Highlighting Connections Between Jewish and Arabic Music

by Judith Sone

Cellist Uri Vardi brings Fusions Continuum Concerts to the Midwest

By Allison Bloom

vardilowresProfessor of Cello Uri Vardi (Music and Jewish Studies) has performed as a recitalist, soloist, and chamber player across the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, and in his native Israel. In addition to his teaching and performing activities, Vardi has been active in developing the Fusions Continuum project. This project brings together the oud (a lute-like string instrument), cello, and piano in a rarely heard combination of instruments and Arabic and Jewish musical styles. As part of the Jewish Studies Semester of the Arts, Fusions Continuum will be giving concerts in Madison on April 5 and 6, and in Milwaukee on April 6. (More information about the concerts is available here.) I asked Professor Vardi to give us his perspective on the Fusions Continuum project.

Q: How did you become involved with Fusions Continuum?

A: In 1996, pianist/composer Menachem Wiesenberg, oud artist Taiseer Elias, and I created the first Fusions project of Jewish and Arabic art music. This project culminated in a US tour in 1997. The initial project was a result of the curiosity of the three members of the group.

Q: What have you learned from working with this unusual combination of instruments?

A: The beautiful sonority of the blend between the cello and the oud fascinated all three of us. This fascination led to the later commissioning of a double concerto: The Forty Steps for cello, oud, and symphony by Joel Hoffman, which was premiered by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (conducted by John DeMain) with Elias and myself as soloists.

Listen to a sample

Q: How is the music you play with Fusions Continuum related to Judaism or Jewish culture?

A: There is a close relationship between traditional Jewish cantillation—the chanting of the Torah (Ta’amei ha’mikra)—and Arabic music, a relationship that we show in our programming.

The program of the Fusions Continuum concert will include Jewish music (written by both Jewish and non-Jewish composers), traditional Arabic art music, and new compositions written for the unique combination of oud, cello, and piano. It will also include a world premiere of Arabesque, a duo for oud and cello by composer Jan Radzynski.

Q: What do you hope the audience will learn or feel when they attend a Fusions Continuum concert?

A: Our hope is that the audience will enjoy the unique new sonority that our three instruments produce, as well as appreciate the experience of listening to the combination of two different cultures under one roof. We would like to show that people who may have political disputes can share the same stage and create a harmonious experience. We hope that the attendees will see that a mutual respect for our two different cultures can create a new experience of harmony and beauty.

Q: What are your future plans for the ensemble?

A: In the near future, we would like to create a professional recording of the project and bring the music to audiences in other countries.

The Fusions concerts are presented by the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies and the Jewish Federation of Madison. Additional support comes from the UW–Madison School of Music, the Consulate General of Israel, the Anonymous Fund, Global Studies, the Middle East Studies Program, Chai Point Senior Living, the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center (Milwaukee), the Center for Jewish Studies at UW–Milwaukee, and the Milwaukee Jewish Museum.

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