Bat Shir Choir gives voice to Chinese New Year.
The time is nearly midnight, and Tali Weisman is on a drive from Shanghai to Suzhou, after nearly 24 hours on the roads, yet she her voice is full of sizzling energy:
“We just did a two hour concert—half of it acapella and half accompanied by piano—in a huge venue in Shanghai, an acoustic hall with sitting capacity of 2000. Now we are on our way to Suzhou’s Opera House, where we will take part in a production of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus on Saturday, with a cast of top singers from the Israeli Opera.”
Weisman is the conductor of Bat Shir Choir ever since it was founded in 2000. The choir, an initiative of Haifa Municipality, “went through many changes since its early days, turning from a children choir into a choir offering educational continuum for singers aged 6 to 30, currently boasting some 80 vocalists in four age groups.
“Five years ago Bat Shir became Haifa Symphony’s choir in residence, which means we perform with the orchestra on a permanent basis in all its classical series, in operas twice a year, in the family series, the big band shows etc., so it’s very intensive, but the children get to perform on very professional stages from the age of eight or nine, in family concerts and narrated concerts.
“True, usually the older ones are those who get to perform on stage, at ages 14-15 and up, but not too seldom the younger ones are required as well: next month the young and the older ones will sing in Mahler’s 3rd, as it calls for a boys choir; last year we had a very big concert with the Israeli Philharmonic, performing a piece written specifically for children. And apart from that we also turn to more ‘personal’ choir materials and acapella singing.”
Members of Bat Shir Choir hail from local schools, but some come especially from further places to acquire this unique kind of extra-curricular education: “they get singing lessons, they learn solfeggio, and earn a high level of musical education and professional training, so that by the time they perform on stage they have the tools required for the job. For the last four or five years we have performed regularly in operas; we have Figaro ahead of us and in the summer we did Tosca and Carmen. Very diverse materials.”
The choir does not travel with the orchestra despite their association. “On the current trip we are a delegation of 42 people, under the patronage of Haifa Symphony and Ethos (The Haifa Municipality Art, Culture and Sports Association Company). The symphony’s conductor and musical manager is maestro Xu Zhong, Principal Director of the Fondazione Arena di Verona and General Director of Shanghai OperaHouse; he created the connections with China, with the help of Motti Eines, the symphony’s General Director. The concerts are part of the festivities of the Chinese New Year.”
“We are still jetlagged from the crazy drive to get here. It was a very long day, we are still on the road, and tomorrow we have to start rehearsing for the operetta. But that’s part of the game and it’s a great experience that’s worth it all.”
It turned out that the Chinese audience felt the same. Both halls were filled to capacity with a total of some 3,000 spectators who applauded loudly and swayed to Israeli classics such as Kol HaKavod (from Kazablan), Ve’ulay, Yom Yavo and Sheharhoet among others in Shanghai, and exploded with bravi at the conclusion of Die Fledermaus in Suzhou. The following reviews were just as ecstatic, crowning the tour as a resonant success.