East vs. West, Religious vs. Secular - A Cutting-edge Composer Weighs In

In his new album, Yitzhak Yedid transcends Middle Eastern sound to forge a style of his own.

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It’s always intriguing to follow the path of Yitzhak Yedid, an Israeli composer who, unlike so many others, avoids the beaten musical track. From afar, Yedid seems to have something in common with many local composers who, in their search for an essential Israeli sound, focus on the Middle Eastern, Arab-Palestinian components within an Orientalist setting. This affinity with the Arab-Palestinian east characterizes most of his work – perhaps all of it – including his latest album, as attested to by the inclusion of an Arab violin. This was evident in the preceding trio he composed for the oud, double bass and piano, as well as in his earlier works, such as “Since My Soul Loved.”

However, despite the typical Arab components of his music, Yedid's creations are not exactly exotic or Orientalist. He does not adhere to a “Mediterranean” style, but rather an eclectic, multicultural and very personal style that combines jazz and Jewish cantor music, classic European and avant garde, randomness and a blend of techniques. On the cover, he describes his music as reflecting “tensions between new and old, religious and secular, East and West.”

Yedid, born in 1971, absorbed both music and a multicultural outlook while growing up in Jerusalem, in a religious family that came from Aleppo, Syria. He recalled these influences in In an interview with Haaretz six years ago.

“My family was musical, we were always singing, and as a child I sang on request," he said. "Today I realize that I absorbed all the different scales and rich notes of Arab music by listening in my childhood. Today I use it in combination with Ashkenazi cantor music which I really love.”

He played classical piano as a child, but abandoned it later, turning to study jazz piano at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. He abandoned this as well when he realized that jazz was unconnected to the culture he grew up in. His unique style was first recognized when he attended the New England Conservatory in Boston. He works as a composer and lecturer in Australia, having moved there after marrying an Australian physician.

Like his previous music, his new album is long. It is made up of a string of shorter pieces, all with poetic names, often ending abruptly like short clips in a movie that is shown too fast. “If I were a painter, my compositions would consist of many small paintings rather than one large one,” he once said. The last part of his most recent composition consists of eight such pictures, labeled with names such as “the violinist’s gaze;” “Hallucinatory Debka dance;” and “the madness of creation.” Other parts describe a homeless Holocaust survivor, belly dancing at an imaginary ceremony, and the whispered prayer of the High Priest.

As in the music he composed for the trio, this piece has beautiful sections, demonstrating his inventiveness and originality, his courage to think differently. There are piano parts that sound like an Arab instrument, virtuoso playing by violinist Sami Kheshaiboun, and three instruments playing the same tempestuous part together, “unisono” in musical terms. These are special moments, unique to Yedid.

Nevertheless, many parts of the new disc seem like a repetition of the same gestures. Repeated unisono in Arabic tempo, more Arab-style violin, repeated random improvisations - these are the weaker parts of the composition. Occasionally there is a tendency toward strangeness, as in the section called “An Israeli chorale dedicated to a Holocaust survivor.” It exhibits some childishness, perhaps some irony and indecisiveness as to which musical style to employ.

In anticipation of his next composition, it will be interesting to see if he can move beyond his pseudo-Arab style, peppered with novelty and improvisation - a style that seems to have reached its full potential in the present disc.

Yitzhak Yedid: “Arabic Violin Bass Trio - Suite In Four Movements”

Sami Kheshaiboun on Arabic violin ; Ora Boasson Horev on double bass; Yitzhak Yedid on piano

Between the Lines Publishing, 2013.

Yitzhak Yedid's creations veer off the beaten musical track (illustrative). Credit: Dreamstime
An archive photo of Israeli composer Yitzhak Yedid. Credit: Tali Shani

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