Lifestyle & Belief

Abu Ghosh Festival Celebrates Vocal Music in Israel


Musician at the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival (Photo: Matthew Bell)

Calling a live music venue "The Crypt" might bring to mind a beer-soaked basement for heavy metal acts. At least the basement part rings true for this place, built over a cistern dating back to the second century.

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Israeli guitarist Adi Cohen offers up a Beatles' classic in the cozy basement of the Crusader-Benedictine Church. It's one of the main stages for the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival. But "The Crypt" is just one of several stages at this celebration of vocal music.

Up the hill is another church.

At a 100-years-old, this one's much newer. But it's the only church in Israel that can fit an audience of 600. Just the kind of place meant to hear choir music by Sergei Rachmaninov.

With a statue of the Virgin Mary looking on from stage left, the Israeli Kibbutz Choir sang some Mendelssohn, some Brahms, and a contemporary piece by American composer Eric Whitacre called "Cloudburst".

In a country that many see as becoming more and more religiously conservative, the vocal music festival seems like an oasis of the secular Israeli life. Observant Jews might frown on the very idea of singing in a Christian house of worship.
But music director Hannah Tzur says that doesn't go for everyone.

"There was a soloist here, one he's religious. And the rabbis are, 'how can you sing in a church?' And so he says, 'God gave all human being Mozart and Shubert, not only for one.'"

In a region where God so often pulls people apart though, it's at least somewhat refreshing to see Israelis visiting a Muslim village to listen to vocal music performed in a Roman-era Catholic church.