Sound Box / They sang in the barn and the coop
Over 60 years after it was first performed, members of Kibbutz Maabarot are reviving a long-forgotten work by one of its founders. Tonight will see the show's second performance, ever.
In 1945, on the slope of a hill at the edge of Kibbutz Maabarot in the Hefer Valley sat a large audience from all over the country, waiting for the grand spectacle, word of which had spread far and wide and had been on everyone's lips for quite some time. At the foot of the hill was a broad expanse, an orchestra and a choir sat on a stage beneath a pergola, all around a stage set had been built, with a well in the biblical style and even a real flock of sheep that raised dust. At the edge of the field the dancers and actors could also be seen making their final preparations.
Everyone expectantly awaited the chord that would open the work "The Song of Songs" by the composer and kibbutz member Nisim Nisimov.
This evening at 8:30, the work will again be performed in full at Kibbutz Maabarot, for the second time in its history. This, in the framework of the annual "Bridges over the Stream" festival organized by the Emek Hefer local council.
This was not just any work, points out conductor Maya Shavit, a native of the kibbutz who was 10 years old when she first participated in the show. According to her, "The whole kibbutz participated in the production. The singers and the instrumentalists were kibbutz members and also came from other kibbutzim; the play and the choreography were written by members of the kibbutz; the actors, the stagehands, the electricians and the builders - all of them were members. Nisimov recruited all of them to work."
"For us, the children," continues Shavit, "it was hugely magical. Through months of rehearsals we were constantly underfoot. The melodies were in the air. Everyone knew them and there wasn't anyone who didn't sing them - in the dairy barn, in the henhouse and in rehearsals, on long days with no sleep."
The play, based on the biblical "Song of Songs," was written by kibbutz member Yitzhak Pesach, and the dances were created by sisters Yehudit and Shoshana Orenstein, among the pioneers of dance in this country. Moshe Levy, the Ohel Theater director, directed and his wife, Leah Deganit, was put in charge of sewing the costumes that were designed by artist Moshe Phillip.
Nisimov, the composer, was born in Bulgaria in 1909, came to Palestine in 1930 and joined Kibbutz Maabarot, where the members were from Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. He began studying composition with one of the major composers active at the time, Alexander Boskovitz, and under his influence became familiar with the new Hebrew style that was developing, and became a noted practitioner of that style in very beautiful songs and choral pieces.
"He was a demanding conductor - not everything was easy with him," recalls Shavit, "and he embodied the great importance our parents attributed to culture, especially theater and music. The education at the kibbutz was collective and experimental, and always combined with plays that the members prepared for us, the children - and every play had music that he wrote."
Nisimov, who died in 1951, also composed orchestral works such as an oriental suite, "Memories of Childhood" for string orchestra and clarinet - a work based on the songs of Bulgarian Jewry, which will open the performance this evening, as well as music for "Facing the Desert" by poet Avraham Shlonsky.
Three of his songs from "Song of Songs" - "Behold, the autumn has passed," "Where has thy beloved gone" and "Who is she that cometh from the desert" - have become fixtures of the choral repertoire in Israel and have been remembered but, says Shavit, "the work as a whole has in fact been forgotten and lost, and those songs have remained in a version for chorus only, without the orchestra that participated in them in the original."
Therefore she decided to restore it. The process of reviving "The Song of Songs" began six years ago.
"I met with Nisimov's children and members of his family, and we talked over what to do with the work before no one is left who remembers it," says Shavit. "The manuscript of the orchestration remained, and when I opened it - boom! At the sight of the opening chord it played itself through in my mind, as though I had heard it yesterday. In my memory the whole choir rang out, down to the smallest detail. I realized that it could be done."
"The family threw itself fully into the project, the kibbutz helped with paying for printing the score, and then we went to record it - with the Ra'anana Symphonette Orchestra and the Emek Hefer Choir. No one except me could have said what the tempo of the movements was, because I'm the only musician who still remembers - and this memory dumbfounded me. I sat for hours with conductor Omer Wellber discussing the tempo and refitted the texts to the melodies where that was missing. I even remember the dance steps, all of them."
The first to rise to the challenge of performance was conductor Michael Wolpe, the musical director of the Music in the Desert Festival at Sde Boker. Two years ago "The Song of Songs" was staged at the festival in a performance that included all the musical elements and some of the choreographic elements, and Wolpe also replicated the communal spirit of the show by having all the members of his kibbutz participate in the production.
"But this wasn't the whole show," says Shavit. "The roles of the actors - the Shulamith, the Beloved, the Shepherds, the Children, the Village Elders - all those weren't there."
Now, at long last the orchestration will be given its true realization in a full production, with musical consultation from Shavit and Yair Nisimov, the conductor's son. Participating in it will be actors and singers, the Ra'anana Symphonette orchestra conducted by David Sebba, the Emek Hefer Coir conducted by Shimon Lev-Tov and the Young Efroni Choir, conducted by Yasmin Itzhak. The director is Aviv Luz, the choreography is by Yelena Karkov and the artistic direction is in the hands of Manolo Kleinhaus.
"This isn't the same production," says Shavit, "nor has an attempt been made to reconstruct the past. It's important to us to let the music continue to play as long as any of the original performers is with us - and remembers."