|The Noach Ensemble (photo courtesy Noach Ensemble)|
On November 27th 2016, the Bel Canto Choir hosted the Noach Ensemble (Czech Republic) in a program titled “From Prague to Jerusalem” at Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem. The Bel Canto Choir, comprising some 40 singers and directed by Salome Rebello, is one of five choirs making up the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, an organization whose aim is to advance culture and song in the city. Bel Canto appears in a variety of venues, performing music from classical to jazz, Israeli music and music for choir and orchestra. Salome Rebello immigrated to Israel from India in 2008. She studied piano and choral conducting at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and has quickly become a sought-after choral conductor on the Israeli music scene.
Following words of welcome from Françoise Kafri, a representative of the Jerusalem Municipality, the Bel Canto Choir opened the evening’s proceedings with hearty renderings of two songs from the Sabbath service: Italian Jewish composer Salamone Rossi’s “Barechu” prayer (Blessed is Adonai, the blessed one for all eternity) and Israeli conductor and composer Gil Aldema’s setting of “Shalom Aleichem” (Peace be unto You). Bel Canto was then joined by the Noach Ensemble to perform Gil Aldema’s arrangement of a traditional “Halleluja” melody. These works were conducted by Salome Rebello.
The Noach Vocal Ensemble (Ostrava), 14 male singers directed and conducted by composer and arranger Tomáš Novotný, then performed a number of songs. The Noach members and their director are not Jewish, but they love Judaism and Jewish music. They mostly sing in Hebrew, focusing on Hassidic music as well as performing Israeli songs. The ensemble was established in 2012 by Dr. Novotný, who is also founder and director of the Adash Women’s Choir (an acronym for Hebrew through Song). Following studies in composition, conducting and French horn at the Prague Conservatory, he acquired a doctorate in the Department of Old Testament Studies. A specialist in Jewish music, Novotný currently teaches in the Faculty of Philosophy at Ostrava University. Fluent in Hebrew, he announced each of the pieces his choir performed throughout the evening, addressing the audience in a relaxed, informal manner and with his own gentle brand of humour. Two klezmer musicians accompanied the male choir: clarinettist Ráchel Polohová, a student of Jewish Studies and Religion at the Charles University (Prague) and accordionist Anežka Gebauerová, a student at the Music Academy in Katowice.
The first song they presented was a piece composed by Novotný in memory of Czech-born legendary Jerusalem newscaster Tatiana Hoffman. Another original piece of his was an a-cappella setting of “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem”, featuring a fine tenor solo, then taking the form of a sparkling canon. Another of the conductor’s particularly charming, rich and multifarious arrangements was that of the popular Hebrew song “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem” (We have brought you peace) and how pleasing the jaunty, lively performance of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav’s text “Kol ha’olam kulo” (The whole world is a very narrow bridge) was! An interesting item was a song in Russian, written by imprisoned Russian Hassids, the singers’ gentle flexing giving their singing a sense of spontaneity. And then a song in Czech, one about disappointed love in the Czech town of Tábor, beautifully anchored in interesting drone effects played on the accordion and joined by the basses.
The concert concluded with both choirs joining to perform a Czech nonsense song (also from the South Bohemian town of Tábor) and Israeli folk song “Hava nagila” (Let us rejoice), the latter imbued with Hassidic flavour in a poignant introduction by the instrumentalists in a poignant introduction.
Tomáš Novotný ‘s direction, arrangement and compositions are a rare treat. Appealing and communicative, bringing much joy to audiences, the Noach Ensemble’s detail-perfect performance is highly polished. The two very excellent instrumentalists delighted all with their fine musicianship. Maestro Novotný ended the evening by explaining that the Noach Choir sings for those who died in the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, for those who can no longer sing.