A Little Night Music on the Mount of Olives

On Sunday evenings at the BYU Jerusalem Center, they have these lovely little concerts featuring some of the best classical and contemporary musicians to be found in Israel. Brooke and I, with our Hebrew U friend Brandon in tow, walked across Mt. Scopus and arrived at the Center last night precisely at 7pm. This is the time that that numbers for potential stand-by tickets are passed out. Good thing we got there just as we did, because the line extended out past the gate with people hoping to get into the empty seats before they ran out.

After getting our number (high 50s, not a good sign), we proceeded to the long balcony behind the main stage area where there are exhibits in cast iron that show what Jerusalem looked like during the times of Solomon, Herod, the Byzantines and the present day. At 7:45 (15 minutes before the concert was was to begin) we hiked up into the Language Resource Center which doubled as a waiting area for the stand-by tickets. And we waited. Patiently.

They called for people with numbers up to 50 and then left the room. I was sure we would be turned away (the program looked very fun and it was obvious other people felt the same way). Finally, the nice woman came back and asked for tickets going up to 60 and we got our three and booked it into the auditorium.

The night's program revolved around a quartet of two oboists, a French horn soloist and a pianist. Although none of the performers belonged to the same orchestras or ensembles, their synchronization and blending was seamless. It had been a while since I'd heard classical music for more than just a few minutes (it brought back happy memories of sitting in a booth at the Classical 89 studios, enjoying the selections as I announced and played them).

Our seats were close to the stage, about eye-level with the performers. The gorgeous view out of the windows behind the performers (for which no photograph can adequately do justice) truly was distracting, for two reasons in particular. First, it is now the month of Ramadan, where observant Muslims fast during the daylight hours and then have a big party each night when they can eat again. To mark this Eid or holy feast, there are colorful, blinking lights hung all over the Old City and intermittent fireworks are sent off following the sunset. While all of that was going on behind the performers, the moon was setting in the western part of Jerusalem and, apropos for Ramadan, it was a perfect waxing crescent. It descended, getting lower and redder as it dipped behind the buildings in West Jerusalem. And the second distraction? The windows behind and around the performers make perfect reflections of them and it was very easy to pretend that there were identical performances occurring outside the concert hall, one hovering ghost-like above the Old City and another occurring surreptitiously in the bushes just south of the performance hall.

The first performances of the evening was of JS Bach's First Trio Sonata, written right after his move to Leipzig and at a time when he was expanding further out from his usual, liturgical compositions. The two oboists and the french hornist were on hand for this section of the concert.

The next piece was Carl Reinecke's Trio for oboe, horn and piano. Obviously, the pianist of the evening was brought out and one oboists beat a hasty exit stage right. Then Schumann's very sweet Three Romances for Oboe and Piano sent the french hornist off-stage. And then we heard Bartok's 6 Romanian Folk Dances for Piano, leaving only the pianist on-stage, somewhat lonely by this time, I'm sure. She brought out the two oboists back out for a very lovely Trio Sonata in C Minor by Johann Joachim Quantz, another favorites of the Baroque period. The pianist bid the audience farewell before the last selection, Beethoven's Variations after Mozart, based on (I believe) a short setting from Don Giovanni called "La ci darem la mano."

The J'lem Center really knows how to put on a good show. We are looking forward to the next few concerts (Spanish and South American music for guitar next week, followed by an a cappella group the following week and then a chamber orchestra the next) and then we'll start the fall season on October 4th with the Israel Kibbutz Choir. We arel looking forward to a year of Sunday Evening Classics.


  1. You big weirdos! You should have taken the car!

    I'm glad you enjoyed the concert, though. =)

  2. I am getting on a plane right now to visit. That just sounds lovely.

  3. I LOVE the Jerusalem center auditorium. How fun!

  4. Your descriptions leave an exact picture in my mind... especially the musicians playing in the bushes. Love to you both, and wish I was there!!!!