Israeli Flutist Creates Museum-Quality Jazz


Israeli flutist Itai Kriss will perform two pre-Shabbat sets at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on July 18.

Come quitting time on a summer day, one of the most vibrant spots in Philadelphia is around the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There are throngs running past on their way to Kelly Drive, happy hour aficionados enjoying the beer garden and food trucks at Eakins Oval, and lines of people waiting to have their picture taken with the Rocky statue.

Inside the stately confines of the museum, the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia will be taking advantage of the later sunset on July 18 by sponsoring the appearance of Itai Kriss’ six-piece band, Telavana, at the museum’s weekly Art After 5.

“For the last couple of summers, the museum has wanted to have at least one Israeli jazz ensemble for Art After 5, but because of Shabbos, we can only do it in the summer,” said Deborah Baer Mozes, the consulate’s director of cultural affairs. Given the current Israel-Gaza conflict, she said, "It is wonderful to have a cultural expression of Israel at this time and to show another side of Israel — the true side."

The New York-based flutist, a native of Tel Aviv, is one of Mozes’ favorite jazz musicians; she also brought him to Philadelphia last November to perform as part of the 2013 Israeli JazzPhest.

“What Itai does with his group of musicians”— split evenly between Israeli and Latin-American performers — “is really exciting. It’s a neat blend of Cuban/Latino and Israeli/Middle Eastern rhythms,” Mozes explained.

Kriss’ cosmopolitan approach to Telavana makes him an ideal choice for Art After 5, which works to bring international music to the Great Stair Hall for crowds that number in the hundreds. Last year’s consulate-sponsored performance by saxophonist Uri Gurvich drew an audience north of 500, according to Mozes. Kriss, 35, has been a fixture on the Afro-Cuban music scene since he first came to New York in 2002 as part of a joint Jewish-Arab musical peace initiative organized by the late saxophonist Arnie Lawrence.

Kriss said that his sets at the museum would focus on some of his recent compositions that incorporate his signature blend of timba, soul, North African music and jazz, as well as some new songs. “I wrote a couple new arrangements of classic Israeli songs with a Cuban twist,” he said, citing as examples one by Nurit Hirsh and another that is a Cuban arrangement of the classic "Eretz Zavat Chalav,"  Land of Milk and Honey, which he called "the most-played Israeli song.”

Although this will be Kriss’ first time playing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he is far from a novice at this type of venue. He has performed at the Guggenheim, the Museum of Natural History and the Brooklyn Museum in New York, and at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. And no, he doesn’t find that he plays in a more hushed tone to match his surroundings. “The thing that makes me play quieter,” he joked, “is when people listen.”


Itai Kriss and Telavana

July 18 at Philadelphia Museum of Art

2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

First set begins at 5:45 p.m.; second set begins at 7:15 p.m.


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