The organization's various musical ensembles tour internationally, including to Europe and the United States regularly, with their current tour including a debut performance last week at New York City's Carnegie Hall with renowned violinist Joshua Bell.
Fortunately local audiences don't need to know how to get to that storied venue: The Polyphony Quartet, a small ensemble from that tour, will perform a special program March 29 at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.
The quartet will be joined by Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza for a program that includes classical works as well as some of Broza's own music, which brings together influences from Spanish flamenco, American folk and rock'n'roll.
The program features Schubert's String Quartet No. 13 in A minor (Rosamunde Quartet) and a selection of David Broza's hits. Abboud Ashkar said the Schubert work was chosen because it's a masterpiece, while audiences can expect to hear a different side to Broza's music.
"These are special arrangements for his songs so you wouldn't hear David Broza sound like that in any other concerts, just with us because we took five of his songs that we liked very much, and we arranged it for a string quartet," Abboud Ashkar said in a Zoom interview from his home in Nazareth.
Itzik Goldberger, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Friends of Polyphony, helps arrange local concerts for the group. The March 29 concert will be the quartet's fourth performance in the Bay Area in four years.
"It is at least as important to give an exceptional musical experience as it is to (highlight) the collaboration between Arabs and Jews in Israel — what we call "common grounds, common sound" basically — and get people exposed to Polyphony: the work that they're doing and the message of Polyphony," Goldberger said.
The mission of Polyphony Education as it exists now was not on Abboud Ashkar's mind when he founded a music conservatory in 2006. Abboud Ashkar himself was a member of West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, another musical organization made up of Jewish and Arab musicians. Daniel Barenboim, co-founder and conductor of that orchestra, backed Abboud Ashkar's efforts to create a music school focused on bringing classical music to the Arab community.
Abboud Ashkar said that the significant gaps between the musical education and opportunities available to Arab students and those available to Jewish students often undercut musical initiatives aimed at uniting the communities.
"Other attempts that brought Arab and Jewish people together through music, I felt that they didn't help anything. On the contrary, they emphasize the differences because the starting point was not equal ... so really the focus was just to help our kids to be world-standard classical musicians," Abboud Ashkar said.
The conservatory began with four Jewish teachers making a long commute to Nazareth from Tel Aviv to teach music, but soon students' performances, including winning awards at competitions, helped the organization to build a reputation and expand its mission, which has now grown to include the Galilee Chamber Orchestra and smaller chamber ensembles now made up of both Jewish and Arab musicians.
Polyphony Education focuses on classical music for several reasons, Abboud Ashkar said, not the least of which is that the rigor of the training required to become a strong classical musician gives performers an almost instant connection, along with the high level of cooperation needed to play together.
"As a group, you (begin) sharing the same feelings and emotions that the music is generating. And that helps connect to others. So I'm very careful about not claiming that music can solve conflicts or that you have played together and then you will be best friends forever, and you won't have any fears or any misconceptions about each other. But it's a wonderful way to start that journey," Abboud Ashkar said.
The Polyphony Quartet performs, March 29, 7:30 p.m. at Albert and Janet Schultz Cultural Arts Hall (Bldg F), Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. Tickets are $30. For more information, visit paloaltojcc.org.
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