Celebrating the music of Israel
Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. It is a date of obvious and deep importance, especially in the realms of politics and religion.
A few local organizations want to convince Bostonians that it’s of musical significance as well. They’re doing so by way of a concert cosponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and the Judaica Division of Harvard College Library. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project will play works by four Israeli composers, a program that spans six decades. A fifth work, written by local 15-year-old composer Jeremiah Klarman, was added to salute the designation of the “Year of the Child” in Israel.
What makes the concert even more timely is that so much of Israeli music is terra incognita, even to otherwise well-informed listeners. “Israel was a particularly unknown commodity to me,” says BMOP music director Gil Rose. He knew of Paul Ben-Haim, the German-born composer who emigrated to Palestine in 1933 and is probably the best-known Israeli composer. He’s represented on Sunday’s concert by a concerto for strings, written in 1947. “But past that, it was all new to me.”
A major discovery, Rose says, was the work of Joseph Tal, another German-born composer who emigrated in the 1930s and whose First Symphony will be played. In contrast to the more accessible Ben-Haim, Tal’s music is “darker and more developed - it feels almost like a [Paul] Hindemith aesthetic in a way. It’s pretty spectacular the end result that he gets.”
Another find was Mark Kopytman, who was born in 1929 and came to Israel from Russia in 1972. His Beyond All This was written in 1997; Rose calls it “a very sensual piece. He uses material that sounds reminiscent of some kind of indigenous music of the area. But he presents it in an almost kaleidoscopic way.”
Bringing the program up to the present is Kri’ot by Betty Olivero, a saxophone concerto commissioned for the concert by the Friends of the Harvard Judaica Collection. Olivero is currently composer in residence with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the only native-born Israeli on the program.
According to Violet Gilboa of the Judaica Collection, Olivero is drawing on a set of traditions that’s uniquely available to Israeli composers. The country is “a corridor between Western and Middle Eastern cultures,” Gilboa explains. “Israeli composers are drawing a lot from classical Arabic music. They tend to reach out - sharing a border, there is a curiosity on both sides.
“Composing is cooking,” she adds. “You have local ingredients that you’re using for your music.”
While it can’t present a complete picture of musical activity in Israel, the concert has already ignited the curiosity of at least one person. “It’s kind of a discovery for me,” says Rose. “I’ve never been to Israel, and this has kind of made me want to go there and check out what’s going on.”
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