|Founded by Polyphony in 2012, today Galilee Chamber Orchestra boasts equal numbers of Arab and Jewish musicians. Bringing together consummate artists from the nation’s leading orchestras and rising stars from Polyphony Conservatory, the orchestra has appeared at major festivals and venues in Israel and Europe, collaborating with such eminent soloists as Sir András Schiff and the late Lynn Harrell. Artistic Director Saleem Ashkar, who has also appeared with orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony and Royal Concertgebouw, leads Galilee from both the keyboard and podium. Many of the orchestra’s members have gone on to win top prizes and take high-level orchestral positions in Europe and beyond, frequently through the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin.
In summer 2019, Galilee made debuts at the Berlin Konzerthaus, Rheingau Festival and other key German venues, inspiring glowing praise. “So much lightness, brilliance and polished dialogue! That Beethoven symphony could not have been played better!” marveled RBB Kultur Radio. “If you come merely expecting a social project, you are in for an astounding surprise. This was Beethoven at the highest level: tight, racy and dynamic,” agreed Frankfurter Rundschau. Of the orchestra’s rapport with Artistic Director Ashkar, who appeared as both conductor and piano soloist, Hannoversche Allgemeine observed: “One rarely experiences a soloist-conductor in such perfect unity with his orchestra. … This will stay long in our memory.”
Galilee was originally scheduled to make its North American debut in 2020, but this was postponed because of the pandemic. It is only now, then, that American audiences have the chance to see the groundbreaking orchestra for themselves. Led once again by Ashkar, the upcoming Isaac Stern Memorial Concert introduces New Yorkers to Tunisian-born Canadian-American composer Karim Al-Zand (b. 1970), whose works draw inspiration from such varied sources such as graphic art, myths and fables, folk music, film, spoken word, jazz and his own Middle Eastern heritage. Although new to Carnegie Hall, Al-Zand is already the recipient of several national awards, including the “Arts and Letters Award in Music” from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His Luctus Profugis: elegy for the displaced (2016), a lament for string orchestra and percussion, was inspired by the current European migrant and refugee crisis. After a performance of the piece last year, St. Louis’s KDHX reported: “There was not a soul in the audience who was not captivated by this subtle, sensitive work.”
Joined by soloist Joshua Bell, whose numerous honors include a Grammy Award, Mercury Music Prize and induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, Ashkar and the orchestra juxtapose Al-Zand’s work with the beloved First Violin Concerto by Bruch, the German Romantic whose compositions include his famous cello setting of the Jewish Yom Kippur prayer Kol Nidre. The program is bookended by their accounts of two Classical favorites, Haydn’s “Fire” Symphony and Beethoven’s witty and exuberant First.
Three days after their Carnegie Hall concert, Ashkar and the orchestra look forward to making their Canadian debut at Toronto’s Koerner Hall.