Soundtrack of survival
Australia-based Israeli composer and pianist Yitzhak Yedid offers a moving reflection on the cost of war in his latest work.
By: Barry Davis
Nineteenth century American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once observed that “in a world of peace and love, music would be the universal language.” It is a sentiment with which Yitzhak Yedid wholeheartedly agrees, and even endeavors to promulgate through his art.
43-year-old Yedid is a Jerusalem-born pianist and composer who has been living in Australia for the past eight years. In 2012 he gained a PhD from Monash University in Melbourne and subsequently published a tome with the grand and culturally expansive title of Methods of Integrating Elements of Arabic Music and Arabic-Influenced Jewish Music into Contemporary Western Classical Music. Yedid currently lectures at the Queensland Conservatorium of Griffith University.
Prior to relocating Down Under he racked up an impressive bio of recordings, performances and awards with the latter including the 2006 Prime Minister’s Award for Composition and the Landau Award for the Performing Arts in 2009.
Thus far, Yedid has put out 11 CDs under his own name, and has collaborated in a slew of other interdisciplinary synergies, including an intriguing confluence with Ethiopian-born saxophonist and vocalist Abate Berihun, as the Ras Deshen duo.
Geographical distance notwithstanding, Yedid makes a point of coming back to Israel several times a year, to spend time with his parents and siblings, and also to give concerts. Tomorrow evening at 8 p.m., his latest work, Delusions of War, will be performed at the Jerusalem Theater by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yuval Zoran. The concert is part of the Classical Music Series and also features renditions of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Schumann’s Symphony No. 2.
The concert will be broadcast live on The Voice of Music.
Delusions of War was inspired by what Yedid terms as “current tragic events of the continuing unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and of the ongoing brutal battles in Syria.” This is not a new theme in Yedid’s evolving oeuvre.
“For years I have, in fact, been documenting what I feel,” he states. “This work follows a similar line. It was written during times of war and, sadly, wars here don’t end, they keep on happening. I can’t ignore that. It is painful for me.”
Yedid days that, when he first set pencil to score sheet, he was not looking to draw on matters of a military nature.
“I didn’t think this would be a composition with such a ‘grandiose’ title, you know, with the word ‘war’ in it. But, the whole time, I hear about what is going on here. In Australia I listen to the Israeli news and it is painful to hear. I put a sort of mirror in front of all of us, and this [composition] is what came out.”
We all have our ways of handling stress, anxiety and matters which trouble us deeply. Some talk about it – in intimate circles or from a podium – others may just keep it bottled up until they vent it in some manner or other, while Yedid channels his own troubling thoughts and emotions through a more creative anodyne channel. Thankfully, we also get to share that avenue of expression, and to feed off Yedid’s reflections on our regional woes.
“I don’t believe that wars solve problems,” he declares, quickly adding that he has no pretensions as regards bringing all the violence to an end by playing his music.
“I am not offering solutions, and I have never done that, with my compositions.
There are composers who, sincerely, tell people to do this or that. I am not one of those. I don’t know what advice to give. However, as a composer, I feel a sense of responsibility to reflect and to document events.”
Yedid achieves that goal with a highly intricate work, in which he does not perform himself, written for 22 string instruments, with 17 major sections – which the composer calls “musical images” – in Part One of the work, and 10 major sections in Part Two.
Delusions of War, as the title suggests, does not exactly fit into the “easy listening” category.
Themes, lines and sonic sensibilities ebb and flow, meld and clash and, according to the composer, “superimpose various approaches and compositional techniques that contrast with each other and often convey extreme changes.”
Yedid employs multifarious means to convey his musical and emotional messages, including rapid virtuosic passages, and heterophonic and canonic textures.
But possibly more than anything Yedid is a product of these cultural climes. He was born in Jerusalem, to parents of Syrian and Iraqi descent, and his initial formative musical experiences included attending liturgical services at his local synagogue where he imbibed the heady sounds and rhythms of Syrian-style bakashot. Yedid gained a comprehensive musical education, including studies at the prestigious New England Conservatory (NEC) in Boston, and gained an honors bachelor’s degree, in piano, from the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem.
Some of his works have been described as pertaining to the Third Stream category, which marries contemporary classical material with jazz improvisation, and much of Yedid’s output, precise writing notwithstanding, includes slots where soloists can break free and improvise on the score to their heart’s delight.
Yedid has often said he is delighted when the performers surprise him with their inventiveness.
Delusions of War allows for a number of such instrumental flights of fancy and it is a richly textured offering that also includes Middle Eastern sentiments, in the form of maqamat – melodic modes used in Arabic music – as well elements that mimic human voices.
Yedid does not promise that the members of his audience at the Jerusalem Theater will go home with a renewed sense of optimism, however he fully intends to leave us with plenty of food for thought.
“I don’t want people to think that I am against Israel,” he states. “I oppose the idea of violence which reaches such a level whereby each side justifies its beliefs by using even more force. I honestly don’t know what the solution to all this violence is, but I know this is not the solution.”
Yitzhak Yedid wins a Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship
by Australian Music Centre
Composer and pianist Yitzhak Yedid has won a Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship, worth $160,000 over a two-year period. The Sidney Myer Creative Fellowships recognise outstanding talent and exceptional courage in mid-career artists. The funding is not tied to a specific outcome, instead it allows ten artists, representing different artforms, time to reflect and develop aspects of their creative practice without financial pressure. Another musician in the list of 2017 Fellows is the singer-songwriter Megan Washington.
Yitzhak Yedid fuses world music, jazz and contemporary classical music traditions to create original works of music - his list of compositions contains orchestral, chamber and vocal music, and his improvised music output includes eight albums of works for improvising ensembles and solo piano. His Piano Concerto was recently shortlisted for the Performance of the Year Award (for the performance by Michael Kieran Harvey) as part of the annual Art Music Awards presented by the AMC and APRA AMCOS. Yedid was born in Israel, and made Australia his home in 2007.
> For a full list of the 2017 Sidney Myer Creative Fellows, see the news article on the Myer Foundation website.
© Australian Music Centre (2017) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Playing it as is
By BARRY DAVIS
Australia-based Israeli composer Yitzhak Yedid is here to premiere his latest work, influenced by the plight of the Syrian people.
While it’s not exactly a coals to Newcastle scenario there is a neat symmetry to the forthcoming performances of Yitzhak Yedid’s Concerto for Piano and Strings. For the past decade or so Yedid has been a resident of faraway Australia, but his heart and soul belong to Jerusalem, where he was born, grew up and took his first musical steps.
Yedid’s latest creation will have its world premiere on May 18 and 20, at the Weil Auditorium in Kfar Shmaryahu and Enav Center in Tel Aviv, respectively, when the work is performed by Australian pianist Michael Kiernan Harvey together with the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble and Georgian conductor Revaz Javakhishvili. The concerts traverse expansive stylistic ground with the program also featuring Grieg’s Holberg Suite, late Russian Romantic Era composer Alexander Glazunov’s Saxophone Concerto with Russian saxophonist Anton Skiba in the solo spot, and Mozart’s String Quintet in C Minor, based on an arrangement for string orchestra by the ensemble’s founder and musical director Barak Tal.
Over the past couple of decades or so, Yedid has put out an almost bewilderingly eclectic range of works and recordings. His disciplinary backdrop takes in Western classical music, jazz, free improvisation, Arabic music and liturgical material. His compositions are generally viscerally and cerebrally engaging, and often visually striking, with the piano- playing role requiring a certain amount of calisthenic activity and a significant dosage of emotional and technical investment.
The Israeli pianist-composer appears to have found a sibling soul in Harvey, who takes an equally uncompromising view of creative musical pursuit. In 2012 the 55-yearold Australian caused quite a stir when he presented that year’s Peggy Glanville-Hicks address – named after the 20th century Australian composer – and spelled out his views on the “classical music industry” in his home country in no uncertain terms.
Among other grievances Harvey railed against the tendency to repeatedly present stock repertoires to audiences, and the paucity of opportunity to introduce Australians to works by composers from their own country.
Harvey came to the realization at an early age that a more daring approach to his evolving craft was in order, although it took a while before he felt he could air those views and try to rectify the situation.
“I had to wait until I had earned my stripes, as it were, before I could criticize the art form. It is a very big subject for me and it is why I am now living in Hobart, because I really don’t like classical music that much.”
Away from the limelight and major cultural hubs in Australia, it is less a matter of Harvey being against the music per se, but rather the way it is proffered for public consumption.
“The reason why I don’t like classical music much is the music business side of it. I am very much attracted to people like Yitzhak, who are so enthusiastic and genuine about the music, and pursue [it] in a way that, for me, looks very much outside the mainstream.”
Yedid may not produce music that is exactly pop-rock radio friendly, but he did alright for himself when he lived here, gaining some pretty impressive kudos en route. His sizable awards list includes the 2007 Prime Minister’s Prize for Composers and the 2009 Landau Prize for Performing Arts. And since relocating Down Under he has nabbed the 2013 Australian Council for the Arts award, in addition to obtaining generous assistance for postgraduate academic endeavor.
Yedid’s music is generally not for the fainthearted, although there are ethereally melodic strains in his compositional mix too. The intensity of his writing is palpable and he has referenced a range of highly emotional issues, employing a subtle synthesis of musical genres, colors, textures and dynamics. Yedid notes that his latest work “was influenced by some tragic events that occurred around the world while I was writing the music.”
Yedid may be based thousands of kilometers away but the Middle East still tugs powerfully on his heartstrings.
“The current human suffering and conflict impacted on me profoundly,” he continues, “and the continuous, unrelenting bloodshed of the civil war in Syria was on my mind throughout the nine months of composing this piece. And so, this piece of music is my response to the tragedy in Syria and is dedicated to the Syrian people who are suffering a holocaust.”
The composer says he had Harvey in mind when he was putting pen to paper, and took the Australian’s virtuosity and musical ethos in consideration at the creative stage. Harvey was duly taken with the concerto.
“It struck me, the power of the gestures, that it was a combination of all these languages, the Arabic, the Jewish, the jazz, avant garde which all came together in a way that was not gimmicky, it sort of sympathized in a way that is very powerful and genuine.”
The quest for altruistic artistic expression has been a constant in Harvey’s professional life, which took him to Budapest in the mid- ’80s, when the Cold War was still very much a robust fact of life, as he sought to crystallize his feelings about his burgeoning line of work.
He talks about the pervading approach to the music at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in terms of “music beyond ideologies” and “transcending words.” The nonconformist output of the likes of avant garde rocker Frank Zappa, 20th century microtonal music pioneer Mordecai Sandberg and contemporary German-born Jewish composer Stefan Wolpe also feature prominently in Harvey’s continuing learning curve.
Harvey has clearly maintained his unadulterated artistic line of attack, which eventually led him to the like-minded Yedid. The Australian says there are benefits to be had from a go-with-the-flow attitude, and strives to attain an egoless approach to music, and to act simply as a conduit for the composer’s original intent.
“There is a fine line between pomposity and genuine intent and immersion [in a work]. It is not really about the performer. It is not about the interpreter. Ultimately, it is about the music itself.”