Israel and the Performing Arts
Israel has a wealth of cultural activity that reflects both its ethnic diversity and its cosmopolitanism. Innovation and experimentation cross-pollinate traditional forms, creating an exciting Israeli performing-arts scene infused by West and East. Look for listings in sections of the Friday Haaretz (“The Guide”) and The Jerusalem Post (“Billboard”), and in the magazine Time Out, all available free in many hotels. The latter now has a Tel Aviv–oriented digital edition (www.facebook.com/TimeOutIsrael).
Classical and Opera
Israel’s traditionally strong suit was enhanced a generation ago by a wave of immigrant musicians from the former Soviet Union. Apart from the deep reservoir of local talent, a steady stream of visiting artists, ensembles, and even full operatic companies enrich the scene every year. The world-renowned Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (www.ipo.co.il) is based in Tel Aviv but plays concert series in Haifa and Jerusalem as well. Look for the Jerusalem Symphony (www.jso.co.il) and Haifa Symphony Orchestras (www.haifasymphony.co.il) in their respective cities, but they and a host of smaller orchestras and ensembles appear in other, often remote, venues, too. Chamber music listings are full and varied: check out intimate auditoriums like the Felicja Blumental Center, the Israel Music Conservatory (Stricker) and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Tel Aviv; the Jerusalem Music Center (Mishkenot), the Eden-Tamir Center (Ein Kerem), and various churches in the Holy City; and the Rappaport Hall and Tikotin (Japanese) Museum in Haifa.
The Israeli Opera (www.israel-opera.co.il), resurrected in the mid-1990s, stages up to 10 productions per season (November to July), including a crowd-pleasing extravaganza at the foot of Masada (near the Dead Sea) toward season’s end. Its home base, the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center (TAPAC), hosts smaller operatic and musical events as well.
Noteworthy annual festivals include the multidisciplinary Israel Festival (Jerusalem, May to June, www.israel-festival.org.il), the biannual Abu Ghosh Vocal Festival (near Jerusalem, May and October, www.agfestival.co.il), and three chamber music festivals: Upper Galilee Voice of Music (Kibbutz Kfar Blum, July), Eilat (Eilat, April to May, www.eilat-festival.co.il) and Jerusalem International (Jerusalem, August to September, www.jcmf.org.il).
Israeli rock bands and pop balladeers fill radio playlists and venues around the country. Popular watering holes are Tel Aviv’s Goldstar Zappa Club (03/649–9550), Barby (03/518–8123), and Hangar 22 (in the Port). Big foreign acts like Paul McCartney, Madonna, and Uriah Heep will take over TAPAC or the outdoor Yarkon Park.
Jerusalem doesn’t rock nearly as much as Tel Aviv, but look for cool gigs at The Lab (Hama'abada, 02/629–2001) and Yellow Submarine (02/679–4040). The weeklong midsummer International Arts and Crafts Fair in Sultan’s Pool, just outside Jaffa Gate, offers good Israeli acts nightly for no extra charge.
Jazz, Ethnic, and World Music
Israeli jazz has come of age with Eilat’s Red Sea Festival (www.redseajazzeilat.com), a summer fixture on the international calendar, and local artists like trumpeter Avishai Cohen and his siblings crashing the New York scene. Tel Aviv’s Shablul Jazz is the premier club, but pubs like Mike’s Place can be hot as well. Middle Eastern influences are common in Israeli pop songs––that’s a given––but even the quintessentially New World genre of jazz hasn’t escaped fusion with Yemenite or Ethiopian sounds.
The Jerusalem International Oud Festival celebrates a musical tradition that extends from Spain to India (www.confederationhouse.org).
The Upper Galilee mountain town of Tzfat (Safed), home of 16th-century Jewish mysticism, is the setting for the annual Klezmer Festival (www.safed.co.il). Three mid-August days of fiddles, clarinets and Eastern European schmaltz.
The veteran Ein Gev Festival in April, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, is devoted to Hebrew songs, much of them in a choral format (www.eingev.com).
Israel owes its visibility on the world dance radar to modern, not ballet. Still, if tradition speaks to you, check the listings for the Tel Aviv–based Israel Ballet (www.iballet.co.il) or the more contemporary Jerusalem Dance Theater (02/679–5626).
The center of Israeli modern dance is the finely restored Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre in Tel Aviv’s historic Neveh Tzedek neighborhood (www.suzannedellal.org.il). Its four performance halls are home ground for the veteran and world-renowned Batsheva Dance Company (www.batsheva.co.il)––with legendary artistic director Ohad Naharin––and the Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company (www.inbalpinto.com). The center’s season peaks with Summer Dance, a two-month feast of top local and international talent. Tel Aviv Dance is an autumn festival, while December brings the more intimate yet more intense International Exposure.
The field is much wider, however. The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (www.kcdc.co.il) has a fine reputation, and the Jerusalem-based Vertigo Dance Company (www.vertigo.org.il) takes the audience into new territory. (Ensembles are constantly on the road: regardless of their home base, they might be performing near you.) The Israel Festival brings top-class acts to Jerusalem, and the capital now enjoys its own dance festival, Machol Shalem, in December.
Theater in Israel is almost exclusively staged in Hebrew, with the exception of Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater (www.cameri.co.il), which presents some of its popular productions with English subtitles.
The Israel Festival (www.israel-festival.org.il) in Jerusalem is the place to take in an array of the best of the performing arts over two weeks in May.
Language may not matter at Jerusalem's annual International Festival of Puppet Theater (www.traintheater.co.il) in August.
Israel has a thriving film industry. The best movie meccas are the Cinematheques in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem (www.jer-cin.org.il). Most Israeli films have English subtitles. Real film buffs note the July dates of the Jerusalem International Film Festival. The Haifa Cinematheque has a similar festival in September and October (www.haifaff.co.il).
Tel Aviv celebrates White Nights on the last Thursday in June—an all-night bash when most major museums, theaters, and clubs stay open.
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