Ha’aretz, December 21st 2004

The approaching Christmas holiday brings with it a unique, cross-border choral concert to Israel, in which Jewish and Arab Israelis and Europeans are all cooperating.  At the heart of the concert are two Israeli choirs that sing together: the Efroni Choir from Emek Hefer, and the Sawa Choir from Shfaram.  Efroni was founded more than 20 years ago by Maya Shavit, and over the years has been involved in extensive cultural cooperation - with choirs from Bethlehem and Nazareth, among others.  Sawa was founded 18 months ago and is conducted by Eva de Mayo and Rahib Hadad, a choirmaster who studied with Avner Itai in the musicology department of the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University.

Both choirs participated in Forum Barcelona 2004 this summer in the context of the Peace Camps project and are regularly involved in musical-cultural projects.  Now, they once again find themselves side by side in a joint concert that will take place on Wednesday at 7:30 P.M., at the Kiryat Yearim Church, Abu Ghosh.

The senior choir in the concert is The Choir of London, conducted by Jeremy Summerly, with 40 young professional singers.  The Choir of London had originally planned to perform only in the Palestinian Authority.  In the coming week, it has many concerts scheduled in East Jerusalem and in the PA: For the Palestine Bach Festival, it will sing Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” in Ramallah (tomorrow), and in Bethlehem (Thursday), together with singers from the National Palestinian Conservatory, in a concert that is the first of its kind in the PA; and on Friday, it will participate in the mass in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and perform an a capella concert in the Santa Anna Church in East Jerusalem, with works by Tavener, Britten, Poulenc and others (1 P.M.).

When conductor Maya Shavit heard about the visit of The Choir of London, she approached the head of the choir and presented her views regarding cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, and the ability of the choir to constitute a bridge between the communities.  The choir agreed to take part in the joint concert and, moreover, chose for its program in Israel a work that will be having its Middle Eastern debut and that is linked to the place: “Lament for Jerusalem,” to Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts, by one of the greatest British composers today, John Tavener.

Tavener, who was born in 1944, is known for his avant-garde style and his attraction to mysticism and religion.  Tavener has said that many people, when they hear the name of the work, will probably think it is a lament about the fate of present-day Jerusalem, beleaguered by wars.  But he said that such an approach limits and misses its real intention.  “`Lament for Jerusalem’ is a mystical love song.  It is only through love that there can be a transcendent unity of all religions.  I offer this love song to all who seek God, from whatever tradition they come.”

He combines Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem in the book of Luke, “By the Waters of Babylon” from the Psalms and a text of Muslim origin, by Sufi poet Rumi, and from the third Sura in the Koran.  “Through the act of composing, which is an act of love, [the composer] attempts to form a unity,” says Tavener.  “The music of `Lament for Jerusalem’ should be sung and played with great intensity, but at the same time, with great purity of heart.  Also, although increasingly tender, it should have a magisterial dignity, transcending any human dimension.”

In Abu Ghosh, the British choir will also sing “Threnody,” by British composer Tarik O’Regan; the orchestra will play Bach’s Second Brandenberg Concerto and the Sawa and Efroni choirs will sing three songs: in Arabic - by Feiruz and the Rahbani brothers; in Hebrew - by Mati Caspi (“Shir Hayona” - Dove Song) and in English, together with The Choir of London - a song by John Rutter.


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Jewish and Arab Israeli singers join in song