Tom Cohen: crossing the east-west lines and vice versa

Tom Cohen recently did some weight lifting training. Not that the 38-year-old founder and conductor of the East and West Jerusalem Orchestra (TJO) planned to over-flex his muscles on September 27. But then he took the stage at the annual Altin Objektif (Golden Lens). Awards from the Association of Magazine Journalists, in Istanbul, and was duly awarded with a gold statuette for the orchestra’s ongoing effort to generate a sense of unity among people of different backgrounds and across apparent political divisions.

This was not the Oscar, which, despite the high world ranking in hierarchical order, has a relatively insignificant weight of 3.8 kg. “It weighs around 15 kilos!” Cohen exclaims. “I almost dropped it while giving my acceptance speech.”

He says representing an Israeli ensemble at an awards ceremony in Turkey, the first orchestra here to achieve that, has yet to fully assimilate. “Even though I was there and have since seen it on video, it still feels like a hallucination,” he laughs. “I still don’t understand exactly what happened and how it happened. And it is difficult to know how it will affect the future because it took place at a time when it is difficult to assess its impact ”.

The prestigious award came down the road from TJO in recognition of their “peace-oriented work” and their role in helping to bridge the gaps between different ethnic groups and religions. Cohen’s Istanbul speech explained the orchestra’s creed and the driving force behind its musical production.

“The new musical language that my bandmates and I have created has given us much more than just wonderful musical moments,” he explained to his audience. “He has taught me and my friends, virtuous musicians of the three [main monotheistic] religions – important lessons: that we are much more alike than we think, that we should celebrate the differences between us because this variety generates wealth and, most importantly, that together we can achieve wonderful and spectacular results ”.

Heartwarming words that reflect the spirit and fervor that clearly flow through the veins of Cohen and all musicians.

ESA PASIÓN will make its presence felt tangible on TJO’s Queen from Turkey series, with concerts taking place across the country from November 7 to 25. Sharing the limelight with Cohen leading the stage will be Linet Menasheh, professionally known simply as Linet, an Israel-born singer who enjoys widespread popularity in her parents’ country of birth, Turkey. One of the highlights of the concert will be a performance of “Walls of Clay”, sung in Hebrew and Turkish, which helped bring the TJO to the attention of cultural consumers and the media in Turkey and helped pave the way. the path to the aforementioned award. .

Jerusalem Theater (credit: Rebecca Crown Auditorium)

The orchestra will also perform at the Jerusalem Theater on November 11 (9 pm), as part of this year’s Piano Festival. The festival marks the 230th anniversary of the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with Mozart’s Levant production of the orchestra pulling the works of the famous Austrian composer from Imperial Austria and bringing them closer to this neck of the cultural forests. The concert is based on a fascinating concept and will feature four Mozart-inspired works, written by Guy Mintus, Nizar Elkhater and Professor Michael Wolpe, with all three playing their own solo pianist lists alongside the ensemble. Wolpe is also the founding artistic director of the Piano Festival.

The innovative form of musical communication that Cohen pointed out at the Golden Lens awards ceremony has evolved over time and now has its own nickname. “In the last year it has become known as Levant Music,” he says, adding that it fit in with the official pat on the back that he and his band received in Istanbul. “I mentioned in my speech that for an orchestra that plays Levantine music, it was particularly moving to receive the award in one of the most important Levantine cities in history.”

Cohen says that he has long reflected on intercultural fusion and that it is largely due to the multiple cultural currents that are central to his area of ​​origin. “I have always sought to merge the East and the West, to use the incredible skills of the people in the orchestra and how to present the music to the people in Israel where all the various musical traditions are found, regardless of whether they are of Arabic or Viennese music. European music lives in Israel as in its natural habitat, and not as passing guests. “

His reflections gradually took on sonic form and reached audiences across the country and around the world. “Over the years, a musical style developed whereby the Arabic maqam (place) [system] it takes on Western harmony, and the Eastern rhythm and rhythm take the form of a Western rhythm section, which may even become American in places. “

That’s all well and good, and there are a lot of professionals and fans who are happy to be carried away by the musical flow where it takes them. But there are always the fervent guardians of the roots, the police of the genre who would not tolerate what they considered strange forays into cultural territories that they cherish and sacred.

Cohen was not immune from criticism for his liberal approach to creating hitherto inconceivable stylistic marriages. “During the first years of my career that was considered dismissive. There were those who said that the music was not authentic enough, that I was disrespectful to the source or that I was marketing the music. “

Undeterred, Cohen maintained his cross-cultural continuum and eventually got the go-ahead from the best possible quarters. “I got my stamp of approval in 2016 when I was invited to Morocco to put together an orchestra there.” He was flattered by the offer, but also a little nervous. “I asked them ‘why me?’ I told them that they already have numerous orchestras there. They said they have no one to perform our music like you. ”And so the Symphonyat orchestra became a charming multi-layered musical being.

Cohen’s diverse orchestral activities attract eclectic fan bases around the world. His YouTube clips are getting millions of views, including from Turkey.

In truth, with Polish and Iraqi family roots, Cohen was always going to follow a forked career path. “When I was a kid it wasn’t considered cool to be Mizrahi and then when I was a little older it wasn’t cool to be Ashkenazi,” he laughs. “I was lucky enough to grow up in a house where you could hear [French Romantic classical composer] Camille Saint-Saëns, [Egyptian diva] Oum Kulthoum and [French jazz violinist] Stéphane Grappelli on the same afternoon without saying that one was high culture and the other was low. When I started in the world of music, I couldn’t grasp the stupid idea of ​​hierarchy in music. It just didn’t make sense. “

Cohen and the TJO have made sense to audiences of all cultural and musical trends for some time now, and should summarily woo their audiences at the Piano Festival and later in their new line of series, with intriguing confluences lined with people. like the ethnic rocker. Ehud Banai and the revered singer-songwriter Chava Alberstein on the orchestra’s varied schedule.

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