Say Now: Shibboleth | For Ensemble (2018) 10’
Commissioned by: the Israel Music Institute for the Israel Contemporary Players
Premiere: Zsolt Nagy: Conductor, Israeli Music Festival 2018, Tel-Aviv Museum of Art, Israel, 17 September, 2018,
I received the commission to write a piece for the 2018 Israeli Music Festival after a period of almost two years in which I've been living outside of Israel as part of my studies, and consequently thinking quite a lot about what the term "Israeli music" actually means.
In its original context, the phrase "Say now: Shibboleth" served as a form of border control, used by the Gileads to protect their territory by identifying and killing the enemy ("Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him" Judges 12, 6). In a modern context the term Shibboleth signifies the words and expressions unique to a particular group of people.
Of all the words starting with "Sh", the word the Gileads picked (Shibboleth is Hebrew for an ear of grain) is to me an emblem of what later became known as the "Mediterranean school" in music. Shibboleth, almost inseparable in my mind from Shibboleth Basade, one of the most well-known Israeli "folk" songs, symbolizes many Israeli composers' attempts to define their musical territory, so to speak, by incorporating "local" sounds into their works, trying to connect to a certain sense of rootedness.
One might be critical today about the approach of the "Mediterranean school", for its orientalism and the ideology it represents. Nevertheless, I find myself, especially in the last two years, often returning to it and "negotiating" with it through my music, only to discover that the basic questions underlying it are still very much relevant and open. A critical part of my writing process consists of putting myself though a kind of "Shibboleth test", a sort of private test of belonging. This is my attempt to examine and distill the materials, ideas and traditions which I wish to include in my work and define as my own.