The following day, Friday, was relatively relaxed. A projected trip to nearby Bamberg was cancelled, due to expected stormy weather which, in the event, apparently did not materialise – so it was reported by those who decided to make their own way to Bamberg, never having seen it before. I have visited Bamberg before, on JOCC’s previous visit to Bayreuth in May 2008 so, after a morning rehearsal for the following evening’s concert, I preferred to forego the trip and wander around the Rotmain shopping mall and the Old Town of Bayreuth with its entrancing little shops, before returning to the hotel to rest before that evening’s Kabbalat Shabbat.
Kabbalat Shabbat took place in the Zamirhalle, with the participation of all three choirs, and included, besides the traditional wine and bread, a delicious soup made by one of the Zamirchor members, and – later on – pizza! Issak Tavior enlivened the first part of the evening by playing Shabbat songs on the piano and, after supper, the JOCC contingent performed Shabbat songs set by Israeli composers Zvi Avni and Sarah Shoham.
The Zamirchor members are, for the most part, non-Jews, but one or two were sporting kippot (yarmulkas) – and not just this evening. D. in particular, who, not so long ago, discovered that his maternal great-grandmother was Jewish and that so too was his maternal grandmother and thus, also his mother. He himself, then, is halachically Jewish – and he told me proudly that he and most of his family, now keep kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws).
Shabbat too, was, as it should be, mostly a day of rest. In the afternoon, a party of us walked the 20 or so minutes to the Festspielhaus, where our guide explained to us the workings of the famed acoustics and where, seated in the auditorium, we sang Hannah Szenes‘s famous poem “Eli, Eli”. On our previous trip to Bayreuth, five and a half years ago, we sang this song in a beautiful little Baroque church, but it had even more significance now, when performed by a mixed group of Israelis and Germans, in Wagner’s own opera house – given the composer’s rabid antisemitism and the position he held in the eyes of those responsible for “culture” in the Third Reich. Even more significant was the fact that, later on, we stood on that hallowed stage itself – where Wagner had intended that nothing should ever be performed, save for his own operas – and sang “Jerusalem of Gold”. I bet he was turning in his grave! I certainly hope so. At any rate, we were surely preferable to the crocodiles 😉
That evening, the first of our a cappella concerts took place in the Zamirhalle. Appropriately, since Zamirchor is a choir with a mission, to promote German-Jewish reconciliation, the concert was entitled: “Im Zeichen der Freundschaft” – “In Sign of Friendship”. Each of the three choirs gave a varied programme from their own repertoire. Of particular interest was the fact that, while the two Israeli choirs included songs in German by Haydn (the Tivon Choir), Brahms (JOCC) and Mendelssohn (both choirs), the Zamirchor from Bayreuth chose to perform a programme of Hebrew and Yiddish songs by the composer Viktor Ullmann, whose Jewish descent (despite the fact that both his parents had converted to Roman Catholicism before he was born) was enough to condemn him, first to exile in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and, finally, to the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
After all three choirs had performed separately, we joined together en masse to perform De Sola’s “Adon Olam”, (in which yours truly had a solo), Tavior’s latest work “In the Blood, Live” and “Eli, Eli” (see above).
The most amazing thing was that the hall was completely packed. Besides the 90 or so seats, the organisers had been forced to add wooden benches. Even so, there were spectators standing in the aisles (at least, there weren’t actually any aisles, but they were standing all around the walls).
The concert was followed by a post-concert party in the Zamirhalle, with plenty of wine, beer – and yet more pizza!
All in all, it was a very successful evening and marked a very successful halfway point in our tour.
To be continued…..