Palestine Music Festivals


The Choir of London gave two public performances during its stay in Jerusalem. The first of these was staged in the glorious surroundings of St Anne’s Church, a remarkable Crusader church just inside the north-eastern wall of the Old City. A mixed audience of local and international visitors heard a programme of unaccompanied choral works (including music by Sheppard, Duruflé, Tavener and Rutter), as well as instrumental pieces by C.P.E. Bach and Claude Débussy. Interspersed amongst the music was a series of poems read by the actor and director Samuel West, who accompanied the Choir throughout its tour. 

A second performance in Jerusalem took place as part of a 50th anniversary concert given by the Jerusalem Chorus, with which the Choir of London also performed in 2004. On this occasion, the visiting COL performers joined the ranks of the Jerusalem Chorus to help them perform a selection of some of their favourite choral repertoire, drawn from their concert programmes over the past five decades. The performance, staged at St George’s Anglican Cathedral, was invested with profound significance for members of the Jerusalem Chorus. Since Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem following the Six-Day War in 1967, the group has been unable to rehearse or perform in what had previously been its home city: most of its members (including its conductor and accompanist) are forbidden from entering Jerusalem because of their status as West Bank ID-holders. For this anniversary concert, special permission had been sought to enable the Chorus to stage its first performance in the city for almost 40 years. 

Plans for the concert were unfortunately disrupted at the last minute by the rejection on security grounds of travel permit applications for three members of the Jerusalem Chorus, including that of its conductor Salwa Tabri.  Miss Tabri, who was at the time 80 years old and suffers from chronic MS, was a founding member of the original Jerusalem Chorus, and it was therefore doubly regrettable that she should have been prevented from taking part in this celebration of the choir’s half-centenary. Despite these rejections, it was decided that the St George’s concert should go ahead with the 20-strong contingent whose applications had been successful, or who did not require a special permit to travel.

On the day of the performance, a major security alert resulted in the complete closure of the West Bank for several hours, making it impossible even for internationals and those with travel permits to cross checkpoints between Ramallah and Jerusalem. After a six-hour wait, however, most of the Jerusalem Chorus singers did eventually manage to pass through and reach the Cathedral, where a large audience had gathered. The concert went ahead as planned, with highlights including extracts from Haydn’s Mass in Time of War, Vivaldi’s Gloria, a rousing rendition of the ‘Anvil Chorus’ from Verdi’s Il Travatore, and an Arabic-language setting by the Palestinian composer Rima Tarazi


It was strikingly clear during the Choir of London’s May 2006 visit to the West Bank that the quality of life of individual Arab residents of the Occupied Territories had deteriorated sharply since its last. The economic situation had become particularly grave as a result of the halting of international aid following the election of a Hamas government in January, and of continuing restrictions on the export of Palestinian goods to markets outside the West Bank.

In spite of these problems, musical life in the Palestinian Territories showed no sign of diminishing: indeed, for many Palestinians, worsening political prospects prompted an increased commitment to music and other cultural activities as both a source of hope and a vehicle for peaceful protest. For those whose movements were severely limited, participation in music also appeared to have developed an increasingly important function as a means of feeling connected to the outside world.

The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music was continuing to run regular concert series and to offer tuition in Arab and Western classical music in its bases in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. Palestinian musical education had also been bolstered further in recent years by the arrival of two new organisations: the Barenboim-Said Foundation and the al-Kamandjâti Foundation. The former maintains a team of top-flight professional European instrumentalists in Ramallah, where they teach full-time, also giving their own recitals and encouraging performances by their students. The al-Kamandjâti Foundation, meanwhile, has made considerable strides in improving musical education provision for those outside the main Palestinian population centres, running regular teaching programmes in a number of refugee camps.

The burgeoning enthusiasm for performed music on which these organisations have been able to capitalise was obvious from the size of the audience which attended the Jerusalem Chorus’ concert at the Ramallah Cultural Palace, conducted by William Dawes. A repeat of the previous night’s programme in Jerusalem, (but with a full complement of Palestinian musicians this time) the performance was watched by an enthusiastic crowd of close to 600 people.

Middle East Tour 2006

Palestine Tour 2006

Wednesday 17 May, 1pm    

Thursday 18 May, 7pm       

Friday 19 May, 7pm 

Concert, St Anne’s Church, Jerusalem

Concert, St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem (with Jerusalem Chorus)

Concert, Ramallah Cultural Palace (with Jerusalem Chorus)

Fifteen members of the Choir of London and Choir of London Orchestra returned to the Palestinian Territories in May 2006 to stage a series of concerts, alongside a project working with two local choirs. On this page you can read a report of the tour; click here to view a gallery of images from the visit.

Copyright © 2012 Choir of London. All rights reserved.

The Choir of London Trust is a UK Registered Charity no. 1112757.

Home    About   Projects    Education    Media    Support us    Contact    Blog    Links