Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Spiritual Jewish Music - Moni Ovadia and the Arké String Quartet

Sunday night, June 1st, I ran over to the Ghetto to catch the last presentation of the Jewish spectacular going on over there called Festival dell'Arca. This final show was called Kavanàh, Jewish Spiritual Stories and Songs, and it starred the renowned actor/singer writer/musician, Moni Ovadia. The music was by the Arké String Quartet, who are Carlo Cantini on the violin, Valentino Corvino on the violin, Sandro di Paolo on the viola, and Stefano Dall'Ora on the double bass (they forgot to put his name on the poster, so we shall correct that situation here:). They are all world-class musicians, and you can see by the pictures that they are completely In The Zone. Here's a little blurb I found about the group: "The Arke Quartet have shrewdly and musically lent an ear to a lot of world-music materials - from a softly singing microtonal quality reminiscent of Chinese violin music, to the rhythmic devices of Indian classical music and a Shakti-like Indo-jazz fusion, to a Celtic skip, an ambient tone-poetry sigh and much more." So, this night they were performing spiritual Jewish music and they were brilliant.

I love spiritual Jewish music. All those minor chords provoke sorrow and hope and suffering and joy at the same time; it is haunting, beautiful music. I weep when I hear it; it strikes a chord deep inside... it feels human.

[Did you know that the melody of the Israel National Anthem, Hatikvah (which I love) was originally an Italian Renaissance tune called La Mantovana? The controversial words, however, were written in 1878, and it did not officially become the National Anthem until November, 2004.]

Since I decided to go to the show on the spur of the moment, I arrived without a reservation. I was outside explaining who I was to the girl-with-the-list, who was not impressed. Someone overheard me, and then said, well, you need to speak to him, who turned out to be the fellow I know at the press office. We had never met face-to-face, and he said, "Oh, Cat, just go in there and sit where you like." (Hopefully, you regular readers are noticing how I use synchronicity to bumble my way through life -- the exact person I need to see manifests in front of me so often, it is difficult to chalk it up merely to coincidence -- and it was a good thing that he manifested because the Ark was sold out!)

The Ark looked exactly like the picture you see, sort of like a cartoon, but a real structure. Imagine that Ark -- only huge -- recreated in the campo of the Ghetto. Inside the Ark were uncomfortable bleachers to sit on. And once you were in, you were in -- there was no getting out.

The word, "Kavanàh," means focused prayer -- not just blinding repeating words by rote. Here is a definition I found on the internet by Rabbi Jeffrey Summit: "In the Jewish tradition, intention, kavanah, is an essential part of meaningful action. The term kavanah comes from the Hebrew root meaning to direct, intend, focus. The rabbis were very clear that living a meaningful Jewish life involves combining both the actions we do and the intention we bring to those actions. For example, the rabbis stressed that prayer was not just about the act of reading or saying the words of a prayer. If you did not pray with kavanah, actively thinking about the words you were saying, you have not fulfilled your obligation to pray."

So, I can state that I fully support Kavanàh.

Moni Ovadia was the leader of the show, and I am going to be very honest: I only understood about one-third of what he said. There were lots of jokes, with lots of slang that went right over my head. I believe he spoke about the Pope. I believe he spoke about Mary; about the Song of Mary. I know he spoke about the Holocaust. I know he made a joke with Nietzsche as the punchline -- not easy to do. There were complex subjects done with humor and I cannot make any sort of judgment at all, except that I watched the faces of the audience, and they seemed quite interested.

However, I CAN judge the music, because it is the universal language. I wish there had been more of it. These musicians are so great, collectively and individually, if you ever have the chance to hear one or two or all of them, take it.

Ciao from Venice,

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