Two outstanding organizations were represented at the gala benefit concert for the Yad Elie Foundation, which took place at the Jerusalem International YMCA on January 1st, 2016. The musical program was provided by Chen Zimbalista and the Music Factory.
Yad Eli, established by Marion Kunstenaar in 2002 in memory of Elie Saghroun, provides meals for needy Jerusalem school children, feeding 500 Arab- and Jewish children on a daily basis. It sets up educational programs to teach children about nutrition and health, creating a forum where Jewish and Arab participants can think, work and benefit from each other. Rabbi David Lilienthal serves as chairman of Yad Elie.
Directed by world-renowned marimba player and percussionist Chen Zimbalista, the Jewish-Arab youth orchestra – the Music Factory – was established four years ago. For the Jerusalem concert, it was joined by members of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Beer Sheva Sinfonietta and mezzo-soprano Noa Hope. The concert was preceded by the three-day Music in Omer Festival, consisting of open rehearsals, master classes and concerts. Taking place at the Open Museum in the Industrial Park of the southern town of Omer, this was the second of its kind involving the Music Factory and run by the charismatic Zimbalista. With the high standards of performance and nurturing of Zimbalista, an educator and social activist for bringing together children and youth from city and periphery in high-quality music-making, the 12- to 18-year-olds attending the festival were instructed by renowned teachers, who then joined them to play together in the youth orchestra.
The program included finely-crafted orchestral playing of movements from cardinal works of symphonic repertoire and some chamber pieces, these punctuated by Zimbalista’s dashing, stylish and virtuosic marimba playing. For the performance of works of J.S.Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Bizet, Ravel and Piazzolla, the role of concertmaster alternated between some of the orchestra’s outstanding teen violinists. Introducing Ravel’s “Bolero”, Zimbalista explained that the composer had written it as an exercise for orchestra. With Zimbalista on drum, the players gave a beguiling reading of Evgeny Levitas’ shortened version of the “Bolero”; among the fine small solos, a very young boy – Negev Almog - gave a richly sonorous and most impressive performance of the flute solo.
Of the chamber works on the program, we heard ‘cellists (and Music Factory tutors) Adiel Schmidt and Erich Oskar Huetter (Austria) in some delicate, imaginative and subtle playing of two movements from a Telemann work. Another enjoyable item was the playing of an arrangement of the subject and three of the variations from Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” elegantly presented by Asher Belchman (violin), Lara Karpalov (viola) and E.O. Huetter (‘cello). (Huetter, having visited Israel several times, has been involved in similar music projects with Arab youth.)
Contending easily and naturally with the orchestra, guest artist mezzo-soprano Noa Hope took players and audience to the world of opera with “Voi che sapete” (You who know what love is) from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”, her creamy, substantial voice well integrated with her communicative stage performance. Hope’s dramatic and colourful rendition of the Habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen” displayed her dynamic range, well supported by the competence, accuracy and fine listening skills of the Music Factory players.
The festive concert concluded with two works of tango composer Astor Piazzolla, a rich and soundscape of captivating Argentinean rhythms, yearning and joy. Adding to the nostalgic yet life-affirming atmosphere of this music, young accordionist, Uri Ofek, relaxed and smiling, wandering across the stage in front of the orchestra, had the audience enthralled by his competence and professionalism.
Throughout the evening, Chen Zimbalista introduced the evening’s artists and works with cheerful informality. Conducting, performing with them and soloing, he directed both young- and experienced players in a vibrant program of outstanding orchestral playing, promoting the harmony of co-existence.
Photo: Angelika Sher