When thinking of hit parades, Jewish penitential dirges are not what usually come to mind.
But with the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fast approaching, ’tis the season for all the hottest liturgical compositions from throughout Jewish history.
That’s what the Andalusian Israeli Orchestra of Ashdod is offering throughout September, with concerts aimed at introducing or reminding its audience of the ancient penitential prayers.
“We take the highlights, the hits that almost everyone knows and has heard somewhere, and we give it an interesting arrangement,” said Yaakov Ben Simon, who directs the orchestra.
The greatest hits concert of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur favorites includes classics such as “Adon Haselichot,” “Aneinu” and “Avinu Malkeinu.”
“The songs of the penitential prayers are a musical repertoire for us, that we play at a certain time of year,” said Ben Simon. “It introduces the atmosphere of the High Holidays, of a new year, of new beginnings. You enjoy the penitent prayers without meaning to.”
The award-winning band of musicians that plays traditional Sephardic and Jewish-Arab music tries to capture the atmosphere of the Israeli high holiday period and bring it to the stage, said Ben Simon.
“There are people there who never go to synagogue, but remember something from their childhood,” he said.
The orchestra hosts soloists during the series, including pianist and singer Yonatan Razel and liturgical singer Chaim Luk.
They will visit Yeruham on September 14 and Modi’in on September 17, before wrapping up the series with a free performance in Tel Aviv’s port just before Yom Kippur on September 26.
The performance at the port, something the orchestra initiated five years ago, offers a completely different kind of experience than the concert hall series, Ben Simon said.
The audience sits on the boardwalk, or stands, and has much more access to the orchestra members.
“They sit on us sometimes,” he joked.
It’s a concert that attracts everyone, from tourists strolling along the boardwalk, to young families out with their little ones in the early evening.
“It’s not complicated, it’s just holiday songs and people sing and sit around,” he said. “There’s no distance between us and the audience and it creates a very special atmosphere that’s almost spiritual.”
For tickets to the remaining concerts in the series, go to the Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod website.