A majestic mix

It takes one to know one. Approached from a positive viewpoint, it may then follow that musicians make the best artistic directors of music-based festivals. In regard to Shlomi Shaban, one could certainly argue that case.

Over the past decade and a half, the 41-year-old singer-songwriter has developed a stellar career and cemented his position in the local entertainment sector as one of the classiest acts around. Now the pianist-vocalist has turned his attention to the work of his professional counterparts and ensuring that wider cross-sections of the public get value for their concert ticket outlay.

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Next week (Wednesday to Friday), the Elma Arts Complex, near Zichron Ya’acov, will host a new festival called Majesta. It is Shaban’s inaugural attempt at overseeing a full-blown multi-day event, and he seems to have put a lot of thought and creativity into how to get the best out of the participating artists.

Looking at the agenda, Shaban appears to set great store by what he deems to be complementary avenues of artistic attack. There are intriguing pairings; for example, internationally acclaimed singer Keren Ann joining forces with veteran dancer and choreographer Sharon Eyal in a new venture called Get Love in the festival curtain raiser.

The cross-disciplinary line is a feature of quite a few of the festival slots, and there is a distinct flavor of the first timer about many of the concerts, too.

“This festival is special in that almost all the shows are premieres,” Shaban notes. “And there are pre- premieres and shows that were created especially for this festival.”

Naturally, if there’s a first performance, the idea is for more to follow. Shaban certainly hopes so.

“I look forward to all the shows going on long runs after the festival,” he says.

Being the new boy on the artistic directors’ block may bring with it the pressure of having to prove himself. Then again, it also means that Shaban has more a free hand to unfurl a bunch of fresh, and possibly innovative, ideas.

“As an albeit debutant artistic director, I set out to have as many premieres as possible and also to marry different disciplines. The Keren Ann-Sharon Eyal show is a perfect example of what I’d like to have in the coming years,” he says.

Clearly, Shaban hopes and expects the Majesta Festival to enjoy a long entertaining and creative life.

Shaban has done his homework, and the program is studded with stellar performers and quality offerings that should appeal to diverse consumer tastes. Yoni Rechter, Beri Saharoff, jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen, jazz pianists Omri Mor and Shai Maestro, and top pop and rock acts Assaf Avidan, Shuli Rand and Eran Tzur are all in there. Rand’s slot should bring in the crowds with the haredi singer, actor, songwriter, director and scriptwriter unveiling his first new musical project in more than a decade.

“And the location is just amazing,” Shaban enthuses. “Elma is top quality and looks great too.”

It also sounds pretty good, with nifty acoustics and a couple of Steinway pianos to boot. The latter should be put to good use when Mor teams up with Maestro.

It seems the festival program is the result of much forethought but also a certain amount of going with the flow.

“When I called Omri about playing at the festival, I didn’t really had a definite idea about what I wanted him to do,” Shaban recounts. “I thought about a classical music direction. I was interested to see what he might do with works by composers like Ravel or Debussy in general. But Omri out & about television 11 movies dining events highlights said as there were two pianos at Elma, he wanted to realize two dreams – to play that [classical] repertoire and to perform with Shai Maestro. I couldn’t have been happier. I thought it was a great idea.”

In fact, the ivory ticklers will feed off classical and jazz sentiments with a program entitled Between Monk and Debussy, the former referring to modern jazz pioneer Thelonious Monk, whose centenary was marked at jazz festivals around the globe last year.

The Tzur offering is also the product of some serendipity.

“I saw him play at a venue in Tel Aviv a while back, and he was performing ‘Biglal Halayla’ by Hava Alberstein,” Shaban recalls. “I thought he did a really good job. After the gig, I suggested he do a complete album based on songs by female artists. I thought if there’s one man who can understand female complexity, it is Eran.”

Fast forward a year or two, and the off-the-cuff suggestion will now take sonic form at Elma.

“It was a sort of dead-of-the-night chat, but now it is actually happening,” Shaban marvels.

There are points of interest wherever you look during the three days. There will be an ongoing performance slot by voice artist Tomer Damsky and the Oomvaboreg Group, who will put a disused staircase to good artistic use throughout the festival, with their Stairway to Nowhere installation. Those who prefer intimacy to large audience shows might want to try out the 1 X 1 Room, whereby one of the guest rooms of the Elma Hotel will host a string of artists – poets, plastic artists and other performers – who will put on short free shows for one person at a time. Add to that Rechter’s sunset concert in a newly inaugurated amphitheater, in which Shaban will guest, a stand-up comedy show with Tom Aaron, refined vittles courtesy of feted chef Assaf Granit and some surprising alcoholic cocktail combos, and you have yourself one classy first-time festival.

The festival will take place on Wednesday to Friday at the Elma Arts Complex near Zichron Ya’acov. For tickets and more information: *8908 and www.elma-hotel