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Chopin for Arabic Instruments
Last uploaded : Sunday 30th Nov 2003 at 23:13
Contributed by : Noam Ben Ze'ev


Chopin for Arabic Instruments

by Noam Ben Ze?ev

Two cellists and three oud players join a kanunist and two flautists, violinists (both of the Arabic and the Western variety) and players of percussion and wood instruments and piano. They hail from Sakhnin and Ramat Gan, Shfaram and Modi'in, Herzliya, Nazareth and Kafr Kana. This multicultural orchestra, and its unique assortment of human and musical talents, is the Jewish-Arab Musical Youth Orchestra - a longish name for a young ensemble, whose teenage members gather together to make music with one another.

It was the music that provided the original
impetus for the initiative. But music, like any art in the social realm, is also political: whether it glorifies God in a cathedral of the Middle Ages or accompanies the theater in a palace of Louis XIV, salutes a great leader in the "Eroica" symphony or seeks national definition in the revolutions of the "Spring of the Peoples."

Here it reflects the decision reached by members of two cultures to live and make music together, in spite of the foul wind that tries to separate

"The orchestra has a multicultural attitude, not only as a vision but also as a matter of actual practice," says the conductor, Wissam Jubran, before flying this week to Holland with the orchestra for a series of appearances that will end with a gala concert in the Concertgebouw auditorium.

"Here the dreams are also the performers. And because this sort of ensemble, which is unique in terms of the exotic array of instruments,
there are no original written works, and appropriate composition has to be composed or arranged for it. Everything that is done must be coordinated together, which is why at least two are needed. An Arab or a Jew alone could not have started anything like this."

To that end, Jubran paired up with composer Ronen Shapira. "Both of us are multicultural: I was raised on Arabic music but learned Western music while conducting and composing in Moscow and in Hochschule, the music school in Berlin. Ronen also grew up on Eastern music, and studied in the United States; ?That is why this collaboration is not only an external matter, but mainly internal."

The Jewish-Arab Musical Youth Orchestra was born in workshops and musical summer camps of the Musical Youth in Israel movement, a branch of the world movement of the same name, through the initiative of its director, Meir Weisel. He invited Jewish and Arab youth to the summer camp and hired Jubran and Shapira as their instructors.

"It started from experiments," says Jubran. "We listened to what we had, and from it we exhausted all the possibilities. Very quickly, the idea became a dream - not only musical, but political, too. You could say that it was fulfilled, because relations among the musicians are excellent, and they have not had any conflict among them or bad spirits since we began working together two years ago.

"The titanic crisis in the state is not expressed in the orchestra, even though we are working in a most difficult period of time. The families that send their children to the ensemble believe in living together, and this
support eases the difficulties in which all of us are now mired."

Is the orchestra a bubble detached from reality? Or perhaps the opposite - does it reflect reality? "It is part of reality. There is no one reality. There is a dominant, hopeless reality. But this is not the only, the final reality. There are a lot of people who believe in cooperation and coexistence, and are also working toward that goal. Although their voice is not the loudest voice right now, these people have a lot of hope."

Conducting the orchestra is only part of Jubran's artistic life. As an oud musician, he appears at recitals, and plays in the Jewish-Arab ensemble of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. As a poet, his works are read from
numerous stages: his poems have been translated into Hebrew by Sasson Somekh and Reuven Snir for the periodical "Helicon". His poems have also
been read at poetry festivals in Jerusalem and Metulla.

Jubran teaches at the Music Teachers' College of Tel Aviv. Since his doctorate from Berlin is not recognized in Israel, he is now completing one
in the musicology department of Bar-Ilan University. In his spare time, he also composes, and his works and arrangements - along with those of Ronen Shapira - form the nucleus of the orchestra's repertoire.

"We play Chopin in an arrangement for Arabic instruments," he says, "as well as classic Arabic compositions. It isn't only the two of us who are writing. There are also other composers, like Avia Kopelman and Yoni Rechter, who have been sending us pieces. The door is open to anyone interested in writing for the ensemble."
The orchestra's current tour in Holland is sponsored by a new international organization founded there, Music in the Middle East, a UNESCO-supported initiative to promote peace in the Middle East through music.

A forum of musicians from the participating countries selects its activities. The forum includes Israel's Meir Weisel, the director of the Amman Conservatory in Jordan, the director of the Damascus Opera, and representatives from Lebanon, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. The forum has already convened twice amid a friendly atmosphere in Holland and Istanbul, and the Jordanian representative even spent several days as a guest in Weisel's home.

What do you talk about at meetings?
Weisel: "The main subject is the production of musical projects that we feel should be promoted in the Middle East. There is a long list: teachers in peripheral areas, Jewish-Arab cooperation, young musicians in need. This
concert is one of the events intended to fund-raise for this purpose."

# # #
Source: Ha?aretz, November 12, 2003.
Visit the Ha?aretz website at: http://www.haaretzdaily.com/
Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.
JewishComment is grateful to Common Ground News Service for copyright clearance.



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