Festival pieces Jerusalem together through music

Fri Jun 26, 2009 1:29pm EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Throughout June, a group of European classical musicians, accompanied by Palestinians and Israelis, has roused and challenged audiences across Jerusalem in an eclectic festival aimed at bridging the city's divides.

Audiences at the fourth annual Sounding Jerusalem Festival (www.soundingjerusalem.com) have heard chamber music by Brahms and Bach wafting through the Old City, Mozart and Mendelssohn at a Crusader church in an Israeli Arab village and flutes playing Beethoven in the confines of an ancient fort in the West Bank.

Many of the daily concerts, which will conclude on Sunday with a spectacular sunset show, also featured local harmonies.

"We are trying to break down walls," the festival's prime mover, 35-year-old Austrian cellist Erich Oskar Huetter, said on Wednesday as he prepared to lead an ad hoc sextet including an Arab oud, or lute, accordion and clarinet for an innovative evening performance in a medieval courtyard near al-Aqsa mosque.

"We hope to get people a bit confused, say to themselves is this really the music of my enemy?" added Huetter, who founded the series of free concerts in 2006 and who expects to develop it further next year, with continued financial support from Austrian, German and other European state cultural foundations.

Among prominent European names persuaded to perform were the Casals Quartet from Spain and Vienna's Artis Quartet, along with an impressive line-up of soloists, including French clarinettist Michel Lethiec and Austrian pianist Paul Gulda.

Wednesday's program ran through music appropriate to the four quarters of the Old City -- Bach for the Christians, Arabic classical airs for the Muslim Quarter, European and Israeli Jewish tunes and finally toe-tapping Armenian melodies.

It delighted an audience of 100 or so, from both Arab and Jewish sides of the modern city of Jerusalem, who came despite the tension that pervades the walled Old City, where barbed wire marks divisions between Arab and Jewish homes and heavily armed Israeli police patrol the narrow, cobbled streets.   Continued...