The (Jerusalem) Hills Are Alive With Music

Once again, it has been an eventful week – musically speaking, this time. Since, in Jewish tradition, the week starts with the end of the Sabbath (hence the traditional Saturday evening greeting, Shavua Tov – שבוע טוב – A Good Week), I shall start with the concert, last Motzaei Shabbat, in which I appeared as guest soloist with the Oratorio Singers Choir (one of the component choirs of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, to which my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir also belongs). Yours truly sang the solo in the Mendelssohn motet “Hear my Prayer/O for the Wings of a Dove”.  I believe the concert was recorded/filmed but I have not yet managed to lay my hands on a copy of the recording. If and when I do,  I shall, of course, be happy to add a link.  At any rate, for the first time in my life, I was presented with a bouquet at the end of my performance, as befitting a professional soloist 😉 .  I have to admit – I liked the feeling! The bouquet consisted of yellow narcissi and red anemones. Anemones are among the earliest harbingers of spring in Israel. I’ve always liked close-up shots of flowers and my trusty little Panasonic Lumix does very good macro shots:

P1010767 My bouquet from the Tu B'Shvat concert

Sunday and Wednesday were devoted to choir practice. We are currently working on a programme of music by Benjamin Britten and John Dowland – Britten, in honour of the Benjamin Britten Centenary which takes place this year and Dowland, in honour of the 450th anniversary of his birth. Since one of the centre-pieces of our Britten programme is the set of Choral Dances from his opera “Gloriana”, which deals with the life of Queen Elizabeth I, the choice of songs by the Elizabethan composer and lutenist Dowland, to complement the very 20th century Britten, seems eminently suitable. I shall have more news on the Britten front later this month, but in the meanwhile, I find myself musing on the ease with which a composer who was not one of my favourites, can grow on one when one is constantly singing his music. For example, the other main item in our programme is the Hymn to St. Cecilia which I hated on first hearing yet now find fascinating, not least because of the lyrics (by W.H. Auden, Britten’s erstwhile lover), which have very little to do with St. Cecilia. In fact, I have spent hours trawling the internet for literary websites, in an effort to make sufficient sense of the poetry to enable me to explain it to my fellow choristers, many of whom are having difficulty making even literal sense of the words. As a native English speaker, I am often called upon to translate the text of songs. But how do I go about translating the sub-text? And have I even understood it correctly myself?  How are we to understand Auden’s meaning when he refers to “dear white children, casual as birds…so gay against the greater silences, Of dreadful things you did“? Or when he admonishes Britten (as I suppose): “O bless the freedom that you never chose”? Is this an oblique reference to Britten’s homosexuality? Or to his paedophilia?

And then, of course, there are the Dowland texts, with their manifold ambiguities – from “Come again! Sweet love doth now invite,Thy graces that refrain, To do me due delight, To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die, With thee again in sweetest sympathy” (in which the sexual innuendo was clear even to most of the Hebrew-speakers) to the more arcane wordplay of “Fine Knacks for Ladies” by that prolific poet Anon ;-).

Finally, on Tuesday, I attended a delightful concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre in Mishkenot Sha’ananim – West of Innsbruck, a programme of Renaissance and Mediaeval music by the Gloriana Ensemble. I had a very special reason for attending this concert. The ensemble was founded by counter-tenor Noar Lee Naggan, whose natural voice is that of a baritone, in which capacity, he used to sing in my choir. Another friend singing in this ensemble is the mezzo-soprano Avital Deri, who used to sing alto in my choir. The remaining two members of the ensemble are the tenor, David Nortman and the young baritone, Guy Pelc. The programme (which was recorded and will be broadcast on Israel’s Voice of Music radio channel on Friday March 15 at 12 noon, Israel time – for anyone who wants to listen to it over the internet) included songs in German, French, Latin and English.  I would have liked to include a video clip of this ensemble, but could only find one from two years ago when the tenor role was sung by Eliav Lavi and the bass, by Oded Reich. However, since they are performing a piece which was on the programme on Tuesday, and it does include the two former members of my choir for whose sake I attended the concert, I decided to include it anyway. So here, for your delectation, is the Gloriana Ensemble, performing Sancte Deus by Thomas Tallis.

Enjoy – and Shavua Tov!


About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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2 Responses to The (Jerusalem) Hills Are Alive With Music

  1. TBM says:

    I wish I could sing. But it is better that I sit in the audience and listen to those who can. Good for you

    • Both performers and their audience have a part to play. I enjoy singing to myself, also, but from the performance point of view, an appreciative audience is very important. It’s very discouraging when there are fewer people out front than on the stage.

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