Jordi Savall Traces Jerusalem's History In Music Jerusalem can trace its roots back to the 4th millennium B.C. Jordi Savall has gathered an international cast of musicians to tell the city's rich history via its three main religious traditions.
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Jordi Savall Traces Jerusalem's History In Music

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Jordi Savall Traces Jerusalem's History In Music

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Tonight at Lincoln Center in New York City, early-music expert Jordi Savall takes his audience to Jerusalem. Savall has earned acclaim for resurrecting forgotten music from the Renaissance and the Baroque era, but this is different. The Jerusalem project speaks to the clash of cultures and religions that has torn the city apart and transports its audience from Biblical days right up to the present, as Lara Pellegrinelli reports.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Jordi Savall says he doesn't believe in formal religion, but that there's something about Jerusalem the city endlessly destroyed and rebuilt by man in his quest for sacred power. Even the topography in the rise of its stony hills calls forth the spiritual.

Mr. JORDI SAVALL (Musician): Jerusalem, it's a city that make you feeling you are very close to the heaven because the clouds, they are very close. Because the city is in a high space, and you feel absolutely different than any other city in the world.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified male: (Singing in foreign language)

PELLEGRINELLI: Jerusalem: City of Heavenly and Earthly Peace was conceived by Savall and his wife, singer Montserrat Figueras. It presents music from the city's seven major historical periods, starting with the Battle of Jericho from the Old Testament. Legend has it, the trumpets of Joshua's army brought down the city walls.

(Soundbite of music)

PELLEGRINELLI: Most early-music specialists are content to pore over treatises and debate instrumental techniques with the goal of accurately realizing the works of past masters. And Jordi Savall has built his reputation over four decades doing just that. But he sees himself in the service of the living.

So, for the Jerusalem project, Savall ditched the books and took to the streets.

Mr. SAVALL: Going from synagogue to mosque, from Armenian church to other churches and listen. Was like, you know, Indiana Jones. So sometimes we have in this small bar, a Sufi singer. It was very exciting. We have seen so many different ways to sing.

PELLEGRINELLI: To realize the music, Savall brought together members of his ensemble, Hesperion XXI, the Sufi players of Al-Darwish, and musicians from 14 countries across Europe and the Middle East. But this is more than just a feel-good project about transcending politics.

Mr. SAVALL: When we go back to medieval times, then we see how the music from these cultures are similar. It's the same spirit.

PELLEGRINELLI: For example, listen to a setting of the Spanish Jewish physician, Judah Halevies'(ph), "Beautiful City Light of the World."

(Soundbite of song, "Beautiful City Light of the World")

Unidentified male: (Singing in foreign language)

PELLEGRINELLI: Then compare with Muslim voyager Ebin Batuta's(ph) "The Dome of the Rock."

(Soundbite of song, "The Dome of the Rock")

Unidentified male: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. KAREN ARMSTRONG (Historian, Author, "Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths"): I think music is being used so creatively in the midst of this Arab-Israeli conflict.

PELLEGRINELLI: Karen Armstrong, a noted religious historian, is the author of "Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths." She says every faith has its sacred geography.

Ms. ARMSTRONG: Each culture has developed a myth of the lost paradise at the beginning of time Garden of Eden, where human beings, animals lived together without enmity. And the holy place in Jerusalem has always been an attempt to return imaginatively through ritual to that sense of what in Hebrew is called shalom, which is often translated peace, but really means a sense of wholeness and completeness.

PELLEGRINELLI: For Savall, the Jerusalem project embodies the great difficulties of living together.

Mr. SAVALL: Sometimes we ask an Egyptian, a very good musician, to come to play with us. We discuss about money, about dates, and then he ask me, but what are the musicians that play here? I say, well, they are Armenian, they are Spanish and Israelis. Oh, if there are Israelis I cannot come. Because I am living 100 kilometers from a place where people are killed by bombs, my people will not understand that I make music with them. You know, I respect this. I mean, it's - this program reflected all the conflicts that we have today in this area.

PELLEGRINELLI: At the end of Savall's performances, musicians intone a plea for peace based on a melody known across the Mediterranean, in Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian and Ladino.

(Soundbite of music)

MUSICIANS: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. SAVALL: My reflection is why we have so much difficult in the reality to bring all these people together? Because we don't give enough space to these aspects of the culture. We can share. We can be together.

PELLEGRINELLI: If people come together in a small place like a concert hall, Savall says, we should be able to do it in a big place. All we have to do is allow people to be human together away from strife.

For NPR News, I'm Lara Pellegrinelli in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

MUSICIANS: (Singing in foreign language)

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