For­ward move­ments

The dou­ble bass path of Omar Far­joun Bishara

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By BARRY DAVIS

Omar Far­joun Bishara has a lot to give. Okay, so he’s 15 years old, and what teenager doesn’t have so much to of­fer? But this young man en­cap­su­lates much of what this part of the world is about, and then some.

Far­joun Bishara plays dou­ble bass in the Young Is­rael Phil­har­monic Orches­tra (YIPO). The Jerusalem Mu­sic Cen­ter-based en­sem­ble is the coun­try’s lead­ing ju­nior clas­si­cal mu­sic body. It com­prises around 100 young­sters, aged 14-18, and per­forms sev­eral pro­grams dur­ing the course of the year, in­clud­ing a run of Hanukkah-time con­certs. It will play a wide-rang­ing reper­toire of works, by Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Noam Sher­rif, start­ing on Sun­day (8 p.m.) at the Haifa Au­di­to­rium, fol­lowed by the Jerusalem The­ater on the mor­row (7 p.m.) and clos­ing at the Charles Bronf­man Au­di­to­rium in Tel Aviv on De­cem­ber 12 (8 p.m.).

The bass was not the teenager’s first in­stru­ment and, even then, he didn’t ex­actly start mak­ing mu­sic from the cra­dle. “I be­gan on pi­ano,” he says. “I think I was around nine or 10.” I sug­gest that isn’t par­tic­u­larly early. “That’s true,” he says, “but you can start learn­ing the pi­ano at any time re­ally, as long as you are still a child. The vi­o­lin is some­thing else. You re­ally need to start on that when you are 5 or 6, cer­tainly no later than 7.”

We chat in English, al­though Far­joun Bishara has a de­cent com­mand of He­brew. He was born in Lon­don to an Arab-Is­raeli fa­ther and Jewish-Is­raeli mother. The fam­ily re­lo­cated to Spain when he was still small, and he came here to live when he was 10. But, prior to that, he had a stint with his pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents in Nazareth. “At the time I wanted to im­prove my Ara­bic,” he ex­plains. ”When I was a kid, my fa­ther spoke to me in Ara­bic, my mother spoke to me in He­brew and I spoke English at school. But I didn’t agree to that. I said I only want English.” He had a change of heart when he was around nine, hence the Nazareth foray. How­ever, that didn’t stick and he re­turned to Spain. “I don’t speak Ara­bic now,” he says. But he does play the dou­ble bass and, ap­par­ently, he does it well. You don’t get to join the YIPO just be­cause you have a pretty face.

Con­sid­er­ing the pi­ano is ba­si­cally a per­cus­sive in­stru­ment, of course with an abun­dance of melodic op­tions, per­haps that was a nat­u­ral con­tin­uum for Far­joun Bishara. “My par­ents told me that, when I was very young, I liked drum­ming on all kinds of things,” he ob­serves. “I don’t know if that means any­thing,” he adds with a laugh.

And there may be some genes in the young­ster’s tal­ent mix. “My grand­fa­ther, on my fa­ther’s side, was a pro­fes­sional oud player. I never heard him be­cause he died when I was a few months old. But I was told he was very good. I see his oud hang­ing up in his house.”

Still, had Far­joun Bishara not cur­tailed his lan­guage-ori­ented time here he may very well not have laid his nim­ble fin­gers on a dou­ble bass at all. “From a very young age I liked to lis­ten to Mozart pi­ano sonatas, on my head­phones. The truth is I don’t lis­ten to them any­more, be­cause I have dis­cov­ered so much other mu­sic – mainly or­ches­tral mu­sic.” Mozart’s ap­proach suited his emerg­ing mu­si­cal con­scious­ness. “The most amaz­ing thing about Mozart is his sym­phonies. He was ac­tu­ally very im­por­tant for the line of the bass, and he gave some very hard parts for the bass.” Sonic en­ve­lope con­sid­er­a­tions also come into play here. “You can’t have more than three or four basses in Mozart. With Beethoven or Mahler you can have up to 12. With Mozart you can’t have more than three or four, but they have to be good bass play­ers.”

The tran­si­tion from pi­ano to bass was the re­sult of a chance en­counter. Af­ter spend­ing a few months in Nazareth, dur­ing which he not only worked on his Ara­bic, he also – hap­pily – fur­thered his pi­ano stud­ies at the lo­cal mu­sic school, he went back home, to Spain. “There was a con­ser­va­tory all my friends went to, and there was a [mu­sic] sum­mer camp too. One day there I saw this kid – he was, maybe, eight, nine, 10 years old – play­ing the bass so beau­ti­fully. I thought, I want to play bass too.”

And so it came to be. When the new school year be­gan he de­clared his new in­stru­men­tal in­tent, and the rest is evolv­ing his­tory. “That small crazy kid got me to play the bass,” he laughs. “I wasn’t aware of all the great things that ex­ist in or­ches­tras, at the time, for the bass.”

A few months later and things got a lit­tle dif­fi­cult on the Far­joun Bishara do­mes­tic, which prompted a longer term re­turn here. “It wasn’t be­cause I am a Zion­ist, or want­ing to be a Jew,” he notes. Af­ter set­tling in with his ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents, in Jerusalem, he be­gan at­tend­ing the high school next to the Jerusalem Academy of Mu­sic and Dance. His teacher there, bassist Eran Borovich, helped move his young charge along in the req­ui­site di­rec­tion. “In Spain I used a French bow, but he changed me to a Ger­man bow.” That proved to be a de­ci­sive move. “The orches­tra I fell in love, which my teacher told me about, and which I started watch­ing, is the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic. I would see these bassists play­ing, and think how do they do that? I started see­ing the orches­tra play­ing sym­phonies of Mahler and Bruck­ner. I had no idea that some bass line, which is so dif­fi­cult in a crazy way, ex­isted. I was amazed. They jumped with the bow. I couldn’t be­lieve my eyes!”

Three years into his bass stud­ies, he found him­self rub­bing shoul­ders, and bow­ing, along with quite a few other tal­ented young­sters. “The Jerusalem Mu­sic Cen­ter con­tacted my teacher and asked him if he had any stu­dents to sug­gest for the Young Phil­har­monic. Eran is a great player and a great teacher. He is so ex­cited to teach. He ex­per­i­ments with me and he tells me what con­duc­tors told him.”

It was an in­cre­men­tal step for­ward for the bud­ding bassist. “I was very happy. I was get­ting ex­pe­ri­ence with an orches­tra I had no idea ex­isted. The first time I was shocked. I re­mem­ber we played a Men­delssohn sym­phony. I couldn’t play half the notes,” he chuck­les. “But it was great.”

It has been go­ing swim­mingly ever since. “The fol­low­ing sum­mer we played Beethoven’s Sev­enth, and I was given the part of prin­ci­pal bassist. I was very happy.”

Things just got bet­ter and bet­ter. “Zvi Carmeli, who is our con­duc­tor now – he is a great con­duc­tor – was work­ing on the Hu­ber­man Project, which took us to Switzer­land and Italy, and he was look­ing for a bassist. He came to the [Beethoven] con­cert, and a few days later he called me and asked me to play on the project. I said I’d love to.”

Far­joun Bishara con­tin­ues to tickle the ivories, in tan­dem with his bass en­deavor, and says it is a fruit­ful cross-in­stru­men­tal con­flu­ence. “The fact that you play the pi­ano helps you to vi­su­al­ize chords. That’s why it’s oblig­a­tory to learn pi­ano for a cou­ple of years, at some point in your stud­ies in a con­ser­va­tory.”

While he im­merses him­self in his clas­si­cal pro­gres­sion, the teenager is not averse to less struc­ture sounds. “I like jazz,” he says. “I like dif­fer­ent jazz bassists, like [81-year-old] Ron Carter, and [Is­raelis] Avishai Co­hen and Adam Ben Ezra.” The lat­ter is on the ros­ter of next week’s Jerusalem Jazz Fes­ti­val. Far­joun Bishara doesn’t es­chew im­pro­vi­sa­tional lines of in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion, and is happy with the in­clu­sion of the Sher­rif piece in the YIPO’s cur­rent reper­toire. “I like con­tem­po­rary works, in­clud­ing atonal mu­sic, by com­posers like [85-year-old Krzysztof] Pen­derecki, Shostakovich – I like him al­though I’m not sure if he’s con­sid­ered atonal.”

For now the teenager is keep­ing his op­tions open. “I like to play jazz. I’d like to learn how to im­pro­vise.” He says there is no an­ti­thet­i­cal di­vide to be bridged here. “You know, as clas­si­cal mu­si­cians we stick to the notes. But, in the Baroque era, ev­ery­one im­pro­vised all the time. No­body stuck to the notes. Mozart, in his pi­ano con­cer­tos, in the ca­den­zas – where the orches­tra stops play­ing and the pi­anist can show off – he would im­pro­vise all the time.”

Far­joun Bishara is not only a tal­ented mu­si­cian, he is an en­gag­ing in­ter­locu­tor. Our in­ter­view slot sped by and it was soon for him to rush back to the re­hearsal room. “I am so glad to be with this orches­tra,” he says. “You don’t find some­thing like this any­where in the world – not only in terms of the level. I’m sure there are many very high level youth or­ches­tras around. They are very open, and are look­ing for new ways of ex­pres­sion. The fact that we are not al­ways with the same con­duc­tor, I like that. And now we are with Zvi Carmeli, who is great. He looks at the bassists a lot. Ev­ery­one does.”

For tick­ets and more in­for­ma­tion: (02) 509-0300.

(Dubi Har-Even)

OMAR FAR­JOUN BISHARA: From a very young age I liked to lis­ten to Mozart pi­ano sonatas, on my head­phones.

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