Israeli Jewish-Arab Quartet Shines at the Elysee Palace

Musicians involved in Nazareth-based program opened a climate summit in Paris, in presence of UN leaders, diplomats and other dignitaries.

Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

A Jewish-Arab string quartet from Israel performed before the crème de la crème of international diplomacy at a global climate conference in Paris on Tuesday.

Associated with the Nazareth-based Alhan musical education program, the Polyphony Conservatory ensemble played at the opening session of the Summit of Conscience for the Climate, a gathering of leading spiritual and religious authorities from around the world, at the Elysee Palace. Their 15-minute rendition of Schubert’s Rosamund Quartet followed addresses by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan, Irish President Michael Daniel Higgins, French President Francois Hollande and the prince of Monaco.

Among the conference guests were UNESCO director general Irina Bokova, Brazilian environmentalist and politician Marina Silva, actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cardinal Bartholomew of Constantinople, environmental activists from Nepal and India, and a host of academic figures.

The conference was being held in advance of the December 2015 UN climate change talks, with the aim of encouraging the emergence of what it calls a “narrative of conscience” on the climate and the environment.

The Alhan program, which promotes music appreciation and has reached thousands of Jewish and Arab children in schools in the north, along with the Polyphony Conservatory – that offers high-level studies in music and operates youth orchestras and its flagship string quartet – were both founded by Nazareth violinist and educator Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar about five years ago. The programs and groups are funded by the Polyphony Foundation.

Originally a small educational center in Nazareth with 95 students and programs in three elementary schools in the northern part of the country, Alhan's activities now incorporate 30 schools and some 6,000 students in such places as Haifa, Umm al-Fahm, and the “triangle” area roughly bounded by the Arab towns of Baka al-Garbiyeh, Taibeh and Tira. Many Jewish and Arab kindergartens are also joining the program, thus helping Abboud-Ashkar to realize his dreams in the name of his "multi-voiced" conservatory.

The quartet comprises Tal Prisat (violin), Ibrahim Boulous (violin), Mahdi Sa’adi (cello) and Yoav Yatzkan (viola).