A small notice tucked away in our local newspaper caught my attention, and the promise of a performance of choral music by Russian composers seemed intriguing. In addition, the venue was an unusual one – the Ratisbonne Monastery in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighbourhood. So we ordered tickets and turned up on the appointed evening.
The programme began with a brief organ recital. To our surprise, the organ in the church is relatively large and produces an imposing sound. It is a rare treat in Israel to hear a good quality organ, and the concert halls here are sadly lacking in that instrument. The recital consisted of three pieces by Bach and Handel and were played with consummate musicality by Julia Shmulkin, the invisible organist, who finally stepped forward and took a bow from the balcony when the audience applauded enthusiastically.
After the organ recital the Musica Aeterna choir filed into the body of the church. Consisting of about thirty individuals who are all, like their conductor and founder, Iliya Plotkin, originally from Russia, many of them are trained musicians. Their powerful sound combined with the church’s acoustics to reverberate around the nave, as they sang music by Kodaly, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff, to name but a few. The evening concluded with several Russian folk songs, some of a humorous nature, which the choir sang with gusto. The choir gave stirring performances of all the songs, attaining a high level of proficiency and professionalism.
The Musica Aeterna choir has been in existence since 1996 and is supported by the Jerusalem Municipality under its ‘Rainbow of the Arts’ project and the Ministry of Culture. The choir has participated in musical events in Israel and abroad and performs every Saturday at 12.30 at the Beit Jamal Monastery near Beit Shemesh. The intention is to hold monthly performances in the Ratisbonne Monastery in Jerusalem, and I am certainly looking forward to attending these in the future.