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A Bridge Over Troubled Water ... uh, Make That Sand

May 7, 2009 By:
Cantor David F. Tilman, JE Feature
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Udi Bar David

A Bridge Over Troubled Water ... uh, Make That Sand Udi Bar David, 50-year-old veteran cellist in the Philadelphia Orchestra, has developed a far-reaching parallel musical life as the founder, president and artistic director of Intercultural Journeys, whose mission is "to promote understanding among people of diverse cultures through dialogue and the presentation of world-class performances in music, poetry and other art forms."

The effort makes a pit stop in Philadelphia: Bar David will bring two members of his group, Adam del Monte, Flamenco guitarist; and Hanna Khoury, Arabic violinist, to perform with him on May 12, at 7 p.m., at the Mandell Theater of Drexel University.

A Tel Aviv native, Bar David came to Philadelphia to play with the Concerto Soloists in 1983, after completing his cello studies at the Juilliard School. Ricardo Muti invited Udi to join the cello section of the Philadelphia Orchestra for the 1987-1988 season. The sabra was both the inspiration and the artistic director for the joint Philadelphia Orchestra/Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concert in 1998 at the Wachovia Center that served as the community's unforgettable Israel 50 celebration.

Ten years ago, Bar David began collaborating with Simon Shaheen, a virtuoso performer of the oud, the definitive Arabic string instrument resembling a hybrid of a mandolin and balalaika.

After a program at Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim, in Wynnewood, Bar David invited Diane Monroe, an African-American violinist, to play with him in a concert of African/American spirituals and Chasidic music. "Gradually, we developed the concept of bringing cultures together utilizing the musical arts as a vehicle to enhance dialogue," Bar David explained.

Of Course, There Are Skeptics
Bar David eventually built his growing core of performers into Intercultural Journeys. As the group's concerts became more successful, they added actual dialogues and discussions to their performances. In their attempts to utilize music to inspire conversations between Jews and Arabs, as well as other diverse groups, they have met with some skepticism.

"Here on the Main Line, in Atlanta, and in Arizona, we had very engaged and tense conversations with our audiences," Bar David acknowledged.

But those who attended the programs were ultimately inspired. "We do not conduct political debates; we are not about making decisions, but about inspiring dialogues," Bar David declared.

Two years ago, Bar David and his players performed at Neve Shalom Village/"Oasis of Peace," a small town located near the famous Latrun Monastery on the road to Jerusalem dedicated to bridging cultural and political divisions. During a recent Philadelphia Orchestra concert tour in Spain, Bar David presented members of Intercultural Journeys -- the same to play at the Mandell -- to tumultuous acclaim.

The group has commissioned a new composition, "Gesher/Jeser" for cello, violin and chamber ensemble, to be written by Kareem Roustom.

After a long period, Bar David now feels comfortable with improvisation on his cello, a new essential performance skill for his explorations into world and ethnic music: "I now have a split musical personality; I am at home in Western European culture and in the world of ethnic improvisational musicians," Bar David stated.  

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