A Case of Art Imitating Art: The Israeli Composer Who Can Paint Music

Festival attractions include musical compositions in the Baroque style, an antique music ensemble and an exhibition of paintings by composer Dr. Hagar Kadima.

Sixteen years ago, the music department of the Ministry of Culture and Sport’s Culture Authority launched a festival dedicated to Israeli music and to local performers – the Israeli Music Festival. This festive event has undergone many changes since then, some of them not particularly festive – especially in the festival’s early years. During that period, the half-empty auditoriums reflected what was commonly believed to be the level of interest generated by the festival’s repertoire. The appointment of composer Michael Wolpe signaled a dramatic change in the festival’s fortunes. Under his direction, the Israeli Music Festival took on a fresher look, opening its doors to young artists (who were initially introduced in a concentrated fashion), expanding its repertoire and spreading its concerts to several Israeli cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Be’er Sheva.

The festival opens Monday and will continue until Wednesday. This is the second time that Boaz Ben-Moshe, its new musical director, is managing the event. To a great extent, he is continuing in the direction charted by his predecessor – first of all, in the festival’s structure, which will take place in four different cities in Israel this year, and, secondly, in the repertoire, which has been expanded and extended to what seems to be the outer limits of the style of Western classical music. Appearing at this year’s festival will be the Arab Music Orchestra, conducted by Nizar Radwan, with guest artist singer-composer Shlomo Gronich, and the Hod Hasharon Big Band appearing with the Gospel Choir in a concert of new arrangements for classic Israeli songs. Although the creations that will be performed are classics in their own right, they are certainly light-years away from the traditional image of classical music.

In this year’s festival, Ben-Moshe offers a richly variegated repertoire. For example, contemporary opera – the chamber opera “HaYovel” (“The Jubilee”) by Abel Ehrlich, performed by the recently reorganized Opera Camera group under the direction of his son, Dani Ehrlich, and under the baton of conductor Yuval Zoran; the libretto is based on the play by Anton Chekhov. Or, for example, an electro-acoustic concert featuring works by Yosef Tal, Deganit Elyakim and Ofer Pelz. Or works in the Baroque style performed by the Ancient Music Ensemble. Or the Trio for Oud, Cello and Piano by Menachem Wiesenberg and Jan Radzynski. Films will also be shown – on two composers, Eden Partush, chosen as Composer of the Year, and Arik Shapira.

One of the major events in this year’s festival is a combined concerto-portrait, consisting of works by composer Dr. Hagar Kadima, who will present not only selections from her musical compositions but also an exhibition of her paintings – in the Vestibule Gallery of the Jerusalem Theater’s Rebecca Crown Auditorium (Wednesday at 6:30 P.M.).

“Music and painting, which are the two major elements in my life, are now being presented side by side, and my feeling is that this is perfectly in order,” Kadima says. Three of her works will be presented tonight, performed by recorder and oud musicians and by operatic singer Etty Ben-Zaken (alto): “Stop,” based on a poem by S. Shifra; “In her own way” or, as the title can be alternatively translated, “In the manner of the note La”; and “She’s no woman,” also based on a poem by S. Shifra.

Painting is a relatively new creative path for Kadima, a lecturer in music who has been composing for over 30 years. “I paint primarily with aquarelle paints and ink,” she says, “and, on rare occasions, when there is a need for them, I use markers in a very limited fashion. Ink colors are somewhat more transparent, stronger and deeper than watercolors, which at times can become opaque. When I paint with ink, I have to make corrections quickly because, after five seconds, they have already dried and the line that I have painted is permanent, for better or worse. On the other hand, when I use aquarelle paints, which are very much like ordinary watercolors, I can make corrections even a year later. All I have to do is wet the paint a little and change the line. The paper must be suited to the painting. I slowly acquired the ability to distinguish between different types of paper and paintbrushes and what they can do for a painting; it is a difference of day and night.

Is there any similarity between the two art forms, in terms of the process of creation, ideas and their realization, and in terms of materials?

“Despite the substantial difference between them, the manner in which I work in both these artistic mediums is similar. In music, the beginning of a composition stems from the instruments that are used and which give the composition their colors. The ideas start to unfold in accordance with the instruments in the composition. When there are vocal parts, the text is what leads me. I first read the text in order to understand its music. Only then do I try to understand the text’s content and I allow it to speak, as I listen to its musical needs so that I know how to proceed.

“In painting, the process is similar. I begin the work and look at it closely, trying to understand what it is demanding of me. The waiting period can take one day or it can take two whole months. I am talking here about the initial concept. At this level, of doing and looking closely, musical composition and painting are similar. In both cases, there is a continual merging of cognition and intuition: I think, I look closely, I listen, I react. These are actions that are tightly interwoven.”

Is there perhaps some similarity between orchestration and the blending of paints?

“Yes, to a certain extent both involve the creation of a concoction that produces something new out of different materials. However, from the standpoint of creation, music is a more difficult art form because it has no visual dimension. Even after one finishes writing a musical composition, one must mobilize immense resources. Musical composition demands a concentrated creative effort under optimal conditions for many hours at one stretch, in total solitude and in total silence. For instance, if I have a headache, I cannot write music. Painting is different. I can paint a line at 11 o’clock at night, even if I am tired, and, when I finish painting, that’s it. The painting exists. True, I have to then frame it and framing costs a lot of money; however, I do not have to worry about obtaining orchestration and $20,000 for the performance of the creation. When I look now at these two artistic activities, I am amazed how, from the moment I discovered aquarelle paint – and from that moment I have not stopped painting – within a very short period, three years, I felt such peace of mind with the idea of painting with this medium.”

“In my opinion,” Kadima continues, “the years of musical composition somehow came through the backdoor, because, otherwise I could never have brought myself to such a level of expression that gives me so much pleasure.”

The exhibition during the festival will be her third solo exhibition and the 11th in which she has participated. She has three more exhibitions coming up. Noting the strong reaction of those who study her paintings, she observes, “It’s like the feeling that Alice in Wonderland has.”

The day of her solo exhibition is also the last day of the festival, which will close with a festive concert – a symphonic performance, of course – by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. The concert will be preceded by the awarding of Israel’s coveted Prime Minister’s Prize for Composition. The works of Partush, Josef Bardanashvili and Karel Volniansky will be played, with Rivka Golani appearing as solo violist and with the conductor whose superb conducting has captivated audiences in previous festivals - Guy Feder.

Dudu Bechar