Jerusalem concert and art show imagines a different kind of Middle East
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Jerusalem concert and art show imagines a different kind of Middle East

'Kulna,' scheduled for Thursday, looks to bring together capital's residents with blend of material from Israel and the Arab world

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Conductor of the Jerusalem Orchestra East West, Tom Cohen, and singer Nasreen Qadri, at a rehearsal for the Kulna concert in Jerusalem. (Gil Rouvio/Mekudeshet)
Conductor of the Jerusalem Orchestra East West, Tom Cohen, and singer Nasreen Qadri, at a rehearsal for the Kulna concert in Jerusalem. (Gil Rouvio/Mekudeshet)

Jerusalem’s annual Season of Culture is in full swing, featuring tours to the city’s lesser-known corners, alternative theater, early morning concerts and late night DJ sets.

One centerpiece of the three week long season, called Mekudeshet, is Thursday night’s art installation and concert featuring the Jerusalem Orchestra East West (formerly known as the Jerusalem Andalusian Orchestra).

The event imagines what a peaceful, cooperative Middle East could look and sound like, said Mekudeshet’s artistic director, Itay Mautner. The orchestra will play music from around the Middle East, and the art installation will feature work by artists and designers from Beirut, Tehran and other cities in the Arab world. The event is called “Kulna,” Arabic for “all of us.”

“I can bring in any musician from Europe and from the States, but I cannot bring anybody from the surrounding neighborhood,” Mautner said. “But the culture, the music, the cultural aspects of being in Damascus or Beirut do penetrate despite these borders, and this night is supposed to celebrate what puts us together.”

A rehearsal of Jerusalem Orchestra East West. (Gil Rouvio/Mekudeshet)

Jerusalemites may be encouraged to consider the cultural and artistic elements of neighboring countries, rather than focusing on war and security concerns, Mautner said.

“We’re in this neighborhood together,” Mautner said. “A graffiti artist in Beirut is under the same sun, on the same ground. Of course Nasrallah is there, but it’s not only Nasrallah.”

The concert also takes its cues from neighboring countries.

The music being performed will be new material for the orchestra, said conductor Tom Cohen.

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“It’s music from all over the region, from Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Egypt. Some was written here today, some was written 100 years ago in Egypt,” said Cohen, who has been working on the project for the last six months. “We are trying to imagine the Middle East as it could be if we all lived together in harmony, like an orchestra.”

The music will feature songs in Arabic and Hebrew, and singers including the religious Jewish performer Ziv Yehezkel and the Arab-Israeli singer Nasreen Qadri.

Another goal of the event, Mautner said, and a goal of Mekudeshet, is to bring people together in Jerusalem. Most of Mekudeshet’s attendees are younger Jewish Israelis, but Kulna’s organizers hope the traditional Eastern music will draw an older crowd, and attract more Arab-Israelis.

Despite Jerusalem’s reputation in Israel as a divided, tension-filled city, there is a significant amount of cooperation taking place, and residents are redefining what pluralism is, Mautner said. The orchestra, for example, includes Jews, Muslims and Christians, musicians from the former Soviet Union, from Arab-Israeli villages and from both secular and religious communities, Cohen said.

The use of the Arabic language in the music and in Mekudeshet’s printed materials and website is also significant.

Outgoing Mekudeshet director Itay Mautner at a recent Mekudeshet season (Courtesy Itay Mautner/Facebook)

“It’s part of anti-demonizing the Arabic letters, the Arabic sound,” Mautner said. “The younger generation, they hear Arabic and they think somebody’s going to kill them. That’s the first connotation that we have for the language where our ancestors came from.”

The organizers decided to use the Arabic “kulna,” instead of the Hebrew “kulanu,” for the event’s title in an effort to broaden the concert’s appeal. Mekudeshet makes an effort to reach both Jerusalem’s Arab and Haredi communities, Mautner said, and makes sure to publish all of its materials in both Hebrew and Arabic.

“We use a lot of Arabic words without even knowing that they’re Arabic words. Maybe ‘kulna’ could be another one like that, like ‘yalla,’ like ‘sababa’ like so many,” Mautner said.

The gates open for “Kulna” at 18:30 at Mitchell Park in Jerusalem. Entrance costs 80 NIS.

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