Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Jordi Savall brings Jerusalem to Fez

The early music maestro, Jordi Savall, staged his latest major work on Wednesday night at Bab al Makina, Jerusalem: City of Heavenly Peace and Earthly Peace.

With around 25 people on stage including his wife Montserrat Figueras, his Ensemble Hesperion XXI, soloists from the Capella Reial de Catalunya and invited musicians from Europe, the Near East and the Maghreb, it was an ambitious programme. The evening was cool and perfect apart from a strong wind that caused a problem or two for the sound engineers.

Yagel Harel blows the shofar

Opening with the trumpets of Jericho - including shofars - Savall starts the story of the holy city from the Aramaic, Jewish and Greek oracles foretelling the rise and fall of Jerusalem. For more than 1000 years until 70 CE, it was a Jewish city; the cantor David Menahem sang some haunting melodies, accompanied by Yair Dalal on oud.

Yair Dalal

For the Christian history of the city lasting from 326 until 1244, there were some stirring exhortations to join the crusades and root out the Turks and Arabs who had taken Jerusalem.

David Menahem, with Montserrat Figueras in the background

The city as a place of pilgrimage was the next part of the programme with an Armenian song, a superb piece attributed to Ibn Battuta sung by Razmyk Amyan, and perhaps the best piece of the evening, Sionide by Judah Halevy (1075-1141) and sung by David Menahem.

Razmyk Amyan

Jerusalem as an Arab city (1244-1516) and an Ottoman city (1517-1917) was celebrated with ney flute and qanun and a whirling dervish from the Palestinian Al-Darwish Sufi group, and an excellent rendition of Sallatu Allah sung by Driss el Maloumi.

From the 15th to the 20th century, Jerusalem was a city of refuge and exile. The music in this section ranged from a 16th century Sephardic piece to an Armenian lamentation of 1915, a Jewish tribute to the dead of Auschwitz written in 1941 and a Palestinian song of 1948.

members of La Capella Reial de Catalunya

The final section of the concert is entitled Earthly Peace - a hope and a duty. Here all the voices - in Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian and Latin - sang for peace. The final fanfare, entitled Against the Barriers to Spirit.

This was a long concert at 2 1/2 hours, and it started half an hour late.

Jerusalem is both political and spiritual. Yet, while there is no doubt that this is a major, important work from Savall, questions can be asked about the overall cohesion of the piece. It is true that its very structure works against cohesion and in some ways this is a metaphor for Jerusalem's fragmented history. However, there was in the first sections of the piece, a need to be lifted out of the mundane into the sublime.

translations of the songs were projected onto the side screen

Fortunately, as the concert progressed, so to did the spirit of the work. Savall has compiled this music from history and brought it to us in these troubled times and is to be congratulated as is the Fez Festival for challenging us with such a musical journey.

As the performance was being recorded, rehearsals went on until 20h00 and the public were not allowed in until just before the start time. They were entertained by a partial screening of the film Esprit de Fes about the Fez Festival that was made some years ago. This film, by Clemence Boussirat, will be screened in full at 11h00 on Thursday 10 June at the Jnan Palace Hotel.

Photographs; Sandy McCutcheon, Text; Helen Ranger and Sandy McCutcheon.
Click on images to enlarge.

To see all the Fez Festival 2010 stories on The View from Fez, click HERE!

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