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Israel Philharmonic in the Negev

Ein HaShofet, Ein Gev, Givat Brenner, Einat; are some of the Kibbutzim which the Israel Philharmonic has visited over the years, but last month the orchestra went further than ever before, appearing at Sedeh Boker, Ben Gurion’s home in the desert. The IPO opened the “Sounds in the Desert” festival with an all Israeli program: three pieces by Israeli composers Aharon Harlap, Ronen Shapira and Mark Kopytman; and three Israeli soloists, Nimrod David Pfeffer and Revital Hachamoff, pianists and Gillah Bashari, soprano. Making his IPO conducting debut with the challenging program was Omer Wellber.

Dr. Michael Wolpe, artistic director of the festival, welcomed the orchestra by noting the originality and adventurous nature of the program. For both orchestra members and audience it was certainly an adventure. The opening piece, Second Concerto for piano by Aharon Harlap received its debut with soloist Nimrod David Pfeffer. The concerto is, in the composer’s words, homage to George Gershwin. With the occasional familiar “Gershwin” quotation, the first movement is full of energetic humor; the second movement is a soulful ballad and the finale is an energetic gallop.

Israel Philharmonic in the Negev
Israel Philharmonic in the Negev

Ronen Shapira has a reputation for bringing new instruments and original combinations of old instruments to classical music. His pieces sometimes feature saxophones, electric guitars and rock stars, but in his piece "Out of Europe: Taximcerto for oud, kamanga, darbukkah and two pianos", classical Arab instruments and a specially prepared quarter tone piano brought the flavor of the orient to the Negev. Revital Hachamoff was soloist, and the Eastern instruments were played by Arab members of "Shesh-Besh" - the Arab-Jewish Ensemble of the IPO.

Mark Kopytman’s "Memories", with vocalist Gillah Bashari is a classic of Israeli contemporary music, and has been performed by the IPO on tours to the US and Russia.

There was one more notable Israeli work which connected the evening’s cultural content with the special festival atmosphere. As Dec. 21st was the first evening of Hanukah, composer Simon Cohen orchestrated new accompaniments to the candle blessings and “Maoz Zur” in which the audience participated.

The IPO’s visit to the Negev and appearance in the “Sounds of the Desert” festival were made possible through a special grant of the Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

Peter Marck.

December 2008.

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