Spectrum Music Artistic Director Ben Dietschi sat down with Noam Lemish, a key proponent of an exciting new cross-cultural music collective in Toronto. I = I (The Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative) debuts a new concert on Tues, March 31st! Tickets are sold out online, but we’ve heard that a handful are available at the door. Find out more on the I = I website .
1. It seems that your collective I = I strives to use music as a medium of communication between the Jewish, Israeli, and Iranian communities. How and why did you feel it important to involve those particular communities?
As you know, Israel and Iran are two nations that are in a state of diplomatic and political hostility. Yet, we believe that as individuals and communities, here in Toronto, we have the power to transcend this perception and present an alternative. Instead of conflict, our narrative is one of collaboration, dialogue and celebration. The history of Jewish and Persian cultural exchange, musically and beyond, extends back thousands of years. I feel we are simply continuing on that path!
2. You’re no stranger to cross-cultural exploration. In 2010 you were in Bhutan, and composed “The People’s King”, a multicultural, multi-movement suite bringing together classical Western music, jazz, and traditional Bhutanese folk music. Do you see your work with I = I as an extension of this exploration? Why is it important to you to cross cultural boundaries with music?
It’s certainly possible to view my work with I=I as an extension of my interest in transcultural exploration though I don’t think it has always been a conscious choice. My entire musical training, my musical tastes and indeed my life (having grown up between Israel and the US) reflect a transcultural reality. The music that excites me, that comes out of me simply reflects who I am. What I find special about my involvement with I=I is that it allows me to pursue a different kind of life long aspiration: to use my work as an artist to promote and advocate for the kinds of values I believe in, namely co-existence, compassion and non-violence.
3. The ensemble for your concert looks like a stellar lineup! Can you tell us a little about the performers?
Aside from compositions and performances by collective members Dan Deutsch, Parisa Sabet and myself, we are delighted to have two very special guests for this concert. Saeed Kamjoo, a world renowned Kamanche player from Montreal, will join us to perform arrangements and improvisations based on Israeli and Iranian folk music. The second guest is Israeli conductor Shalom Bard (Resident conductor of the TSO 2012-2014 and TSYO Conductor). Each one of the pieces premiered in this concert is written for a slightly different ensemble. The performers include Izabella Budai (flute), Mara Plotkin (clarinet), Rebecca MacLeod (violin), Steve Sang Koh (violin), Maxime Despax (viola), Sebastian Ostertag (cello), Pei-Chen Chen (piano) and Michelle Colton (percussion).
4. At Spectrum, we focus on presenting almost entirely brand new works. Your programme is also entirely world premieres. Could you tell us more about the pieces?
Parisa’s piece is titled Bamdad which in Farsi means “Dawn”. Its inspired by Persian and Israeli-Jewish folk tunes. The tunes are showing the beauty of these two cultures, but there are chaotic moments that show the sometimes strained relations between these countries over the years. As the piece unfolds these two tunes find their way to live in peace. Dan’s composition Three Movements Inspired by Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát reflects the encounter of a composer that spent most his life in Israel, with Iranian culture. Without any explicit stylistic references to Iranian or Israeli culture, Dan expresses the emotional content underlining Khayyám’s selected poems, and especially the possibility of lightheartedness in light of human mortality. My piece is titled “Bakesh Shalom Verodfeyhu” which in Hebrew means, “Pursue Peace”. It’s composed for clarinet and string quartet and draws its inspiration from two popular Israeli songs.
5. Tell us about your most memorable performance experience.
Different performances are memorable in different ways. For example, I certainly think of performing excerpts from my suite “The People’s King” in front of the King of Bhutan in 2010 as a great highlight. A different kind of memorable experience can, and has occurred on what may seem like an ordinary evening at a jazz club or any kind of venue where the band just clicks in this special way. When that happens you feel so connected to each other as performers, to the music, to the audience, to the moment and the self disappears and it just feels ecstatic. Those moments and the feelings they evoke become etched in the memory!