Wednesday, 4 July 2018

The session

The day started with breakfast, Israeli style, in a little American-themed cafe on Dizengoff. Israeli breakfast usually involves a side of salad, which just feels wrong!

Today was the big day. The reason why we’re in Israel.

We took a taxi up to the University of Tel Aviv where we recorded the music for 100 Faces with the Israel Camerata. Michael conducted in the concert hall. I hid in the control room with a chap called Rafi who was engineering the session.

We had a lot to record and 100 Faces is not an easy composition. I realised as soon as I’d finished writing it that it was going to sit very squarely in the English string orchestra tradition. There are more than a few shades of Vaughan Williams and Elgar within, but, for a film which is very much about British Jewish people, that feels entirely appropriate.

The orchestra, however, don’t really have English Musical Renaissance as one of their points of reference. Most of them are Russian Jews, many of whom came to Israel in the 1990s after the collapse of communism. I kept wondering what they were thinking: whether they were enjoying the music, relating it somehow to their own musical influences, or just telephoning in their performances in a slightly perplexed manner!

What immediately became apparent was that the orchestra weren’t at all used to playing to a click track (namely the little ticking noise they hear through headphones as they play to keep them strictly in time.) They’re a proper concert chamber orchestra, so their currency is live performance where they cling to the vapour trail of the conductor’s baton. Click tracks for them are confusing and restrictive - and they made their feelings in this regard very clear!

Perhaps as a result, the session felt a little fraught on occasion and what we’ve recorded isn’t by any means perfect because no one could have achieved perfection in just three hours. They are, however, a brilliant orchestra full of quite sublime players, so much of what we recorded was wonderful.

After the session I tried to pay the orchestra and immediately entered a hell zone, entirely created by Barclays Bank, who kept me on the phone for 2 hours (at £1.80 a minute), putting me on hold, making me talk to the fraud team, sending me in ever-decreasing circles. It was a dreadful experience and it utterly ruined any joy I’d had during the session or any desire we had to celebrate. In the end Michael had to pay the orchestra (taking out an over draft in the process). I don’t think I’ve felt so stressed this year. 

After a bit of food, I cheered up, and a lovely swim in the Mediterranean brought the stress levels down again. The beaches in Tel Aviv are quite legendary and it’s possible to wade a long way out before your head vanishes under the water. Rather large fish happily swim about between your legs.

We went for dinner tonight with Michael’s friend, Kobi, and walked for about an hour along the seafront, past the sad shell of a building where, in 2001, twenty-one teenagers queueing for a nightclub, were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. Michael was actually further down the beach in a cafe at the time and describes the bomb as sounding - and feeling - like a sonic boom.

We ate in Tel Aviv’s “first” neighbourhood, the charming and very quiet district of Neve Tzedeq. The cafe was in a little covered street which is accessed only by a door in a wall. It’s like entering Narnia through the wardrobe. It reminded me of Shoreditch in the days before it became over-trendy. We were surrounded by the cool kids of Tel Aviv. There were more white people with dreadlocks per square metre than in Camden Market in the 90s!

A DJ played music as we ate roasted cauliflower and green beans cooked in garlic and lemon juice. I was thrilled when he pulled out a copy of Frida’s Something Going On album, and played one of the tracks.

After tea, we delved even deeper into Neve Tzedeq, which grew more charming with every step. The most lovely corner surrounds Suzanne’s Dance Theatre, which is held up as the institution singularly responsible for gentrifying the area. The wonderful courtyard outside is covered by a canopy of tutus!

It was a charming end to a rather special day.

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