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The Justice (October 18, 2005)

Crossing borders with music

by Jonathan Fischer

To Yuval Ron, an artist's responsibilities extend far beyond simply entertaining an audience.

The Israeli musician's ensemble will appear in both concert halls and classrooms around campus next week as part of the MusicUnitesUS Intercultural Residency Series. The seven-person ensemble-whose members are from Israel, Iran, Armenia, Lebanon, France and the United States-creates chamber music that draws inspiration from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim musical traditions.

"Their sound-you can almost smell the cooking of the Middle East, or the deserts of night," said Prof. Judith Eissenberg (MUS), founder and director of MusicUnitesUS and second violinist for the Lydian String Quartet. "It's haunting, it's passionate, it's soulful, it's virtuosic."

By combining traditional instrumentation, songwriting and dance, the group hopes to stress the roots of those religions by exploring their aesthetic commonalities.

"I put together this ensemble about five years ago in order to do something in the face of the intense violence of the second intifada," Ron said. "Our work is mainly focused on education and creating a place for people to work on peace."

They will be joined by Tamra-henna, an "Arabic folkloric" dancer.

During their week-long visit, the Yuval Ron ensemble will perform a number of concerts, as well as host discussions in classes in the Sociology, Music and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies departments. They will also lead workshops with Waltham students and participate in panel discussions and other events with faculty and other lecturers and performers.

The visit concludes Saturday with a concert that will also close the Crown Center for Middle Eastern Studies' conference, "Israel and the Palestinians: The Road Ahead."

According to its Web site, MusicUnitesUS's mission "is to further the understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures through music." It was founded three years ago by Eissenberg, and consists of three parts: a Public School Education Program, a World Music Series and an Intercultural Residency Series, the program's newest arm.

"It's based on the idea that the arts and cultural expression provide windows into the lives of people in different cultures in a way that hearing about them or reading about them can't do," said series chair Cynthia Cohen.

Eissenberg said the Yuval Ron ensemble is ideal for MusicUnitesUS's first Residency series because of its resonance with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the subject of the Crown Center conference.

She said MusicUnitesUS aims to infuse discourse on building peace with "the Artist's Way," a concept stressing "the value of process over a particular goal."

"When I sit down to learn a Beethoven quartet, I don't imagine that, first of all, I can do it in a week, and second, that I'll ever really be done," she said, "The age of enlightenment was really helpful by getting us to think with our minds a lot, but did we take the soul out? Maybe we should put some of the soul back in and not just tape it on, but integrate into our discussions and get to know each other..."

Since its founding, MusicUnitesUS has brought thousands of Waltham public school students to Brandeis for music and education performances. Last year, the Orchid Ensemble and Peru Negro performed as part of the World Music Series.

So far, Eissenberg said, the programs for Waltham students have proven the most successful. But she hopes that, over time, the residency program will leave an even more tangible legacy.

"If this happens just once, and that's all, then it was a neat thing which was a heck of a lot of work for me," Eissenberg said. "But if it can happen with another culture ... then we go our separate ways and then we come again and each time, pay specific attention to a political issue or a world event or a culture, a different way of looking at things, and then over time, something will happen because of this."

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