Veteran Israeli Musicians Find New Voice With Younger Generation of Talent

From Arik Einstein's collaboration with Peter Roth to the joint work of Shoshana Damari and Idan Raichel, creative interplay between different musical generations is more evident than ever.

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In contrast to most of the usual greatest-hits concerts given by veteran artists, this show did not have “then” plastered on its forehead. It played “now.” At center-stage stood the rock singer Corinne Elal, looking a little naked without her guitar. To her right sat a string quartet. To her left was a young pianist, Michael Gottlieb, who had adapted a selection of her songs for this singular event. The concert took place last month during the annual Piano Festival in Tel Aviv.

Though Elal is one of the great creative artists of Israeli music, that was not what made her concert so beautiful and moving. What made the event touching was that a veteran, canonical artist placed herself in the hands of a musician young enough to be her son, and allowed him − and herself − to convey her songs through the prism of a young person’s devotion and passion. The same week as Elal’s concert, the band Ha’hatzer Ha’ahorit ‏(The Back Yard‏) released its new album.

Its members are three musicians in their 30s ‏(Tomer Yosef, Itamar Ziegler and Gadi Ronen‏) and a songwriter who will soon be 70 ‏(Yankele Rotblit‏). In contrast to the Elal event, the intergenerational cooperation in The Back Yard produced new songs − Rothblit wrote the lyrics and the others set them to music. But as in the Elal-Gottlieb collaboration, the fusion between two generations reflected the perspective and sagacity of the older artist, but injected the music with a contemporary electrical thrust.

These latest examples of intergenerational musical coproduction reflect one of the major trends in Israeli music in the past year. Of course, cooperation between younger and older artists is not new. From the collaboration between Arik Einstein and Peter Roth, to the joint work of Shoshana Damari and Idan Raichel, the interplay between veteran and young has been a familiar, recurring pattern in Israeli music. But it’s doubtful that this format has ever been as widespread in Israeli music as in the past year. It’s as though 20 years later, the classic example of Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin − the producer who introduced the legendary singer to a young audience 20 years ago − is starting to trickle into the studios in Tel Aviv.

The three prime examples of this kind of young-old coproduction in the past year are the new albums of Chava Alberstein ‏(65‏), Yehoram Gaon ‏(73‏) and Ahuva Ozeri ‏(65‏). Alberstein, working with the producer Tamir Muskat, from the band Balkan Beat Box, released “And How About You?” The album enjoyed instant popularity and commercial success. “I love these young producers who come from the hip-hop world. They snip something from here and attach it to something from there. I think they are geniuses, champions,” Alberstein said about working with Muskat.

Gaon, who last released a studio album 17 years ago, hooked up with the singer Amir Benayoun ‏(who did the same for Yishai Levy last year‏). The title of their joint album, “Like the Day I Was Born,” attests to the deep sense of renewal the veteran singer experienced. Ozeri, for her part, was aided by the young pianist and music producer Shaul Besser in creating the album “Maalei Demama” ‏(meaning, roughly, “evocations of silence”‏), which has 16 new songs, some of them absolutely gorgeous.

At least two more intergenerational coproductions are currently in the works. Alon Olearchik ‏(63‏), appeared in the Piano Festival this month with another young musician, Elad Adar, and the two are about to release a joint album. A more surprising collaboration is that between Shlomo Bar ‏(70‏) and the young electronic producer Rejoicer. The two gave a joint concert in October at the In-D-Negev Festival.

One of the most substantial collaborations between older and younger in Israel music is taking place between Shlomo Gronich ‏(64‏) and the producer David Epstein. Epstein is not a musician; he is a producer in the sense of someone who gets things done, but he is also an artistic director. He first approached Gronich as a teenager more than two decades ago, and a social and creative relationship sprang up between the two, who are more than 30 years apart in age. Epstein is the primary fomenter of the creative renaissance that Gronich has experienced lately. This includes the fact that progressive elements that were present in his music decades ago are now reinvigorating it. Those materials are featured in Gronich’s fine new album, “After All,” and they were in the forefront of his concert at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv this month − territory into which Gronich would never have ventured, if not for Epstein.

What accounts for the growing prevalence of cross-generational collaboration in Israeli music? From the perspective of the older generation − those who burst onto the scene in the 1960s and 1970s and changed Israeli music − the advantage of working with a younger person is clear. They want a guiding hand and an injection of rejuvenating creative juices. As for the younger group, at the personal level, they are undoubtedly pleased to work with artists who were their musical mentors.

More generally, the renewed presence of the veteran musicians and the deep ties they forge with the younger ones might stem from a process of a loss of authority in present-day Israeli music, which reflects a similar trend that is visible in world music and culture.

For any number of reasons having to do with the current media and cultural climate, young or relatively young musicians ‏(even those who are very good and very successful‏) are finding it difficult to achieve the authoritative status of a great artist. And if there are no new masters, it is only natural to return to the old ones. The shabby way of doing that is to take the nostalgic route of tribute concerts and album reissues. The creative way is to connect the master with young artists who will help him sharpen his pencil or add new colors of their own to his notes.

It will be interesting to see where this trend leads. Will Yehudit Ravitz ‏(56‏), who enjoyed ‏(over-enjoyed‏) letting it all hang out in her last album, hook up with a young musician who will be able to preserve her enthusiasm but also succeed in keeping it within bounds? Will Shalom Hanoch, 67, who has been working with the same people for 200 years, try to diversify? And what about the phone call Dudu Tassa needs to make to Rami Danoch, who is celebrating four decades of music-making?

The Back Yard band with Yankele RotblitCredit: Ori Bahat
Tamir Muskat and Chava AlbersteinCredit: Gali Eytan

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