Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The HaOman Hai Ensemble opens the 2010-2011 "Music at the College" concert series at Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem

“Music at the College” is a new series of concerts and cultural encounters taking place at Hebrew Union College (Jerusalem). A project taken on by Ofer Shelley - pianist, musicologist and founder of the Atar Trio – the opening concert on October 7th 2010 featured Andre Hajdu with members of the HaOman Hai Ensemble. The groundwork of this ensemble was laid some years back by Professor Hajdu with his students at the Israel Arts and Science Academy (Jerusalem) where Hajdu was teaching. They studied the music of the Chabad Hassidim, improvisation and the history of classical western music. Working on their arrangements collectively (each artist is both instrumentalist and singer) the musicians proceeded to work and perform in a studio at 18 HaOman Street. Jerusalem, hence the group’s name. Andre Hajdu has referred to his young co-musicians in this joint creative project as “stage animals” who “can play anything in the world: jazz, klezmer, Yiddish, classical music…” Those taking part in the concert at Hebrew Union College were Andre Hajdu (director, piano, vocals) Yair Harel (percussion, tar and vocals), Yonatan Niv (‘cello, vocals)and Eitan Kirsch (double bass, vocals0.

Andre Hajdu (b. Hungary 1932) studied with Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly. He also studied much local folk music, becoming familiar with the Gypsies and their music. In 1956 he fled to Paris; there he studied with Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen. Hajdu has also worked as a piano teacher in Tunisia. His study of Judaism was approached from the cultural, historic, artistic-musical and ethnographic points of view. Andre Hajdu came to Israel in 1966. He teaches, researches and composes and performs with HaOman Hai. He was awarded the Israel Prize in 1997.

Yair Harel, one of the founders of HaOman Hai Ensemble, has a strong background in the gamut of traditional Jewish music, classical oriental music, oriental percussion instruments and contemporary music. His singing is earthy and from the soul, his percussion playing delicate.

Yonatan Niv (b.1979) is a ‘cellist, singer, composer and dancer, a member of a number of creative ensembles and has twice been a recipient of an America-Israel Cultural Foundation bursary for composition. He is expressive, his playing an singing blending tastefully into the textures created by the ensemble.

Double bass player Eitan Kirsch (b.1964) is a composer and jazz musician. He is involved in education, in klezmer festivals and running klezmer workshops for young players. His oeuvre includes pedagogical works and works based on Jewish traditional music.

The first half of the evening – “Kulmus Hanefesh” (Quill of the Soul), a musical journey into Hassidic music, explores the integration of Jewish folk niggunim and instrumental music from eastern Europe into contemporary art music. (Niggun is a Hebrew term for “humming music”, often referring to an improvisational form of “voice instrumental music” using syllables without texts or, alternatively, using verses of biblical texts.) The concert opened with a recording of Chassidic music, with the artists gradually joining in to produce a collage effect. This was followed by “Niggun rikud (Dance melody) sung in the typical style of vocal syllables, infused with mounting energy. The “Kulmus Hanefesh” songs reflect the eclectic quality of Hassidic music (and of that of its director); they include spiritual, joyful, soul-searching and intensively melodic moments, Yiddish word play, with some songs intimately prayerful and others brimming with harmonic color, jazzy effects and youthful vim.

“The Floating Tower” is a collection of Andre Hajdu’s Mishna Songs (1972-1973), as rearranged by the HaOman Hai Ensemble. (The Hebrew term “Mishnah” can refer to the full tradition of Oral Torah, transmitted and learned by word of mouth.) Hajdu poses the question as to how a modern person relates to these texts. He embarked on a two-year long private but intensive study of the texts, resulting in 56 settings of mishnaic texts. coming together under the title of “The Floating Tower”. The piece is a theatrical-musical work presenting ancient texts sung and accompanied in a rich variety of classical and modern styles. In fact, it is a veritable kaleidoscope of musical (and recorded crowd) effects, its musical influences spanning from the Renaissance to the 20th century, from Broadway associations, to a quote from Schubert’s “Marche militaire”, from whimsical, feisty percussive singing (The Rooster), to the music of Kurt Weill, to Jewish musical comedy, etc.

HaOman Hai has courageously come out with Jewish music in a presentation that is spiritually accessible to a wide audience. Hajdu and the young artists have immersed themselves in the meaning of the music, have allowed the texts to affect them on different levels and have over-layered them with their own personal interpretations. They play and sing both with conviction and convincingly, both individually and together. The performance is as original as it is deeply rooted in tradition. One hearing is not enough.

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