Bach in Palestine
Forty young professional musicians from Europe are coming to Palestine this December, to take part in the largest collaboration between European and Palestinian musicians ever staged in the Palestinian Territories. More than 150 Palestinians – including a children’s choir – will study, practise and play concerts alongside the foreigners during the festival, which will culminate with large-scale performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Ramallah and Bethlehem. The core of the touring group will come from Britain, but there will also be contingents from France and Germany. Christmas is the busiest time of year for musicians in Europe, but all the performers have volunteered for the project and waived any performance fees.
The public highlights of the festival, which will be focussed on the music of J.S. Bach, will be concerts in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah. These will be very different in style – ranging from the Shams children’s choir singing Bach chorales in Arabic, to intimate chamber music concerts given by local string quartets. The headline events are two full-scale performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at the Ramallah Cultural Palace and the International Centre of Bethlehem (Dar Annadwa Addawliyya), which will represent the most ambitious collaborative classical music concerts staged in Palestine’s recent history. More than 100 musicians will be on stage at the same time, performing one of Bach’s most magnificent choral works. Instrumentalists from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music and members of the Jerusalem Chorus (a 50-year-old Palestinian choir based in Ramallah) will perform alongside the foreign musicians, in true collaboration.
Most excitingly, these two occasions will give members of the nascent Palestine Youth Orchestra their first taste of a full professional concert. Created in 2003, the Youth Orchestra is rapidly growing into a full-fledged chamber orchestra. These performances will provide its members with invaluable experience. The heart of the festival, however, is not to be found in the concert series. Throughout the week, the touring professionals will give intensive masterclasses to small groups of pianists, string players, trumpeters, organists, flautists, and oboeists from the Conservatory. The young students will be able to improve their technique and musicianship – but perhaps more important will be simply hearing about a world in which playing music is not hindered by continual obstacles, as it is in Palestine.
It was this element that inspired John Harte, a British PhD student who used to live in Jerusalem, to organise the European support for the festival. “We are hugely excited to be coming out this December,” he says. “I suspect it will be as steep a learning curve for the European group as I hope it will be for the local musicians.”
Gabi Baramki – one of the founders of the Jerusalem Chorus, and currently a special adviser to the Ministry of Higher Education – is certain of the importance of the festival. “In these very difficult times, the festival is one way of helping people to live as normal a life as possible,” he says. “Cultural events like these show the world what Palestinians are doing in terms of non-violent resistance.”
Full details of the Palestine Bach Festival are available online at www.choiroflondon.org