Bringing Culture to the Kinder Just Takes a Push on the Musical 'Like' Button

The national lottery's competition for theatrical-musical compositions aimed at a young audience has spawned four winning productions.

Haggai Hitron
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Haggai Hitron

About a year ago, Mifal Hapayis, the national lottery, announced a contest for writing works incorporating theater and music (and in some cases also video art and animation), and aimed at youngsters aged 5 to 12. The result was 40 submissions by composers in the form of ideas summed up briefly with a text, a tune and a concept, some of them with short, recorded excerpts. The panel of judges, headed by composer Tzvi Avni and including composer Betty Olivero and pianist Meir Wiesel, examined the submissions and chose 10 in the first stage. The composers of these selections were then asked to develop their proposals into full-scale works, for which they were paid.

In the second stage, the panel of judges examined the entries in their full-length format (about 54 minutes ) and selected four winners, each of which earned its composer NIS 100,000. Aharon Harlap, Idit Shechtman, Zohar Sharon and Ronen Shapira are the composers whose pieces were selected to inaugurate the lottery's Classilike project.

The name Classilike hints both at the undertaking's purpose - and its problematics. How is it possible to make kids to mentally "click" on the Like button when it comes to art music? Or, as Dollin Melnick, head of the art and culture council of Mifal Hapayis, put it: "How can one bring kids closer to the arts, which these days seem so far from their lives?" That is, three types of arts - art music, which is not pop, theater and opera.

"We chose works that are not only interesting but also have the potential to elicit emotional responses from children and offer an experience that involves the listener," says Avni.

The lottery has undertaken the staging and production of the four selected Classilike works (complete with choirs, solo vocalists, orchestras, directors, actors and sets ) and the fruits of the entire project, which has aroused high expectations, will soon be presented throughout the country.

"The local governments within whose jurisdiction we are arranging performances are getting a real gift from us," says Melnick, adding that they in return are providing venues for the concerts. Tickets will cost a mere NIS 10. And Classilike, she continues, will not be a one-time endeavor: "If the first attempt succeeds, we will again appeal to composers, probably every other year."

Canadian-born Aharon Harlap, 71, the oldest and most experienced of the winners, chose a stand-alone text, "King Solomon and the Bee," by Haim Nahman Bialik, the pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry (1873-1934). This, in condensed form, is its opening passage (in a rough translation ): "It came to pass one day that King Solomon decided to take his afternoon nap under a fig tree in his garden. He had just closed his eyes when a wee little bee buzzed by, landed on the king's nose, and stung him. Solomon woke up, jumped in the air, realized what had happened, and became very angry, for the pain was knife-like and stabbing."

The youngsters who attend the musical performance of Bialik's poem, directed by Danny Ehrlich, will undoubtedly benefit if the story in its old-fashioned language is explained beforehand in contemporary Hebrew by teachers or parents. The singers Yair Polishuk, Einat Aronstein and Niva Eshed team up with storyteller Omri Rosenzweig. The New Vocal Ensemble will sing, accompanied by the Tel Aviv Soloists ensemble, all under the baton of Yuval Ben-Ozer.

Monkeys and a beat box

Ronen Shapira, born in 1996, has won many prizes, including the Prime Minister's Prize for Composers. His Classilike piece is based on the children's book "Monkey Tough, Monkey Bluff," by Shirley and Ronny Someck. It's a cute story about a monkey who is a compulsive liar and who is treated, by a council of animals, to some shock therapy. The production is directed by Julia Pevzner, and the performers are singer-actor Netanel Zalevsky and the Israel Sinfonietta Be'er Sheva, conducted by Doron Salomon.

Unlike her fellow competitors, Idit Shechtman wrote her own text, "Sherlock Holmes: A Concert Mystery," based on the exploits of the famous English detective invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who portrayed Holmes as an amateur violinist. In the rhyming verses Shechtman wrote, and for which she composed the music, the violin-playing detective comes to perform as a soloist with an orchestra only to discover that his violin case is empty. Shechtman, a Be'er Sheva native who is experienced in children's musical performances, is a graduate of the Rimon School of Music and the Israeli navy's entertainment troupe, and a student of Yaron Gottfried and Mendi Rodan. Shechtman herself will play the conductor in the performance, also directed by Julia Pevzner; Yaron Brovinksy will play the role of Sherlock Holmes. Shechtman's work will be also performed in Arabic (translated by Nabil Nasser al-Din, with the actor Yousef Sweid ), and will be played by the Israel Chamber Orchestra.

The fourth composer is Zohar Sharon, who has a master's degree from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. He is a founding member and the musical director of The Revolution Orchestra, a lecturer at the Jerusalem Academy and also a DJ. His composition is called "Beats" and is defined as "a visual and theatrical musical work for chamber orchestra, actor and animation" (the animator is David Shalita). The story, written by Amit Erez, is about an absentminded professor who tries to find his place among the members of the orchestra who teach him the secret of working together. The animated film features a strange and colorful beat box generating "rhythmic events." Orchestra members also function as supporting actors and become part of the rhythm machine. The work is directed by Yael Kramsky and will be performed by actor Guy Messika accompanied by The Revolution Orchestra, conducted by Ro'i Oppenheim.

On September 3, "Monkey Tough, Monkey Bluff" will be staged at the Ariel cultural center. From October 2012-January 2013 all four shows will be performed at various venues throughout Israel. In the greater Tel Aviv area, they will be staged only in Holon. .

Illustration from 'Monkey Tough, Monkey Bluff,' by Ronny and Shirley Someck.Credit: Aviel Basil