I have mentioned the Dry Bones Project in previous posts. For those who are new to this blog – or for those who have forgotten – this is a joint project of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir and the Zamirchor from Bayreuth to commemorate the Holocaust and is centred on the annual International Holocaust Memorial Concert at the United Nations, which takes place each year on January 27th, the date of the liberation, by Soviet troops, of the Auschwitz – Birkenau extermination camp .
And why “Dry Bones”?
Because the main piece of the evening is the cantata “The Vision of the Dry Bones” by the Israeli composer Issak Tavior, a setting of texts from the Book of Ezekiel, which we first performed – under the baton of the composer – at Israel’s 60th Independence Day celebrations in Nuremberg and Bayreuth, in May 2008.
As regular readers of this blog may recall, we performed this piece in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations in New York last year. This year, we were in Geneva, where the concert took place in the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations.
However, there was a good deal more to the trip than one concert at the UN Office in Geneva. For one thing, the Jerusalem contingent arrived a day before the German choir, arriving after dark at our hotel after a hair-raising drive into the mountains above Lake Annecy, during the course of which, our (female) bus-driver had considerable difficulty in manoeuvring the bus over a narrow bridge, giving rise to much mirth and many chauvinistic remarks by the men of our party.
The following day, we gave an a cappella concert at the synagogue of the Liberal Jewish Community in Geneva. This concert was conducted by our regular conductor, Ronen Borshevsky, who, in addition to being an inspired (and inspirational) musician, also proved to us, the evening before, that he has many other talents, not the least of them being his skill at snooker!
In fact, we had a whole day to ourselves before our friends from Bayreuth arrived, and we spent the morning before the concert touring the Old Town of Annecy (we stayed at the Hotel Les Balcons du Lac d’Annecy in Sevrier, a holiday village about an hour’s drive from Geneva, in the French Alps, with spectacular views of the lake and the mountains from every window).
During the course of the morning, having stumbled upon the mediaeval Gothic-style Church of St. Maurice, we naturally did what we do best – we sang.
We sang – as we sang on the plane that bore our merry band of choristers to Geneva, as we sang the evening of our arrival at the hotel, in celebration of the birthday of one of our members and as we sang later that day in a delightful wine and coffee shop where we discovered the extraordinary efficacy of hot mulled wine for keeping out the chill of winter.
For the cheerful and friendly bartender, we sang one of the few French songs in our repertoire, a saucy ditty by Renaissance composer Pierre Certon about a man who was the talk of the town because of the infidelities of his wife.
Annecy is a beautiful town and, in fact, we later went back to it, this time with our German friends, on one of the three free days at our disposal after fulfilling our musical engagements. Known as the Venice of the Alps, because of the many canals there, it is nevertheless very different from Venice, surrounded, as it is, by the highest mountains in Europe, which are clearly visible from every part of town.
The cities of Annecy and Bayreuth are twin cities, so the day following the arrival of our German friends, our combined choirs took part in a concert marking Franco-German Friendship. Besides the Dry Bones Cantata, we also performed another Tavior piece, “The Prophecy Suite“, or, to give it its original name, “The Last Days to Come” (אחרית הימים in Hebrew, “Acharit Hayamim” – “At the End of the Days”), a vision of what will be when the Last Battle has been fought and won, when the Children of Israel are safe and secure in their land, when the lion and the lamb will live in peace together and all the world is united in the worship of one God. This concert took place in the extremely modern Church of St. Bernadette.
You would think that, being a new building, it would be heated, right?
Wrong! The place was freezing and, for the first time in my concert career, I sacrificed elegance to comfort and wore a cowl-necked sweater instead of one of my beautiful, lacy black blouses. How glad I was that I had had the forethought to pack a black sweater!!!
The evening ended with a rousing performance of the European Anthem, better known as the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, sung in German and French.
The final concert was the one for which we had made the journey, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. On the bus from Annecy to Geneva, the two choirs finally began to coalesce into one, in a way that had not happened on previous occasions, neither on our visit to Bayreuth in 2008, nor on our visit to New York in 2010. It started with JOCC bursting into song, as we are wont to do on long journeys. Then Zamirchor joined in and finally, the irrepressible Shlomo had us all in fits with his jokes, delivered in English so that everyone could understand.
It was over the course of this journey that it was forcefully brought home to me that the harmony between members of our choir (I refer to JOCC) exists in the musical sphere only. Where politics are concerned, the good relations between those members of the choir who adhere to (what I consider) Loony Left-wing views and those of us with more patriotic leanings are more fragile than I thought, and, in fact, exist because we don’t discuss politics. Fortunately, we have the music to bind us.
At the Palais des Nations, the promised guided tour failed to materialise and apart from a brief and rather perfunctory rehearsal, we were left more or less to our own devices until the start of the concert at exactly five p.m. (and yes, it started exactly on time, punctual as the timepieces for which the city of Geneva is justly famous). It should be no surprise to anyone to discover how we passed the time between the end of the rehearsal and the start of the concert. JOCC initiated the Zamirchor into the intricacies of Israeli folk-dancing! It should also come as no surprise that I found a wall display dedicated to the “suffering” of the so-called Palestinian people, but searched in vain for any mention of the infinitely greater suffering of the people of Darfur, victims of genocide at the hands of their Muslim fellow countrymen, of the Tibetans, enduring brutal repression by their Chinese overlords, of the women of Saudi Arabia, Iran and, in fact, most of the Muslim world, subjected to mediaeval laws that treat them as second class citizens. Oh, no – the United Nations is far too busy with the imagined wrongs of the “Palestinians” to deal with the very real wrongs of the rest of the world.
After the concert, there was a reception in the lobby. We were told that because of a misunderstanding, supper had not been ordered for us back at the hotel and so we should eat as much as possible at the reception, because this would be the only supper we would get. That being so, I stuffed myself on canapes and dainty little fruit tartlets – alternating between the sweet and the savoury in a completely illogical fashion. Actually, I made quite a good meal of it, although others didn’t find it quite so satisfying, and ordered out for pizza when we got back to the hotel.
The concert at the Palais des Nations also marked our farewell to the two journalists who had accompanied us for the past few months, in order to prepare a documentary about the project. In fact, we got so used to the presence of Shirley and Nitzan that now, I don’t know how I’m going to get used to rehearsals without having a video camera stuck in my face several times over the course of the evening 😉
The concerts behind us, we had, as I said, three days of free time. The first of these was given over to further explorations of picturesque Annecy, although a sizeable contingent preferred to go skiing or walking in the mountains. In the Old Town, I discovered a delightful shop which, unfortunately was closed – but I did take a picture of the merchandise on display in the window:
The following day, most of us went to Geneva, although there were some determined skiers that day also. I had one day in Geneva, and would you believe it, besides the Cathedral of St. Pierre, it was mostly shops that I got to see as I was dragged by my companions to Migros, Globus, Zara and a few more whose names I can’t even remember. I know this is hard to believe, but I hate shopping! The Cathedral was interesting, especially the Chapel of the Maccabees with its vibrantly coloured decorations.
The Cathedral is also famous for housing Calvin’s Chair.
In addition, I was surprised and delighted to find that the great English writer, George Eliot, had once lived in Geneva and that the house where she stayed is marked by a plaque commemorating the fact.
When one goes sight-seeing without a map, one is wont to stumble upon all sorts of beautiful and unusual sights – without knowing what they are. One is therefore able to evaluate them without feeling somehow “obliged” to appreciate them for their historical/geographical/social significance. An example in point is this globe which we saw in the courtyard of what I believe is the home of the municipal or regional government (and if anyone knows and can tell me, please drop me a line).
Please note the artist’s take on the Middle East – with more space devoted to Israel/Palestine than either party ever dreamed of!
It was now mid-day and our strenuous bout of sight-seeing (!) required that we take a coffee break to recuperate and renew our strength before continuing. So we repaired to an almost empty (and very expensive) cafe near the Cathedral (which filled up quite spectacularly not long afterwards) and sampled some of the famous Swiss desserts:
While we were thus indulging ourselves, several other members of our party joined us and showed us their purchases – thus engendering an urgent desire in those who had not yet had the chance to squander their euros (or Swiss Francs) to devote the rest of the afternoon to that purpose. I had no such desire – as I said already, I hate shopping. But the goal was not divulged. All they said was, that we would just go to the shop where ***** had purchased the specially designed salad scissors/egg-timer/salad servers and then go to the lake. Of course, that was not what happened and I found myself being dragged from emporium to emporium, while my companions searched for a particular brand of coffee that could not be obtained in Israel, or a certain beauty product ****** had promised to find for his wife, or presents for ******’s grandchildren – each time faithfully promising that this was the last shop and that we would then go for a boat-ride on the lake!
As the bus that was to take us back to Annecy had been ordered for the ridiculously early hour of 3 p.m. we did not, of course, have time for the boat-ride. A pity, as it was a beautiful, sunny day – if cold. I had to make do with the spectacular views from the lakeside promenade:
That evening was our last night together with our German friends, as the Zamirchor contingent was due to leave the following day. Our farewell supper was marred only by an Incident, stemming from the complicated Relationship between two individuals and triggered by the fact that the Party of the First Part saw fit to turn up at the farewell supper accompanied by his wife. This so incensed the Party of the Second Part that she stalked over and emptied a glass of wine over his head. “Hell hath no fury…” and all that. Out of respect for the privacy of the individuals concerned, I shall not mention any names or otherwise divulge their identities. Suffice it to say that neither party was a member of JOCC.
The following day, 14 or 15 of us hired cars and drove to Chamonix, with the intention of taking the cable car up to the summit of Mont Blanc. Unfortunately, when we got there, the cashier at the cable car ticket office told us that the visibility at the summit was very poor that day and that it was not expected to clear for several hours. A pity to waste 40 euros then. We therefore went to drink some hot mulled wine and consider what to do next.
Having warmed ourselves up a bit, we decided to walk around Chamonix and see if the skies showed any sign of clearing up over Mont Blanc.
They did not. However, lying opposite Mont Blanc, Le Brévent raised its head in a mostly blue sky. At 2,525 metres, it is only slightly more than half the height of Mont Blanc (a fact reflected in the cost of the cable car ticket – only 25 euros), but we could at least expect good visibility from its snowy peak. Le Brévent it would be then.
When we reached the summit, someone suggested that we sing something. Casting our minds about for something appropriate from our repertoire, the most suitable choice appeared to be Salomone Rossi’s setting of Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, From whence shall my help come?
Of course, this would have been a suitable moment for me to whip out my new camera and record the event for posterity. Unfortunately, by this time, the battery was running low so the documentation was left to Rachel – who only figured out how to use the video setting on her camera by the time we were well into the song. So, I will be using my modest technological skills, such as they are, to re-create the event using Windows Movie Maker for upload to YouTube, at a later date. In the meanwhile, here is a shot of us on the summit, taken by one of us (not yours truly) – possibly Orna, possibly Romy… I can’t remember who else was with us but isn’t in the picture.
The following morning, we arose at 3 a.m. for coffee, croissants and brioches laid out for us in one of the offices by the hotel staff, as we had to be at Geneva Airport by 5.10 a.m. Although there was an alternative, easier route, bypassing the problematic bridge, the bus driver (the same one who had brought us to the hotel on the day of our arrival) ignored the opportunity to use it and proved to us (said some of the men) that she had been practicing – because, this time, she negotiated the chasm without difficulty and got us to the airport in good time.
The flight home was uneventful and by lunchtime, we were back in Israel.
Now we are hard at work on our next project – the forthcoming concert, with the full Oratorio Choir (150 singers) and orchestra, at the end of this month, which will open the Jerusalem Festival of the Arts and at which we will be performing the Requiem by Fauré and the St. Cecilia Mass by Gounod.
The music never stops…
Post Scriptum (by Possum and Pixie):
Would you believe it, Fellow Felines (and other Interested Parties)? She was away from Us in Foreign Parts for a whole week and forgot to bring Us a Present!!!