Friday, June 29, 2018

Fes Festival Day Eight - Review

SEPHARADIC SONGS, FROM THE SACRED TO THE PROFANE 16:00 SYNAGOGUE- Review and photographs: Suzanna Clarke

A restored synagogue in Fez's Mellah district - the old Jewish quarter - was the atmospheric setting for this magical concert.

The theme was Sephadic and Andalusian songs, from the sacred to profane, sung by Gerard Edery. Born in Casablanca, and educated in Paris and New York, Edery is a former opera singer, who specialises in making these usually arcane songs engaging. "There should be a reinterpretation of these songs by every generation," he said. "My attempt is to make them accessible, while staying true to the essence of them."

Edery is remarkably successful at it. This is the third time he has performed at the Fes Festival.

That he is a communicator was immediately evident, as he addressed the audience in both French and English; giving explanations prior to each song.

"Shalom", Edery said, and his fine, rich voice filled the space, singing words in Hebrew, accompanied by his Spanish guitar. Two supporting musicians played drums and a canoon, a typical Middle Eastern intrument.

"The song honours Abraham," he said. "And is shared by the three faiths. I am touched to be singing it here in this sacred space."

One of Edery's techniques was to repeat the same words at a faster tempo towards the end of the song, giving a sense of exhilaration.

A lively Tartar song, he described as being "a prayer - inviting the Shabat queen into the service. I think of it as inviting in the female part of every human being."

Love songs from different traditions were also explored. Towards the end of the performance, Edery told us the words of one of the pieces meant, "Goodbye my love, go knock on other doors. To me you are dead forever." - which elicited a ripple of amusement.

These medieval songs given a refreshing new twist, in the surroundings of the ancient synagogue, were a memorable experience.


The Budapest Saint Ephraim choir prefaced their diverse showcase of songs (in French and English! A first for this festival) with a quote: "Every music is sacred", which sums up both their agenda as a chorale and why they proved so charming to their audience.

Aside from a refreshingly dynamic range of vocal technique and musical disciplines, from gypsy prayers to Bulgarian chants and late Renaissance pieces, the choir possessed an endearing humility onstage rooted in gratitude for their listeners and the Fes Festival. They and Bea Palya, their female singer, broke down audience barriers with plentiful smiles, good humour, and detailed descriptions of the significance behind the repertoire, including songs that were written for them especially by friends and Hungarian composers.

Bea was a delightful presence to watch onstage. Her training in Indian and Persian vocals really shone; evocative vocals, drenched in raw empathy to the point of hoarseness (which, if anything, gave power to emotion), were grounded beautifully by the choir with strikingly deep harmonies.

They sang to and energised one another, settled in the collective sound swirling all around them. They switched seamlessly between styles and technique, displaying perfect harmonies, neatly staggered timing during a pretty interlude with handbells, and even an Eastern Orthodox liturgy, whose original 72 repetitions of "God have Mercy" were turned into a surprising tongue twister that didn't miss a beat.

Bea Palya and the Budapest choir, though certainly an impressive force, didn't take themselves too seriously, and wrapped up their performance with a selection of "colourful, joyful, funny pieces" from Greece, 12th century Spain, and South Africa. In their words, "Prayer doesn't have to be solemn". This segment nicely reaffirmed what was a heartfelt, sincere, and unpretentious set that had the audience begging for an encore; which they indulged, noting, "We're not going to do the old trick of walking off-stage and then back on again...we're just going to give you the encore right now." Bea led them off with many cheerful calls of thank you and merci and shukran, and some ululating for good measure.


Goran Bregovic

From the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’, a melting pot of religions, cultures, histories and traditions, Sarajevo’s musical master Goran Bregovic played to a full house at Bab Makina tonight. A composer who is famed for uniting multiple styles, from Oriental, klezmer and classical, aiming to transcend divisions of culture, race and geography, he seemed a perfect fit for this year’s theme celebrating ancient wisdom from around the world.

Despite the unquestionable musical talent of Bregovic and his Orchestra of Weddings and Funerals, some may be raising eyebrows over the festival’s decision to invite an artist who has been boycotted in both Ukraine and Poland, due to controversy over his 2015 concert in annexed Crimea where he openly praised Russian rule.

Goran Bregovic (in white)

The stage has never been busier or louder at this year’s festival, with Bregovic joining the 40 strong Brittany Symphony Orchestra, directed by Auréien Alan Zielinski, considerably after the show was due to start. As the orchestra began to play, the vibration and volume of the sound instantly surpassed previous shows. After less than a minute, an unexpected brass band sprung from within the audience, beginning a call and response style song with the orchestra on stage. The band, composed of trumpet, clarinet, drums and saxophone players, walked to the stage as a fiery pace increased.

The women partially drowned out by the orchestra

The performers quickly confounded the audience’s expectations, dispelling any sense of formality and showcasing a fusion of contemporary and traditional styles. Just when you thought the stage could not get any busier, three violinists entered and sat proudly at the front. The first soloist, Gershen Leizerson of Israel, gave a spine-tingling performance, introducing a melancholy mood that dripped of nostalgia and loss.

Bregovic’s music has been self-described as Yugonostalgic, having risen to fame under Tito’s Yugoslavia, leading one of the most popular bands in the country, Bijelo Dugme. As rumbling drum beats echoed through the violist’s solo, the audience was urged to transfer their sadness into determination as a revolutionary mood was created. The twists and turns of the performance provided an insight into the dark corners and memories within the complex mind of the composer.

Miliana Neskovic 

Two female vocalists dressed laden with hats made of flowers interjected, joined by a male choir providing a hearty bass-line, but mostly being drowned by the rest of the orchestra. The second violinist, Miliana Neskovic of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra, reduced audience members to tears as she crouched over her instrument, furiously playing its strings until her hair sprung out and sweat dripped down her arms. Goran watched on with pride, strumming his electric guitar and occasionally joining in with vocals.

Zied Zouari 

The visual projections onto the ancient fortress were a lot more subdued tonight, perhaps allowing the audience a chance to absorb the complex array of instruments and styles on stage. The final violin soloist, Zied Zouari of Tunisia, held the audience in anticipation as he paused before beginning a perfectly rehearsed set that he clearly enjoyed. A child of musicologists and and a musicologist himself, he has been a musician since the age of five, touring in concerts before he reached adulthood. It was no surprise then that he had the audience cheering and clapping, never knowing what to expect next.

Visitors of all faiths and ethnicities were enjoying the diverse array of styles, confirming Bregovic’s claim to “speak the first language of the world, the one everyone understand: music.” The final song offered the violinists a chance to play alongside each other, repeating melodies in different scales over and over, picking up pace and transporting the audience from Bab Makina to Bosnia through this folk-jazz-classical fusion. 


Tomorrow @ the Festival



Festival weather: Sunny - 31 Celsius down to 18 at night. Perfect


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