A Musical Mideast ‘Intercultural Journey’

The Philadelphia Orchestra has traveled the world, but this month, it is engaging in a unique set of intercultural journeys.

Not coincidentally, that is the name of a nonprofit organization that's the brainchild of Ohad ("Udi") Bar-David, an Israeli-born cellist who joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1987. His organization is designed to "promote understanding among people of diverse cultures," and a series of student and family concerts under the auspices of the orchestra's education department is geared to do just that.

Most audiences are familiar with the "Arabian Dance" from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," which will begin the concert, and hardly think of it as "foreign." Not so the rest of the program, which will bring together Jewish and Arab musicians for an usual gathering of talents and performances.

One of the strangest pairings will put klezmer clarinetist Margot Leverett at center stage in what is being billed as the first performance of a klezmer musician with a full symphony orchestra. Klezmer is a well-known art form, especially now that the Klezmatics won a Grammy at last month's award ceremonies.

Leverett was one of the original Klezmatics, but left the ensemble 20 years ago to pursue her career as a soloist and as a performer with her own group, Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys, who have earned rave reviews for their own unusual combination of klezmer and bluegrass.

Trained as a classical clarinetist, she touted one of her early interests as avant garde music. In describing the unusual trajectory of her career, Leverett explained that "avant garde is intellectual, but klezmer is from the heart."

It was actually an affair of the heart that brought the two together: Margot was playing at a wedding in the New York area; Udi was a guest who enjoyed her style, and suggested that they could "make beautiful music together."

Leverett's performances with the orchestra will be the epitome of an "intercultural journey." She will perform a medley of three classic klezmer selections (an improvisational doina; a classic hora, "Firn di Mechutonim Aheim"; and a joyful freilach) with the Philadelphia Orchestra as her "back-up band."

Of Syrian Note, Too
The orchestra's parts were arranged by Syrian-born ud player and fellow "Journeyer" , .

Roustom's own composition, "Upon Eastern Breezes," will also be on the program, and he will be performing it and "Longa Farahfaza," by the famous Egyptian ud player Riad Al-Sunbati (the ud is a relative of the guitar and very popular in Middle Eastern music).

The unusual program will also feature two other selections of Jewish interest: Sergei Prokofiev's "Overture on Hebrew Themes" (no, he wasn't Jewish, but he was commissioned to write the piece for a Jewish music society) and Israeli composer Shimon Cohen's "Jerusalem Sketches."

Japanese-born conductor Shizuo Kuwahara lends his own intercultural connection to the program. As a conducting fellow with the Philadelphia Orchestra, he leads family and student concerts, and collaborated with Bar-David and the orchestra's education department on selecting the repertoire for this performance.

But while the Arab-Jewish exchange in this concert is obvious, "Intercultural Journeys" does not limit itself to Mideastern music and musicians. Bar-David was excited when he revealed that his next collaboration is a recording of Native American music — soon to be released by Canyon Records of Arizona — featuring him in performance with Native American and Grammy Award-winning artists Carlos Nakai on flute, and Will Clipman on drums.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted on the "Intercultural Journeys" Web site as saying: "People fail to get along with each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don't know each other, they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other."

Udi Bar-David, Margot Leverett, "Intercultural Journeys" and the Philadelphia Orchestra aim to use the international language of music to help facilitate the conversation.




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