Original Abu-Gosh Music Festival
It has become a tradition around Easter time for one of the most interesting musical events in Israel to take place, an event that few real music lovers care to miss. Every Saturday, during the month of May a stream of people could be seen heading in the direction of Abu Gosh-Kiryath Yearim in order to participate in the Music Festival which was held there.
It was quite different from other festivals and from other concerts; the place was unlike other venues and even the audience was not quite the same as the regular concert-going audience. The concerts were performed in a church possessing most remarkable acoustics, which heighten the beauty of the sounds created therein.
The programme was mostly drawn from Christian liturgical music, the performers were mainly Jewish and the audience was a mixed one - Jews, Christians and Moslems. Here, a small island of brotherhood and understanding was created. Here, a common language was wrought - the language of music.
The idea first took shape at meetings which were held for music lovers in the early 'fifties. Professor Felix Gad Sulman used to take his choir from Jerusalem to musical tours in Abu Gosh Church. Its character as a festival emerged in 1957 when the conductor Sigi Stadermann took over the musical direction. To this end he formed the Festival Choir and Orchestra which, during its 15 years of existence (1957-1972), attracted besides amateurs professional musicians from all parts of the country. They were all united by the exciting experience of playing music that was hardly ever performed elsewhere in Israel.
That year, 1957, also saw the formation of the "Association of the Abu Gosh-Kiryath Yearim Music Festival" for the purpose of operating this musical venture. The Committee, which was elected annually by the General Meeting of the Association, was responsible for organizing the Festival; this task was carried out voluntarily and with great devotion.
The enthusiasm, which greeted this new venture in Israel’s musical life, led to the decision to hold additional concerts in large concert halls in the main towns. Thus it was that in 1968 more than 13,000 music lovers were able to enjoy programmes which included J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), G.F. Händel's Messiah and a selection of rarely performed chamber music.
The Festival's reputation grew and its unique character even became known overseas. Since 1965 distinguished soloists have come from abroad to perform in Abu Gosh-Kiryath Yearim and Israelis have also been privileged to hear the Choirs of the Royal Academy of Stockholm and of the London Bach Society.
In 1969 the Festival Choir was invited to participate in two international musical events held in Germany. The first took place at the Academy of Arts in the city of Remscheid and the other one in Bayreuth. In addition, the Choir gave a series of concerts in other German cities. Its repertoire included works by Brahms, Britten, Poulenc, Ben Haim and Israeli folk music. The performances were enthusiastically received by public and critics alike.
It might be assumed that the audience at the Festival was drawn mainly from the older generation of Israelis originating from Europe who still recalled brilliant performances of church music in their countries of origin and who attend the Abu Gosh concerts for nostalgic reasons. But it so happened that Israeli youth forms a considerable part of the audience. Here, a hitherto unknown world was opened before them - the world of church music created by Bach and other great composers. For once these young Israelis were afforded an opportunity of listening to this kind of music in its original setting, text and language.