Ensemble of Babylonian-Diaspora Music May Be Forced to Fold

The Mizrahi Orchestra, an ensemble of musicians specializing in the music of the Babylonian Diaspora, is truly unique: “They play nearly all the [authentic] musical instruments that were heard in the Temple — no other orchestra in Israel does that,” singer-songwriter Avihu Medina tells Haaretz. Unfortunately, the orchestra’s future is looking increasingly bleak. Established in 1998 by Bar-Ilan University professor Vladimir Sabirov, the Mizrahi Orchestra (also known as the Maqam Orchestra) “has nearly ceased to function due to a lack of financial resources, and its members only appear today in smaller ensembles,” reports Haaretz.

“When we started the orchestra, there was no repertoire of works from which to choose. Instead we had to produce new versions and reconstruct a culture that is nearly undocumented in Israel. The Mizrahi Orchestra is different from all others here.”

In its heyday, the ensemble numbered 36 musicians, including experts in 18 classical Eastern instruments, including some that are plucked (oud, dutar and tanbur ), as well as strings (kamancheh, jorza, jizak), winds (duduk, zurna), and percussion (duira, tonbak, darbuka, tabla and dhol).

In contrast to the Andalusian Orchestra, which Takhalov also conducted, the authentic Eastern instruments played in the Mizrahi Orchestra are unfamiliar to most Israelis. Seventy percent of the musicians have a master’s degree in music and a good number studied at Bar-Ilan, he continues, but despite that, most make their living from fields other than music. Many are relatively new immigrants from countries in the former Soviet Union and central Asia, who play alongside Israelis who emigrated years ago from Mediterranean and North African countries. Some of the players, Takhalov notes, are among the only experts in the country in these traditional classic instruments.

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