Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Jerusalem: The City of Two Peaces"

With all the news from Israel and Gaza recently, I listened again to a set of SACDs (with accompanying book) called "Jerusalem: The City of Two Peaces." A couple years ago I saw the set reviewed in Gramophone magazine, but I forgot to to seek it out until a subsequent issue (November 2011) featured the Spanish early music specialist Jordi Savall on the cover, reminding me of the "Jerusalem" project.

Savall and his wife Montserrat Figuera (who passed away in 2011), and their ensemble Hesperion XII have produced several sets on their own label, Alia Vox, some of which I hope to explore in the future. For this Jerusalem album and book, the groups Hesperion XII and La Capella Reial de Catalunya as well as Jewish, Christian, and Muslim musicians from among both European and Middle Eastern countries. perform a homage to Jerusalem.

The project attempts the “enormous and almost impossible challenge to evoke some of the key moments in the history and music” of Jerusalem. All the material invokes Jerusalem’s history from the point of views of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim heritage, the city’s heritage as both a “city of pilgrimage” and a symbol of exile and refuge,” as well as the ever-present concern for peace.  The music and words include recitations from the Qur’an, Psalms (121, 122, 137), Talmudic reflections, the sound of shofars, dances, songs from the Crusades, songs of Jews, Palestinians, and Armenians, pleas for peace in Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, and Gregorian chant, as well as anonymous songs.

All this music and text is given historical context (pp. 110-120, 128-143), and this material is provided in eight languages: French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Hebrew, and Arabic.  Included are not only standard pictures of the musicians but also interesting art from different cultures relating to Jerusalem.

The introduction’s author notes that one etymology of the Hebrew name for Jerusalem is “city of two peaces,” that is, the “heavenly peace” promised in prophetic texts, and the “earthly peace” sought by the city’s political leadership over the past five millennia.  “Sanctified by the three great monotheistic religions of the Mediterranean, Jerusalem soon became the focus of prayers and longing. Desired by all, she has been the goal, aim and destination of pilgrims of all persuasions who flock to her gates in peace, but also the objective of soldiers and armies in pursuit of war, who have besieged and burned the city, bringing ruin and devastation more than forty times throughout her long history” (p. 101).

The project aims not only to trace Jerusalem’s political and spiritual history through texts and music, but also to invoke peace. “A peace born out of a dialogue based on empathy and mutual respect is, despite the enormous difficulties involved, a necessary and desirable path for all concerned” (p. 1). The artists see Jerusalem as a “symbol of all mankind,” and thus a symbol of the urgency of peace in the 21st century (p. 21).

Witnessing to peace comes out of Savall's artistic credo: in that Gramophone article (p. 37), he comments, "We musicians sometimes forget how powerfully what we do can act on people's lives, how it can heal them."

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