Editor’s Note – 3rd issue
The third issue of Peimot offers a panoramic view of some of Israel’s contemporary musical phenomena. From this vantage point, several difficulties and dilemmas facing composers, performers, and musicologists from the world of Israeli art music can be deduced. These difficulties and dilemmas are shared by concert goers, who also play an active part in Israel’s process of musical creation. All of the above are trying to understand the following question: is there a continuous conceptual connection between the ideological transformations that have taken place in Israeli society since the Yishuv period and the transformations that have taken place in the land throughout the years? It seems that the number and scope of transformations is too vast for us to make sense of. Of course, it has always been difficult to point out one unique language that could be defined as Israeli music. Therefore, what stands at the centre of the concept “stylistic transformations” is the idea that Israeli music is not only in a process of formation, but that it leaves us mainly with the impression of innovations, innovations whose source is personal and somewhat “closed,” since the process of dialogue between the Zionist ideology that shaped the music’s forms of expression in Israel’s early days and cultural ideas that are often open to diverse influences from the wider world fulfil the idea of multiculturalism in an intensely powerful way.
The current issue of Peimot is dedicated to the conceptual and cultural dialogue between our era and the days of yore, which prompts a comprehensive discussion on Israel’s musical production and enables an examination of its diverse present landscape and its relation to the past. This is a conceptual dialogue that has evolved in a parched land has managed to cultivate personal works of surprising diversity. Perhaps for us, the listeners and readers, the difficulty to identify the primary component of these works results from how we have no consensus view regarding the basic continuum of Israeli music through which we can genuinely look into the past when newer works allude to it.
The issue of this continuum touches on the existential questions that accompany art music, and it is these questions that are at the center of Assaf Shelleg’s article, which opens the issue. Shelleg examines the style and musical ideas of the composers who, according to his reading, jumpstarted the country’s musical language in the years right before the establishment of the state and, of course, the effects of their cultural encounter with the realities of Israeli life. He claims it is imperative not to judge Israeli art music according to generational standards, which ignore the formation of the personal idioms of some of the composers, which transcend the characteristics of generation and age. Shelleg points out that these composers developed a musical language that did not always fit with the Zionist idea or with the idea of combining between East and West.
The desire to develop a unique musical language a few years after the establishment of the state is featured in Yosef Goldenberg’s article, which examines two string quartets written by Tzvi Avni and Ödön Pártos, Summer Strings and Psalms. Goldenberg believes that these two composers opened a window to a unique musical language, which includes the use of modernism and dodecaphony. Each one of the works expresses the universal dimension, which originates in European music, and the local Mediterranean style, which blends into the cultural-musical landscape of the state of Israel in its early years. The combination between the two schools builds a bridge between the spirit of the times and the spirit of the space and is seen as a model for followers of this approach.
Another example of the combination between the spirit of the place and the spirit of the time can be seen in the music of Betty Olivero. Unlike Avni and Pártos, Olivero creates a link to the past through borrowings from the music of the Jews of Spain and turns it in to an important component in her works. According to Anat Rosenstein Viks, these borrowings are a kind of dramatic catalyst that leads to discovery and to thought about inter-musical connections, connections in which the past is transplanted in the present. This catalyst is not a distant and detached entity which generates nostalgia, but rather part of the formation of a contemporary musical reality using a contemporary language. The borrowed materials undergo development and transformation through studying them, listening to them, and living to the sounds of the current century, and even if they change their original shape, their spirit and dramatic content are preserved in their entirety.
The dialogue that researchers and composers have with contemporary reality and with the past – with national identity and with the individual who is dealing with the traumas of the past—is also featured in the opera Pnima (English title: Inwards) by Chaya Chernowin. According to Hila Tamir Ostrover, the musical material in Pnima does not just correspond with trauma on the symbolic level, but rather embodies trauma—it is musical material that shares physical attributes with common reactions to trauma. It generates a heightened emotional response both in the performers and in the audience. The opera was inspired by the story of Momik, the protagonist of David Grossman’s novel See Under: Love. Momik is a boy, the only child of Holocaust survivors. He tries to get into the world of a Holocaust survivor relative who joins the family and whom he calls “Grandfather.” This attempt serves as a gateway into the emotional experience of those who cannot touch this horrible experience but are forced to live with its hidden presence. Chaya Czernowin does not adhere to a specific political narrative—this is an opera with no text—but rather presents fragments of syllables. The actor-singers do not sing; instead, every character is presented through a combination of voices and instruments, a decision made in order to express the characters’ internal polyphonic reality. Czernowin describes the rough musical textures as an attempt to present “a musical platform of emotions,” i.e., not only a reflection of emotions, but an attempt to arouse these feelings in the audience.
Another dialogue featured in the issue discusses composers’ attempts to find melodic and harmonic sounds to the words of poets. Through this dialogue Shoshana Zeevi examines the affinity between works of literature and the individual worlds of the composers. The article sheds light on the affinities between the two worlds by deciphering the connection between the lyrical “I” in the works of poets David Vogel, Zelda, and Yair Hurvitz and the musical language that Ayal Adler, Yinam Leef and Menachem Wiesenberg infused into their musical language. In her article, Zeevi aims at the common denominator that establishes the connection between the musical piece and a lyrical poem. This unified conceptual platform is referred to in the article as “the threshold experience.” The threshold experience includes a feeling of despair and emptiness; the individual feels the loss of the traditional frameworks in his/her life while simultaneously expressing his/her despair with a feeling of closeness and abundance, conjuring the presence of the divine. The desire to unite with a divine entity shows the powerful nature of perseverance in the individual’s existential and cultural world. The threshold experience is, therefore, infinite, like an expectation that stands in balance between prayer and personal experience. This expectation stands the test of the aesthetic conceptions developed by the composers when they infused into their Israeli musical language universal aesthetic concepts that correspond with the past and with the present.
The second part of the issue features four conversations with composers, conducted by musicians. The first conversation is between Ruben Seroussi and his student, composer Or Shemesh; the second is between Oded Zehavi and singer Mira Zachai; the third is between Arik Shapira and his student, composer Ophir Ilzetski; and the fourth is between Ofer Pelz and musician and musicologist Jonathan Goldman.
Besides the personal and biographical dimension of each composer’s work, each one of the conversations examines the composer’s attitude toward cultural and artistic developments in Israeli music and in the wider world. It seems one can find a consistent stance in Ruben Seroussi’s words: music is exempt from the burden of identification or connection with world culture or Israeli culture. According to Seroussi, the “here and now” begins and ends with the subject, and the subject is the creative artist, the artist who is aware of the political and cultural rumblings of the outside world, but safeguards his internal freedom and his commitment to himself and his work.
The idea of loyalty to oneself and one’s work is also present in the words of composer Arik Shapira, who looks critically at the way in which Israeli music was formed and discusses his own path to finding a personal musical language. Shapira criticizes the Mediterranean school and its composers, who wrote in the Mediterranean style without managing to create the musical complexity needed for a genuine fusion between Eastern and Western music. Shapira’s ear is highly attentive to the Hebrew language, which is, to him, an efficient, desert-like language that befits the land’s geographical reality.
The third composer taking part in these discussions, who finds himself at the center of Israel’s cultural and social scene, is Oded Zehavi. Zehavi feels the internal pulse of the Zionist idea and expresses it in many of his works. He laments the spiritual changes taking place in the country and seems to see his works as a bridge to a hidden world that reflects the lost paradise of his childhood. Part of the feeling of cultural and social elegy is expressed in L.H.M. Israel: War Requiem, which features texts from Ecclesiastes, from the poem Behold the Sun at Evening by Ibn Gabirol, and from the Yom Kipur prayer P’tach Lanu Shaar. This is an important piece which includes contrasting musical systems which complete each other in contemporary Israeli music.
The fourth composer is Ofer Pelz, who seeks different modes of expression inspired by musical influences developed by contemporary composers in different countries. Pelz seems to say that geographical borders have lost their meaning and that today’s challenges involve examining the influences of technological innovations which are knocking on the door of the language of contemporary music. Pelz’s work incorporates many different musical genres, and yet he opposes being defined as eclectic. His musical language includes a merger between several elements, but above all he creates his spiritual and musical identity with a personal language. One of the components of this identity is the desire to show how electronic music shares its technological nature with acoustic instruments and how important the idea of electronic music is to the way his musical language is created.
The composer’s loyalty to himself, which Ruben Seroussi mentioned in his conversation with Or Shemesh, is also an important theme in his obituary for Arik Shapira, which is included at the beginning of the issue and is an honor to all the researchers and creators who took part in the project.
Peimot is grateful to the Josef Tal Archive at the National Library of Israel for the permission to use scanned manuscripts of Tal’s work. The publication would also like to thank the Israel Music Institute for permission to use excerpts from the featured Israeli compositions.