In Toronto, Iranians and Israelis Make Music, Not War

Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative, a unique collaboration of composers from two enemy states, will debut at Toronto's Alliance Francaise Theatre.

Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington to deliver a scathing attack on Iran. Just north of the border, as he was addressing a joint session of Congress, two Israelis and one Iranian were putting together the final touches on a different sort of message.

That message will be delivered next week when the Toronto-based Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative, a unique collaboration of composers from two enemy states, holds it debut performance.

“What is exciting for me in this collaboration is the possibility of individuals transcending national borders,” says trio member Dan Deutsch, a 32-year-old Jerusalemite studying for his doctorate in music at the University of Toronto.

As Deutsch recounts, the collaboration has been two years in the making. It all began when the Israeli musician was introduced to Parisa Sabet, an Iranian-composer and fellow student at the university.

“When we were first met, I said to her, 'You know I’m from Israel and you’re from Iran, so we’re enemies,’” he relays. “And she laughed. Once we got to know each other better, we thought it would be a great idea to do an Israeli-Iranian concert, something that goes beyond the small university world and that we could also get funding for.”

Soon thereafter, they teamed up with Noam Lemish, another doctoral student, who grew up in Israel but had lived for many years in the United States, as well as one year in Bhutan. “Our work not only transcends political and cultural divides but also musical divides,” says Lemish, a pianist and composer currently writing his dissertation on Israeli jazz. “You typically wouldn’t find in the same concert both contemporary music and traditional music, but we’re doing both, and it’s all music we’ve composed ourselves especially for this project.”

All tickets have been almost sold out for the performance, which will be held at the Alliance Francaise Theatre in Toronto on Tuesday evening. Joining the trio will be a number of special guests, including Israeli-born Shalom Bard, who served as resident conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 2012 to 2014. The project has received funding from the Toronto Arts Council and The Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.

“When you go deep down to the fundamentals of Persian and Jewish-Israeli traditional music, there is so much in common that sometimes it is difficult to distinguish one from the other,” says Sabet.

Along with three Israeli and three Iranian performers, the debut concert will feature several Canadian musicians who, according to Lemish, “represent the country’s multicultural landscape at large.”

Deutsch calls the concert in Canada “our opening shot,” noting that the unusual collaboration has drawn interest among major music festivals around the world.