Monday concert series a highlight of campus cultural life

Gamelan Ensemble performance26 September 2011: It's Monday and the overflow crowd spills onto the stairs by the Department of Musicology’s recital room as the sounds of music begin to fill the air of the Mount Scopus campus. For 45 minutes, students, faculty, staff and Jerusalem music lovers find a haven from the hustle and bustle of work, studies and worries through live music.

Welcome to the Monday Afternoon Free Concert Series — one of Jerusalem's longest running cultural events and a true stronghold of campus cultural life.

For some 40 years, the Hebrew University's Department of Musicology has been offering this concert series every Monday at 1:15 p.m. during the academic year. Starting in the Wise Auditorium on the Edmond J. Safra Campus at Givat Ram and later moving to Mount Scopus when the Faculty of Humanities relocated to the re-established historic campus in the mid-1970s, the series offers a wide array of performers, styles and compositions to music lovers, and is an essential element in the University’s musical community-oriented activities which also include the Hebrew University Orchestra, University Choir and the Gamelan Ensemble, the last of which features Indonesian native instruments and music.

"What is truly special about this series is its range," explains concert series coordinator Dr. Sara Pavlov. "We have soloists, ensembles, and quartets. We offer well-known works as well as original compositions. The periods range from early 15th century music through jazz and contemporary. We also offer ethnic music, including Jewish, Arabic and Israeli. One of our priorities is to promote original works by Israeli composers as well as up-and-coming Israeli performers. Many original Israeli works were played for the first time in our series."

"For me, one the greatest things about the series is the seriousness of the audience," states Anita Kamien, founder of the University Orchestra and head of the University Choir. Kamien became involved with the series when her husband Prof. Roger Kamien was its artistic director. "Many internationally acclaimed artists consent to perform for token sums because the intensity of the listeners helps them in preparing their programs. You need a good audience to perfect your performance — an audience with a true understanding of the emotional effect of the piece. That is why I am such a strong believer in live performances."

"The series is a win-win," says Pavlov. "For the Department and the University it is a wonderful opportunity to give our students a musical education and expose them to a wide variety of works and styles. For faculty and staff, it is a much needed break in which they can relax and recharge before returning to their demanding jobs. For Jerusalemites, it is a chance to enjoy world-class performers for free. And for the musicians, it is a prestigious platform for their talent."

Indeed, the series often marks a student’s first encounter with classical music, opening up an entire new musical world for them as individuals while educating and nurturing a new generation of concert-goers who will ensure that classical music lives on. It also is a natural link to the University Orchestra. "We have had many soloists who performed in the series and then with the Orchestra and vice versa," says Kamien.

The series, which subsists on a relatively small budget, receives dozens of ‘fan’ emails and letters from its devoted listeners. "The concerts are a special cultural experience. They enable music-loving faculty and students to enjoy a cultural break. Music both relaxes and sharpens the intellect, helping the audience to continue their work afterward," writes Naomi Goldblum, a lecturer in psychology.

While the 2011/2012 academic year has not yet started, Pavlov has already received calls from artists wishing to perform. These include the Carmel Quartet (an Israeli string quartet led by Hebrew University musicology doctoral student Yoel Greenberg that has won many prestigious international competitions), internationally renowned violinist Dora Schwarzberg, opera soprano Idit Zamir and Israeli pianist and head of the Arthur Rubenstein International Piano Master Competition Prof. Arie Vardi.

This year, four of the Monday Afternoon concerts are being supported by Dr. Leonard S. Polonsky and Dr. Georgette F. Bennett in memory of Jack Mandel. The remaining concerts in the series — and the series itself — are in need of further philanthropic support in order to continue their vital work and are available to be named in a person’s honor or memory. To provide this crucial support, please contact or click here. For the Department of Musicology’s website, click here

By Gail Lichtman