Violinist Hanna Khoury, who played a key role in bringing Broadway singer, film and TV star Mandy Patinkin to William Penn Charter School for a special concert this weekend, says he wishes modern politicians would take a cue from musicians.
Khoury, who was born in a small Palestinian village of northern Israel and earned his Master’s degree at Temple, says excelling in music is about more than practice and technique.
“You can never just come in and play without acknowledging the presence of the other, without actually hearing what he has to say,” he explains. “And this is something that we don’t see nowadays, even in politics. People only tell their part of the story, and it’s difficult for them to listen to the other story.”
Khoury hopes that Sunday’s concert, mounted by the Philadelphia-based organization Intercultural Journeys and featuring Arabic and Israeli music and performers side by side, will take people not only on a musical journey, but an emotional one: “you’re able to show some sort of collaboration that may inspire others to do the same in their domains,” he says.
Promoting tolerance, dialogue and peace through music
Singer Mandy Patinkin will take to Penn Charter’s Kurtz Center stage for an eclectic range of songs (including some Broadway favorites) with accompaniment from Khoury, Philadelphia Orchestra cellist and Intercultural Journeys Artistic Director Udi Bar-David, Syrian-Venezualan percussionist Hafez El Ali Kotain, and Broadway pianist Paul Ford.
It’s not the first time Khoury has played with Patinkin; in 2008 they collaborated for a show on the National Mall to commemorate Israel’s 60th anniversary. Khoury met Bar-David in 2006, and when Patinkin contacted Intercultural Journeys seeking an Arab musician to join him onstage, Bar-David recommended Khoury’s violin. Khoury and Patinkin became frequent partners, performing together across the U.S. and Canada.
After Khoury joined the Intercultural Journeys board in May of 2012, he approached Patinkin with the idea of an Intercultural Journeys Philadelphia concert featuring Arabic and Hebrew songs. These days, Patinkin is busy starring in the hit Showtime series, “Homeland,” but he said yes.
The Intercultural Journeys board settled on Penn Charter as their stage, honoring its history as one of the oldest Quaker schools in the country and a perfect fit for a performance focused on tolerance, dialogue and peace.
When they began rehearsals, Khoury was impressed by Patinkin’s versatility as a performer and quick grasp of unfamiliar music, including songs based on 9th-century Andalusian poetry. “He was able to deliver at a very, very high level,” Khoury says of his famous co-star.
A surprising collaboration
With the Middle East “boiling,” Khoury says that many audiences have been surprised by their collaborations.
“When Udi performed in Bethlehem, I’m sure people there [didn’t] see Israelis come to Bethlehem to perform. Usually they see Israelis as soldiers…for the first time, [they saw] a Jew with a cello,” Khoury remembers.He says that the collaboration is often just as surprising to audiences in the Jewish community.
“It’s not easy for Udi and Mandy,” he admits of concerts he’s played with them. After the concert, “[they] will introduce me as this Arab Palestinian musician.”
Khoury laughs. “They would be like, what? There was an Arab musician in the house? And they didn’t have to be scared for that one hour.”
But though the violinist hopes that this one-time concert is the start of an ongoing collaboration between Patinkin and Intercultural Journeys, Khoury is realistic about the impact of an hour of cross-cultural music. Will the show spark peace in the Middle East?
“The answer is no,” he says bluntly. But they are trying to “go beyond the music.”
“There are few choices that we can make,” he says. “We can kill one another, or…realize that we can never agree on everything.” Sunday’s concert will be about “things that can bring us together in a beautiful way, not a harmful way.”
Intercultural Journeys’ concert featuring Mandy Patinkin will be held at Penn Charter’s David L. Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, March 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased online.