Well, I should have known it was too good to last, shouldn’t I? And it didn’t. Thanks to the Delta Variant, a lack of due diligence at Ben Gurion Airport and insufficient enforcement of isolation rules, the number of COVID-19 cases is climbing once more. The wearing of face-masks is again mandatory at indoor events with more than 100 participants, more and more countries are being put on the “No Travel List” (almost impossible to enforce if the “miscreants” use connecting flights), the Ministry of Health is again battling with the Ministries of Finance, Tourism, Education and others over the extent of the new/old restrictions to be imposed and the rumour is that we will again be in almost full lockdown by the High Holy Days in September.
On top of all that, there is now a question as to the extent to which the existing vaccines are effective against the Delta Variant, and whether there is a need for a third dose. Since most of the new cases appear to have fallen victim to the Delta Variant and since most of them have been vaccinated, it is my impression that people who have been vaccinated are actually MORE likely to be infected. So what is the point of a third dose??? And yet the Government, and the Health Establishment are urging us ever more strongly on the need to vaccinate children over 12!
In light of the possible “Fourth Wave” of the pandemic, it seems my choir held its end-of-year concerts in the nick of time. The Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir gave a sold-out concert on July 5th at Haparsa, a new Centre for Performing Arts in Jerusalem’s Industrial and Commercial Zone. Our programme, entitled: “Shakespeare and Co.”, included settings of Shakespeare sonnets and songs from his plays, Elizabethan madrigals by some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and settings of English folk-songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (because our conductor likes Vaughan Williams, who is also one of my own favourite composers – and because it was a natural progression from the central item of the evening, RVW’s cantata “In Windsor Forest” based on “The Merry Wives of Windsor” via Vaughan William’s own opera, “Sir John in Love”). There were also some monologues taken from various Shakespeare plays – although, having been brought up on Shakespeare in his own country, I found it hard to adjust to the American accent of the actor.
So let’s start with Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of “The Dark-Eyed Sailor” – or part of it, at least…
My personal favourite (well, just about everybody’s, I think) was “Double Double, Toil and Trouble” from Four Shakespeare Songs by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi:
The following day, July 6th, our parent-body, the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir (to which the Chamber Choir belongs, together with four other smaller choirs) held its end-of-year concert and party at the Kol Haneshama Synagogue in Jerusalem. This was more of an internal celebration, to which we could bring guests. The constituent choirs sang to each other and the full choir performed two pieces, one each at the beginning and end of the evening.
We started off with “And it shall come to pass in the end of days” – a setting by Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun to verses from the Book of Isaiah:
And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more...
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings, that announceth peace…
After that, each of the smaller choirs showed off their repertoire and finally, at the end of the evening, the whole choir returned to the stage to perform sections of Haydn’s so-called “Nelson Mass“, or, to give it the name Haydn himself originally chose, Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Troubled Times). You have to admit, a more appropriate name it would have been hard to find for this work on which, thanks to a Chinese bat, we have been working for two years.
We may not have been artistically on our best form, much rehearsal time having been lost because of lockdown. Nor were conditions at the concert venue ideal. In deference to the rising number of COVID cases and the resulting re-imposition of restrictions, the performance was held outdoors, in the synagogue courtyard, where the wind affected our voices and played havoc with the pianist’s and conductor’s sheet music, and where the gathering dusk and lack of lighting made it hard to see our notes. In fact, by the end of the evening, we were having to read them by the light of our mobile phones. Try holding a cellphone in one hand, a music folder in the other and turning pages at the same time!
Still – the evening was a tribute to the fact that the Choir had survived a very difficult year and a half, while many other cultural institutions did not. We are still here, still singing – and although rehearsals are now on hold for the summer, we will be back in September with a new programme, come hell or high water!