. Much of the success of this project has been due to the fact that the girls’ parents have also been involved. The Moran Little Ones Choir numbers around 20 five- to eight-year-old girls whose own musical tradition provides an added dimension to the project. We heard these little girls and some of their parents in a polished and totally charming performance of “So, Come to Me, Nice Butterfly” (Lyrics-Fanya Bergstein, music-Oved Efrat); the very young soloist sang with fine intonation, sweetness and remarkable self-assurance. In the aboriginal children’s song “Seserie”, the percussion, solos and the children’s innate sense of rhythm and movement made for an impressive and rousing performance. Following that, three Ethiopian girls from the Moran Choir were joined by 23-year-old singer Hagit Yasu (also of the Ethiopian community) in “Someone Always Walks with Me” (lyrics-Rami Kedar, music-Effi Netzer).

The choir at the Tokayer Boarding School for at-risk children (Kibbutz Bachan) was the initiative of Nachum Itzkovich (director of the Emek Hefer Regional Council) and Naomi Faran in 2002. The activity brings at-risk children together with children from the Moran Youth Choir and on an equal footing. At the school, 70 children from ages 7 to 15 rehearse weekly in what might be referred to as “a singing school”. Under the guidance of Ori Shachar, Rani Golan and Idan Eisler, the Tokayer children sing, play percussion instruments, take voice lessons, learn basic music theory and perform; this musical training encourages interpersonal skills, the ability to listen and the children’s understanding of language and texts. The Recanati Hall stage was crowded with enthusiastic children of both choirs singing “Without You” (lyrics-Danny Minster, music-Yoni Rechter). What a joy it was to see the Tokayer boys as soloists in “A Letter to My Brother” (lyrics and music-Ilai Botner) in Rani Golan’s jaunty arrangement, backed by piano, guitar and percussion:
‘Don’t be afraid of biting reality
And of cold people.
Everyone has “baggage”.
And you see it only in a few.
How much strength there is in a moment!
Eternity is endless.
In every tear to be shed
Laughter will come…’

Soloist and graduate of the Moran Singers and the Moran Singers Ensemble and member of the Israeli Bach Soloists, Hadas Faran-Asia studied at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv) and the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Today, in addition to a busy performing schedule, she works as a vocal coach with the Moran choirs. Accompanied imaginatively by David Sebba, we heard Faran-Asia in “Song to the Moon”, an aria from Dvořák’s “Rusalka” in which the mermaid Rusalka confides to the moon the secrets of her longing.  This aria, with its melody rising to a haunting refrain over gently shifting chords, is well suited to Faran-Asia’s creamy, lyrical voice and expressiveness.

Musical director of the Israeli Opera’s Opera Studio Israeli-born David Sebba composes theatre music, writes arrangements and orchestrations, sings, performs as a pianist and conducts. He has also translated several operas into Hebrew. Sebba has put together “Mad about Opera”, a show in which he sings and is accompanied by pianist Irit Rub; this is a parody on the history of voice and opera. Rub and Sebba performed parodies on both Italian opera and oratorio, much to the enjoyment of the audience. In addition to being a fine singer, Sebba is also a brilliant comedian!

Since 2008, the Moran Choirs organization has been associated with the Nitzan Onim Institute (Kfar Saba), a centre for young people aged 18 to 25 with learning disabilities. Directed by Rachel Regev, the centre provides a rehabilitative- and therapeutic framework, training young members with cognitive-, motor- and social difficulties to function in the general community.  Some twenty of the young people regularly take part in a choir that collaborates with Moran, the partnership giving the Nitzan Onim youngsters self-esteem and both choirs a sense of shared achievement. Despite severe learning disabilities, one member Ofir Nuriel (b.1979) has published a volume of poetry. His poem “Missing”, which he read to the audience, speaks in honesty, simplicity and wisdom of the physical- and emotional limitations of people like himself; the poem concludes with “As a frog I can not go out with princesses”. Rani Golan has set Nuriel’s text. We heard Golan’s catchy and lively arrangement, sung by young people from Nitzan Onim together with members of the Moran Singers Ensemble. This was a very special moment.

With members of all four choirs standing in the aisles and on stage, the audience was surrounded by beautiful sounds and joy as the evening drew to a close with Yonatan Razel’s “In Between the Sounds”, both sung and conveyed in Deaf Sign Language. The Moran Choirs gala evening was indeed a stirring experience for all present. It was an evening of careful programming and good taste – of fine, unmannered, cultured singing and movements; the works sung were relevant and meaningful to the young performers, clothing was unfussy and in good taste. What was so impressive was how thoroughly well trained all singers were for the event. Through rigorous musical training and much love, Naomi Faran and her devoted staff are teaching these young people the value of excellence, acceptance and self respect and that singing makes for happiness.

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