Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
The conservatory also seems to have developed a relationship with the Oslo Philharmonic and has been building one with a growing number of organizations all over the world, and I have read it toured with Nigel Kennedy in 2012. So, it has been reaching out with, and to, music and performers from the Middle East and Western Europe, in addition to building a center for Palestinian music and culture. Setting aside the purely political issues related to the Palestinian Israeli conflict, expanding one’s cultural education and perspective, whether it is through language, culture, art, and even cooking, home crafts, gardening or any other creative activity is almost always a good thing, and in a conservatory environment where the teaching and studies are serious, and public performances that emanate from that, do reach people, then it is all the better. Understanding and immersing oneself in another’s language and culture really does break down barriers, even if in the beginning they may be the most basic ideological biases that come from ignorance. Anything that connects people in a give and take atmosphere, whether it is via cultural exchange, or trade in the marketplace or investment designed to build something together that will benefit each party, or public or private dining together where one can share ideas and one’s company freely in a social setting is a plus.
I recall once an uncle who had a huge magnificent 16th century oriental rug in his shop. He told me to sit in silence for a half hour and just contemplate the work. It was an elegant historic piece that was also worn in many places, and in the beginning I studied it for a few minutes and thought I had “got it”, and then fidgeted a bit, but then, remembering his admonition, returned to it again several times until I gradually became mesmerized by the colors, forms, and the subtlety of their movement, and their nuanced relationships, and as I sat the carpet really came alive in a world that was fluid, vibrant, interconnected, and never ending. While this was clearly not a structure as I knew it in our Western painting or music or crafts, there was a structure there, nonetheless, and to me it communicated a world that was not static but was very much alive and timeless. And what made this lesson and introduction to another culture more meaningful is that it forced me to accept it on its own terms.
One prays for peace, and hopefully this will be one more step in that direction. Sorry if these thoughts sound like homilies almost too basic and obvious to state without being naive or preachy, but for this reader, the point is that despite the failures and breakdowns and disappointments and pain, one has to keep trying, and not only on one’s own terms but on the other’s as well, since without the effort and the goodwill and faith that accompanies it, there will be no trust or chance ever to achieve it- and institutions like this can offer that opportunity.
Would like to enlighten us further?
Norman doubtless has the most current information about the London project.
For more general background you might also visit the conservatory’s website at: http://ncm.birzeit.edu/
and a short wikipedia discussion at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Edward_Said_National_Conservatory_of_Music
and also: http://mondoweiss.net/2012/03/the-palestine-national-orchestra-a-view-from-the-violin-section.html
According to its website, the conservatory administers the Palestine National Symphony, the Palestine Youth Orchestra, the Edward N Said Conservatory Orchestra, and the Jerusalem Children’s Orchestra. Wikileaks also includes the Palestine String Ensemble; and it was with the string ensemble that Mr. Kennedy performed on tour in 2012.
I am not clear whether Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan orchestra is in any way affiliated with the conservatory, although it apparently evolved out of a workshop collaboration between Edward Said, Daniel Barenboim and the Kuntfest Weimar. (See: http://www.west-eastern-divan.org/the-orchestra/the-orchestra/
and also: http://jewishquarterly.org/2010/11/said-barenboim-and-the-west-east-divan-orchestra/ )
I’m learning about this as I go along so I apologize for any errors, but it seems to me that what the conservatory has accomplished to date with its various sites is a quite an accomplishment and exemplifies the type of cultural institution that is truly needed.
The growth of the ESNCM has been remarkable, even exponential, in the relatively few years from 1998 when I was first introduced to it. There were few teachers but fewer instruments and materials back then. It had to cope with political upheavals and still has bureaucratic hurdles of negotiating visas for foreign teachers, even though locals are filling some of the teaching positions. The Jerusalem and Bethlehem branches were in rented premises, having to pick up and move every few years or so.
There was the need to a create an infrastructure, not only of new players but an audience who would listen to them. It was not as though Western classical music was completely foreign. Those who studied in the well established schools had some access to lessons and Music Appreciation. And there is also the phenomenon of musicians coming out of Nazareth with Saleem Abboud Askar having played with the Israel Phil as early as 1993. But classical music was not as widespread in a culture of mainly Oriental music and considering the relatively small population (as Israel itself has overall the population of only a medium large city of anywhere in the world) the proportion of music enthusiasts, parents sending their kids to music lessons and buying them instruments is impressive.
As their website states, there are more than 1000 students in the now 4 branches: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus and Ramallah with students coming from Jericho and other places in the West Bank. Most noteworthy is the highly evolved Oriental music program that has its own ensembles. As though this weren’t enough, there has been the spillover of interest enough to establish other well thriving institutions of music such as the Kamindjati in Ramallah.
The nice part about pioneering institutions as compared to those already set in stone is the openness to ideas and relative freedom to develop them. It’s education as process rather than handing down the precepts and rules of hallowed and therefore unassailable tradition.
Janet Inoue, voice and piano teacher, ESNCM
Author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator.
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