Israel and the Andalusian province of Spain don't immediately come to mind as musical aficionados. But in the dense intersection of cultures that took place around the 10th and 11th centuries, the musical currents of Spain and the Middle East became inextricably blended.
One contemporary result of that blending turned up at Grand Performances in the California Water Court on Monday in the form of the Israel Andalusian Orchestra. In the first world music event of what promises to be an illuminating summer season at the venue, the 30-piece ensemble presented a program combining elements from Spain, the Middle East and North Africa.
The orchestra's founder and music director, Dr. Avi Ilam-Amzalaz, uses the ensemble to codify and preserve traditional music as well as more current pieces that include a full string section as well as oud, mandolin, guitar, accordion and percussion. The ensemble was an impressive vehicle of sound and rhythm. Performing many of the works in spirited unison passages, they also expanded upon more traditional methods with the use of Western counterpoint and harmony.
Aside from the foot-tapping ensemble work, the highlight of the evening was the remarkable singing of tenor soloist Emil Zrihan. Although he is Moroccan-born, and adept with Arabic styles, his soaring, superbly flexible tenor soloing, especially in cadenza-like passages, clearly reflected the Spanish idioms that eventually led to flamenco, richly symbolizing the Israel Andalusian Orchestra's essential musical franchise.