Under the musical direction of David Shemer, Italian “virtuoso violinist” Enrico Onofri will open Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 28th concert series this month. The opening concerts on November 13th at Tel Aviv’s Israel Conservatory of Music and November 14th at Jerusalem’s International YMCA, will feature works of composers of the High Baroque– Händel, Geminiani, Vivaldi, and Telemann.
According to Shemer, the goal of this style is to “attach the hearts of people to our music” by invoking as many emotional experiences as possible. Israel, a country ripe with the emotions summoned by clashing religious sentiment, unity, discord, and loss, may be best suited for this particular music style. This is true especially in Jerusalem, where Shemer has called home for over four decades.
According to Shemer, at the core of music lies compassion, suffering and love, and he “knows a thing or two” about connecting to these emotions. With all of the excitement good and bad, he would never think of living anywhere else. “Jerusalem is as varied as one can hope a place to be, and it does muster some kind of influence on me as a musician and the way I want to express things,” he explains. Although he maintains it is difficult to put his finger on the reason exactly, the importance of Jerusalem is a pertinent and profound point to him.
While the Israeli crowd may be especially able to connect with the emotional aspects of Baroque, it is also because of the Baroque style that an non-religious orchestra is able to beautifully present religious pieces of various faiths. December’s Christmas special, featuring Membra Jesu Nostri, addresses seven different parts of Christ’s body, and is inherently a Christian piece. Meanwhile, January’s Joseph and His Brothers is inherently a Jewish piece, written by a Jew, in Hebrew, about the Old Testament story of Joseph. But, as Shemer explains, it’s also the story of a father and a son and family relationships– stories that communicate on a collective, human level.
Shemer himself was born and raised during an especially emotional era for the Jewish and Israeli people. Born in the capital of what was the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, he immigrated to Israel just two months before the Yom Kippur War. According to Shemer, he didn’t suffer much anti-Semitism on a daily basis in Latvia, but was “very clearly” rejected from the then-Leningrad Rimsky Korsakov Conservatory because of his Jewish heritage.
But Baroque music, Shemer maintains, is a great equalizer of all people and he has since had all-positive experiences in his field. Even more, Shemer has gained great respect when he tells colleagues that he comes from Jerusalem. In his experience directing all over the world, anti-Israel people simply do not show up, and the others become even friendlier after hearing the name Jerusalem, which “rings a bell for people as a very, very significant place.”
It is for this reason, among many, that Jerusalem is a hotspot for international artists who bring new viewpoints to Israel’s music scene. The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra specifically requested Onofri after their successful partnership during the 2013-2014 season. According to Shemer, working with international artists brings different angles of musical experience, knowledge, and perspectives. A great show can be expected of this year’s opening of Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 28th concert series.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” and “Israel Girl” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.