News / Middle East

Young Nazareth Musicians Bridge Cultural Divide

A chamber music concert in Washington, DC is not unusual - even a concert where the players are young.  But this concert is something special – it features Arab and Jewish Israeli musicians playing works of Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi.

Polyphony was co-founded by violinist and teacher Nabeel Abboud-Askhar with backing from pop diva Cher and financier Craig Cogut and his wife Deborah.  The goal is to provide classical music education to Arab Israelis who otherwise would not have it.

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The D.C. concert – the final stop on a seven-city U.S. tour – featured works by Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi and showcased the talents of several of the young musicians.

Abboud-Ashkar – himself one of the world’s most prominent Palestinian musicians – grew up in Nazareth, but left his home town to study violin in Europe.  He returned to Tel Aviv University with degrees and physics and music.  He completed his master’s degree at the Hochschule fur Musik, in Rostock, Germany, under Professor Axel Wilczok. Abboud-Ashkar wants to provide the music education he had to leave his home town to receive.

However, some obstacles had to be overcome before parents and teachers would embrace classical music in schools in Nazareth.

“I can tell you that when we first started working and we came to the schools and we came to the parents and we said ‘classical music is important, it is important for education; it develops the minds, the hearts, the souls of the students’ it was not so taken for granted or understood,” he said.

Abboud-Ashkar’s college roommate, violist Amit Landau and cellist Anat Nevo, are teachers in the program. Landau said that music might not bridge every gap, but it helps foster communication.

“It can bridge a certain divide in Israel that is coming because of lack of comprehension – like the simple comprehension between two people,” he said.  “And that is also very important. I mean you cannot change the world politically speaking without people starting talking with each other – having fun, having music together,” the musician said.

Anat Nevo who speaks only a little Arabic – says music has bridged even the language barrier with her students.

“And the beautiful thing is that it sounds like a barrier, but it is amazing to see how they insist to have the lessons by themselves without their parents so we can communicate, just the two of us because it’s part of the lesson,” she said.  “And so it’s a marvelous thing in my opinion.”

Both Nevo and Landau travel two hours from their homes to teach the children in Nazareth. But both also say they gladly make the drive in order to help Abboud-Ashkar bring musical training to children who otherwise would not have it.

Polyphony means “the convergence of a number of largely independent voices and melodies that harmonize with each other.”

Abboud-Ashkar says that his hope is that this ensemble will help personify that definition and will show how music can bring harmony to people of all backgrounds.

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