Monday, October 27, 2008
'palestine aloud' in cadogan hall
Celebrating a Catastrophe
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 27 October 2008
At the end of ‘Palestine Aloud’, a cultural celebration held in London’s Cadogan Hall last Wednesday night, the General Secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Betty Hunter came on stage to thank those who had made the evening such a success. She paid particular tribute to the staff of the Hall, who had “come under pressure not to allow this evening to go ahead”.
The 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel is being celebrated by numerous cultural happenings in countries including Britain. But, as Hunter’s remark suggests, it was always going to be difficult to mount a cultural event in a major London venue to mark the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe).
In the weeks leading up to ‘Palestine Aloud’, the administration of the Cadogan Hall was subjected to complaints and pressure from certain quarters. The weekly Jewish Chronicle reported that the Hall had apologized for any upset caused by the notice of ‘Palestine Aloud’ in the brochure of its autumn season.
The apology was in response to a complaint to the Cadogan’s general manager Adam McGinlay and senior executives over an advertisement in the brochure. The advertisement noted that “2008 is the 60th anniversary of the nakba (catastrophe) when thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in the wake of the establishment of the state of Israel, and this concert is dedicated to them.” The advertisement said it was in support of PSC, and gave the Campaign’s web address.
The complainant said that it was wrong for the Cadogan to “take such a one-sided view on an emotive political subject like this” and added: “What about the civilian population of Sderot in Israel, who live under a daily barrage of indiscriminate Palestinian rockets – any opinion or concert for them?”
McGinaly responded that he was “personally unhappy” to receive such a complaint, and added: “I sincerely apologize if we have, albeit unwittingly, angered or upset you. This was never our intention, as we aim to present cultural concerts celebrating music the world over.”
He said he had taken up the matter with PSC, which had told him that the concert would be a cultural event with no political speeches. PSC had said: “Our aim in this event is to promote Palestinian culture, particularly as in the West most people only know about Palestine through the conflict and politics.” The Hall’s marketing manager Lisa McFaul pointed out that the Hall has previously hosted the Israel Philharmonic orchestra and an event run by the Jewish Music Institute.
One of those participating in ‘Palestine Aloud’, the veteran Jewish stage and screen actress Miriam Margolyes (pictured), attracted controversy before the event with criticism of Israel. During an appearance as guest of the week on the BBC Radio 4 series Desert Island Discs she said that while being Jewish is very important to her, “I have to mention also that I reject many of the things that I see in the Jewish world, and I passionately object to the way that Israel is dealing with Palestine.”
She added: “I have been castigated by many Jews who feel that I am betraying my people, and I can’t help it, I have to say what I believe. And I am a proud Jew but I am also an ashamed Jew.”
Margolyes was unable to attend ‘Palestine Aloud’ in person, but she appeared via a video link and, after stating that she is a Jew but not a Zionist, she read from the Palestinian author Suad Amiri’s darkly comic book “Sharon and my Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries”.
The director of ‘Palestine Aloud’, Poppy Burton-Morgan, explained in her Welcome Note in the program that last year she and her partner Will Reynolds (lighting and projection designer of the evening) last year had “the privilege of visiting Palestine”. They had been working on a Choir of London production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” which toured the West Bank, directed by actor and theatre director Sam West. Burton Morgan said: “It was a life-changing experience for us both and I must thank Sam from the bottom of my heart for asking me to replace him when he had to pull out as director for tonight’s show.”
Burton-Morgan added: “Tonight is not a night of political protest but rather a night of performance – a celebration of Palestinian life and culture.” It was “not merely a lament for the horrors of the past – the nakba whose anniversary this event commemorates – but also a celebration of the thriving Palestinian culture of the present and more optimistically a declaration of hope for the future.”
The Cadogan Hall is located near Sloane Square in the upmarket Chelsea area of London. It seats more than 900 people, and the program of ‘Palestine Aloud’ made the most of the spacious venue. Changing images of Palestinian scenery were projected behind the stage throughout the evening.
There was a line-up of excellent musicians. The Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani, accompanied by pianist Bruno Heinen, opened the evening with “Galilean Medley”. Later in the program the duo performed “Ode to the Downtrodden” by Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish.
The Palestinian singer, composer and oud player Marwan Abado travelled with his percussionist Peter Rosmanith from Vienna for the event. Abado was born in Beirut in 1967 as a refugee, and moved to Vienna in 1985. He and Rosmanith (pictured, photo credit Bettina Frenzel)
have developed a distinctive and original sound, with warmth and intimacy: they performed “Rain” and “On the Street”. In two affecting performances, Jordanian pianist Tala Tutunji, who studied music at Trinity College of Music in London, performed a Samuel Barber cello and piano sonata with cellist David Lale, and “Elegy” by Amo Babadjanian.
The British musicians included two of the country’s most acclaimed guitarists, John Williams and John Etheridge. Williams performed Recuerdos de la Alhambra composed by Francisco Tarrega. The two guitarists played “Ragajuma”, which is associated with the Senegalese singer El Hadj N'Diaye. The Choir of London (pictured, credit Jim Four 2006) an admirably talented and spirited assembly of 30 young singers, sang “Magnificat” by Giles Swayne and “Song of Songs” by Clemens non Papa.
The readers during the evening included actor Corin Redgrave (brother of Vanessa Redgrave) and his actress wife Kika Markham, who are long-time stalwart supporters of the Palestinian cause. They read extracts from the Palestinian lawyer and author Raja Shehadeh’s book “Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape”, which won the Orwell Prize for political writing earlier this year. Their readings captured the ironic tone of the encounter between the narrator and an Israeli settler whom he comes across smoking hashish alone in the countryside.
The Lebanese novelist Hanan Al-Shaykh and the author and former associate foreign editor of the Guardian, Victoria Brittain, read the Arabic original and English translation of the late Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Not as a Foreign Tourist Does”. Jordanian Samer Raimouny read from his own poem “Diaspora of the Soul: (The Taboo of Allahu Akbar”).
The distinguished actress Juliet Stevenson read “What She Said” by poet Lisa Suhair Majaj, in which a mother living in the shadow of occupation and violence warns her child not to play outside. Another major British actor, Jeremy Irons, read Nathalie Handel’s poem “Bethlehem” by video link.
The finale of the evening was a specially-commissioned work by the young composer Jessica Dannheisser to the words of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “I am from There”. The new work suited both the occasion and the grand scale of the Cadogan Hall. It brought on stage the Choir of London together with all the readers and musicians from the evening, and the Choir of London. Reem Kelani was the soloist in the dramatically moving commission.
PSC General Secretary Betty Hunter said the evening had been “a really amazing celebration of Palestinian culture”, which showed the increasing support for the Palestinians in the world of arts and culture. But with the 60th anniversary of the nakba coming to a close there is no sign that things are improving; instead there is more death and more silence. Many in the Hall would have agreed with her concluding words: “It is time to end this silence”.