Piyyut: Hebrew Poetry and World Music: Robert Alter, Yair Harel, and the Tafillalt Ensemble

Date & Time: 
Thursday November 13, 2014 07:00 PM to 09:00 PM
Location: 
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, 2121 Allston Way, Berkeley

Hebrew poems (piyyutim), chanted for centuries across the Diaspora, have been adapted to different melodies, evolving into a form of  “Jewish world music” with roots in Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East. This singing tradition, a core component of synagogue practice, has also entered secular life in Israel through public performances, workshops, and performing arts festivals, and is now spreading to North America. The program will include words by Professor Robert Alter, and a performance of traditional and contemporary musical interpretations by Schusterman Visiting Artist Yair Harel and the Ensemble Tafillalt (Jerusalem).

Yair Harel is a world-renowned Israeli performer, artistic director, and community organizer, active in the revival and contemporary interpretation of the ancient art of piyyut (liturgical Hebrew poetry). Born in Jerusalem, Harel received a traditional Jewish education before going on to study zarb (Persian drum) in Israel and France, tar and Persian classical music with Peretz Eliyhau, improvisation with André Hajdu, and Jewish-Andalusian Vocal tradition with Rabbis Meir Atiyah and Haim Louk. Over the last twelve years, Harel has been focusing on exploring, teaching and performing traditional Jewish music and singing from North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Harel is one if the main figures behind the "Piyut" scene that has revolutionized the face of Israeli musical culture, and is a founding member of the “Singing Communities Project” in Israel.  He is the founder of the Invitation to Piyut website and the artistic director of the Jerusalem Piyut Festival. He has been the artistic director of the Ben Zvi Piyut Vocal Ensemble since 2008, and has taught at the Hebrew University, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and The Jerusalem Academy High School for Music and Dance. He created the New Jerusalem Orchestra, is a founding member in the “Oman chai” ensemble, and a co-founder of Tafillalt Ensemble with whom he released an album for John Zorn's Tzadik label (2010). Harel’s residency at The Magnes in the Fall Semester 2014 is is sponsored by the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artist Program of the Israel Institute.

Robert Alter is Professor of the Graduate School and Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1967, and where he is the Founding Director of the Center for Jewish Studies. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress, and past president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He has twice been a Guggenheim Fellow and has been a Senior Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem, and Old Dominion Fellow at Princeton University. Professor Alter has written widely on the European novel from the 18th century to the present, on contemporary American fiction, on modern Hebrew literature, and on literary aspects of the Bible. His 25 published books include two prize-winning volumes on biblical narrative and poetry, and award-winning translations of Genesis and the Five Books of Moses. In 2009, he was given the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Contribution to American Letters by the Los Angeles Times. In 2013, he received the Conference on Christianity and Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Charles Homer Haskins Prize given by the American Council of Learned Societies.

Tafillalt Ensemble is an innovative Israeli ensemble of composers and performers navigating the multicultural soundscape of 21st-century Israel, presenting a deeply personal interpretation of various traditional and modern Jewish materials (sacred Hebrew poetry from North Africa and the Middle East, Hassidic Niggunim, modern secular Hebrew poetry and more), as well as their own original musical and literary compositions. Established in 2000, the members of the Tafillalt ensemble are also founding members of the Jerusalem contemporary music collective, Haoman Hai, a counterpart of the Radical Jewish Music projects in New York City. Tafillalt have performed widely throughout Israel, as well as the USA, and Europe. In addition to concert performances, the ensemble frequently gives workshops on both traditional and modern approaches to Jewish music.

Supporters

This program is presented in partnership with the Center for Jewish Studies and the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, and is supported by the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion. Yair Harel's residency at The Magnes is supported by the Israel Institute and by Piyut North America. 

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