Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Salome Rebello conducts two choirs at the Church of St. Vincent de Paul, Jerusalem

“On Sanctity and Love- Sacred Music and Love Songs from Around the World” was the title given to a noon concert that took place on July 3rd 2015 at the Church of St. Vincent de Paul, a western-style structure built almost 150 years ago not far from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The event featured the Bel Canto Choir, which is one of the ensembles of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, and the choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance’s Department of External Studies. Both amateur choirs are under the musical direction of Salome Rebello.

With a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Mumbai University, Salome Rebello immigrated to Israel from India in 2008. In the meantime she has completed a B.Mus. and graduate degree in piano and conducting from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. A professional choral singer, Rebello conducts three choirs and teaches piano.

The program opened with members of both choirs lining the side aisles of the church in an uplifting performance of Italian Jewish composer Salamone Rossi’s 8-part antiphonal motet, “Adon Olam” (Lord of the Universe), a Sabbath hymn to an early text. Rossi’s sacred works constituted the first published collection of Jewish liturgical music. The Choir of the JAMD’s Department of External Studies then offered a colorful selection of pieces, beginning with a lyrical, songful reading of the Swedish folk song “Wem kan segla förutan vind?” (Who can sail without a wind?”) arr. Robert Sund, with the rich, warm voice of Maria Lyubman performing the solo part; this was followed by an interesting setting of a classical Arabic song, arr. Sherine Abou Hadar, in which Naama Hadi sang the solo. Finally, Rebello’s own beautiful, lilting arrangement bringing together three versions of “Adon Olam” to melodies she remembers that are sung by the Bene Israel community of Mumbai; Zeev Treger was soloist in this captivating piece.

Bel Canto’s bracket of songs opened with the well blended and delicately shaped singing of French Renaissance composer Claudin de Sermisy’s (1490-1562) chanson “Tant que vivray” (So long as I live), to American Randall Thompson’s (1899-1984) joyful anthem “Glory to God in the Highest”, to a polished and charming performance of Hungarian-born Israeli composer Oedeon Partos’ “Hamavdil” (May He who makes the distinction between the holy and the everyday) , which uses Sephardic melodies to see the Sabbath out, then to a quirky setting of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” by African-American composer, performer and music educator William Dawson (1899-1990). The “Song of Songs” has served as an inspiration to composers since Palestrina’s setting of it or even earlier. Devoting much attention to text and small nuances, to finely balanced intonation and to the poignant and sensuous character of the work, Salome Rebello’s reading of Yehezkel Braun’s (1922-2014) “Song of Songs” Chapter 3 was profound and rewarding. Reisie Miller soloed pleasingly in this work and in “Swing Low”. Four string players joined Bel Canto for a profound and tender performance of Mozart’s 46-bar-long (short) motet “Ave Verum Corpus” (Hail, true Body), a piece that never fails to move the listener.

The instrumentalists and both choirs joined to perform Franz Schubert’s Mass No.2 in G major, D.167 (1815), this concluding the concert. Composed in less than a week when the composer was only 18 (one of four Masses he composed in his teens), this youthful masterpiece has remained a staple of choral repertoire. In a performance bristling with lyricism, joy and contrasts, lush Romantic color, much exuberance, and some darker, more intimate moments (as in the Agnus Dei) singers and instrumentalists displayed confidence and fine teamwork. Rebello addressed the work’s unadulterated sincerity and variety. Soloists were choral bass Dov Faust, tenor Tom Karni and soprano Efrat Wolfson. Wolfson, presently completing her music degree at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, gave a fine, unmannered performance of the various soprano sections, her rich timbre resounding well in the church. Having completed a degree in Physics and Mathematics, tenor Tom Karni, a member of the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir, is now studying for a degree in conducting at the Jerusalem Academy. Despite doubts as to his Catholic faith, Franz Schubert produced a substantial collection of sacred music. These sacred choral works, from all periods of his short life, remain sadly neglected in comparison to his secular music. Mass No.2 is one of his most popular sacred pieces and the enjoyment created by the performance at the Church of St. Vincent was more proof of this.

Polished performance, as heard throughout the program, is proof of what can be achieved by amateur choirs under expert guidance. Salome Rebello is a young, energetic conductor fast making her mark on the Jerusalem choral scene. With music of many countries and religions on the program, the concert was dedicated to solidarity, with a call for tolerance between faiths in response to the vandalistic attack on the Church of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee.

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