In 2010, nearly 10,000 acres of the Mount Carmel forest bordering Haifa in northern Israel burned. Forty five lives were lost. The devastation to the natural landscape and to the psyches of so many residents of the city and its suburbs still resonates. Haifa native Uri Bracha, a composer and guitarist, commemorated this devastating loss for the city and for Israel with a three-movement musical work he titled “Melodies for Mount Carmel.” The piece draws on Israeli and Zionist songs and the rhythms of the indigenous Druze, Arabs and Jews who populated the region for centuries.
On Saturday evening, the Haifa Symphony Orchestra will perform at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, one stop on its first American tour. The program, under the baton of Polish-born conductor Boguslaw Dawidow, will also feature Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World.”
Avshalom Sarid, a violist who has appeared with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, Maggio Musicale Orchestra of Florence (Italy) and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, also serves as musical producer for the Haifa orchestra. Haifa’s music director, Xu Zhong, is a superstar conductor based in Shanghai; he travels to Israel about four times each year, Sarid explained. That allows Sarid to work closely with Zhong on programming and on recruiting young international musicians to supplement the Israelis.
The Haifa Symphony is the biggest orchestra in northern Israel, Sarid noted, and it has 5,000 subscribers to its annual season in Israel’s third largest city. “We are a center of music in Haifa,” he said. “We have three departments: a choir, a big band made up mostly of brass musicians from the orchestra and the symphony. Each year, aside from touring throughout Israel and the regular subscription season, the orchestra
produces two operas, bringing in singers from Europe and the United States.
Haifa, too, has long had a population of Russian and European emigres who contribute to the musical lifeblood of the city and the orchestra. On tour, one of the complexities Sarid and touring agency ICM had to manage was ensuring the orchestra would not perform nor travel on Shabbat.
“Of course that was my condition,” he said. “I’m not religious but we have a few religious members in the orchestra — five, including two women. We decided because we are officially a group from Israel that we would not work on Friday evening and we do not travel on Shabbat.” That means, for George Mason’s program on Saturday night, the orchestra’s bus won’t leave the hotel until after sundown. “Really, it’s not so bad,” he added.
Sarid grew up in Kidron, a moshav, and still lives there when he’s not touring as a soloist or teaching viola at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. He will be the featured soloist in “Melodies for Mount Carmel,” Bracha’s concerto written specifically for viola, string orchestra and guitar. “The first movement is like an Israeli melody,” Sarid said, “the songs from the beginning of the state, which were very close to Russian songs. The second movement is a Mediterranean melody with guitar and English horn, like a Spanish melody — Ladino. In this movement the viola imitates the guitar, something very interesting. In the last movement there is an Arabic dance, a debka, and it used the darbuka, an Arabic drum. It’s mixed with a little bit of jazz rhythms. It’s something very special.”
Haifa Symphony Orchestra, Saturday will perform Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. at the George Mason University Center for the Arts, Fairfax. Tickets are $30-$60. The orchestra also plays on Feb. 9 at 4 p.m. at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, George Mason Prince William Campus in Manassas. Tickets are $44-$60. Call 888-945-2468 or visit www.cfa.gum.edu.