Ittai Shapira



Ittai Shapira, composer, violin
Robert Plane, clarinet
Thomas Carroll, 'cello
Hagai Shaham, violin
BBC National Orchestra of Wales,
Rumon Gamba, conductor
Arpeggione Kammerorchestra,
Robert Bokor, conductor

Midnight Journeys: an album of double concertos by composer-violinist Ittai Shapira, composed as part of his recovery and in an attempt to regain and connect fragments of his memories after a terrible act of violence inflicted on him a decade ago. 

Featuring the words and spoken narration of Sir Salman Rushdie, these works are a powerful exploration of cross-cultural collaboration. Indian, British, Gypsy and Jewish music and stories have all influenced these works. 

Shapira will use selected sequences from these compositions to work with patients, refugees, women recovering from violence and abuse, veterans with PTSD, and as an educational tool for societal healing.



Sephardic Journeys: Concerto for Violin and Cello

Sephardic Journeys is a musical work in three main movements, played without interruption. Every section of the piece represents a country or a culture in the Sephardic Jews’ past. Each is connected by a reminder of the original motif, representing a sense of nostalgia for the country they left or from which they were expelled, and a sense of excitement for a new chapter in their life. The combination of preserving their tradition while adapting to a new culture played a large role in the fascinating musical world we call Ladino.

The idea behind writing this piece is to emphasize a sense of identity and empathy. The Sephardic sound world is rich and vast – a wonderful example of Jewish Heritage.

This is the third large-scale work I am basing on the Jewish tradition. The first wasMagyar inspired by my violin teacher Ilona Feher, who came to Israel after the Holocaust. The second, The Ethics, is my response to Brundibár – the children’s opera that was performed in the concentration camp Theresienstadt; I was fortunate to have premiered this long-term project at Carnegie Hall in Spring 2015.

I see music as an important opportunity to connect with Jews and non-Jews alike and help expose a facet of Jewish life that is not stereotypical. It is also my wish to explore how a complex history might help us understand the true challenges of achieving a balance between tradition and integration, which seems to be more relevant than ever with the current migrant crisis. From the Judeo-Arabic dialect in Morocco to the history of the Maranos, it is of little wonder that this musical style connects Jewish, Arabic and Christian music in an authentic fashion.

While studying and collecting folk material for this work, I found myself immersed by the many influences that were apparent in this musical genre: music and culture of Spain, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Yemen, Uganda and Latin America. The Concerto is written in three main movements: Prayers and Rituals; Doubt; Rejoicing/Celebration.

On a personal note, while exploring a whole new sound world underexposed within a symphonic context, this project brought me back to my childhood in Israel in the 1980s. On the rare occasion that my parents could not drive me to my violin lessons from Jerusalem to Holon, I would take the 404 bus from the central bus station. It was the popular music played in the background of this setting, the music of Haim Moshe, Zohar Argov, Yehoram Gaon, Margalit Tsanaani, and later on the music of Yasmin Levy, Mor Karbassi, and Rivka Raz that stayed with me all those years and found their expression in this piece.

This piece is dedicated to my parents, who taught me that the right combination of imagination, planning and perseverance can make any journey possible. And what a journey this project has been.

Midnight’s Children: Concerto for Violin and Clarinet

Midnight’s Children was written as a quest to integrate my love for British symphonic music and Indian folk music. As my musical response to the epic novel developed, the composition became increasingly influenced by the rare privilege of continuous conversations with its author, Sir Salman Rushdie, and visual artist Alexander Klingspor.

The work is in three main movements, which respond to the three books in the novel, telling the history of India from 1915 to 1978.

The first movement, Kashmir/Methwald, starts with a beautiful dawn, depicting the heavenly Kashmiri sky and the growing pains of India’s independence from 1947 onwards.

The second, Pakistan/Jamila Singer, focuses on the devastating consequences of the Indo-Pakistani partition and consequent wars.

The third, Anything You Want to Be, You Can Be, is an epilogue to the novel, looking at future generations and lessons learned from the past.

The harmonic structure is based on numerology and its symbolism in the book, which I translated into their corresponding soundwaves. Thematically, the piece integrates traditional Western music with the musical motifs used in Indian mythology, employing its traditional forms such as the Raaga, and the rhythmical Tihai and Taala.

Influenced by the auspicious number 1001, which appears throughout the novel, the piece starts and ends with the same melodic palindrome-like pattern. The ending has a jazzy feel, which was very popular in Indian culture in the 1970s.

Rushdie’s magical realism inspired the sound world of this Concerto, which was the first step in a growing project titled The Midnight’s Children Project. Alexander Klingspor has finished a beautiful painting with the same title, and an animated version of the painting in the form of a rotating clock with narration is being developed for the concert platform and lectures.

This piece is dedicated to my sister Romy, who not only introduced me to Indian music, but dedicates her life to promoting tolerance and understanding between people of all backgrounds – at midnight and around the clock.

MAGYAR: Concerto for Two Violins

The impulse to write a double violin concerto came from a seemingly random place: it was my reaction to the film Seven Pounds, in which the main character sets off on a journey to commit seven random acts of kindness. For the seventh and final act, he decides to donate his heart to a woman in need of a transplant and with whom he subsequently falls in love. After the surgery, the woman wakes up only to find that she is cursed with the burden of guilt, having a new heart, yet having to live with the tragedy of losing her lover forever.

The Gypsy, fantasy-like story of the film reminded me of a Gypsy legend and provoked a strong reaction in me – spontaneously generating a sequence of 27 notes in my mind, which would not leave my thoughts for weeks. It reminded me of my violin teacher, Ilona Feher, a Hungarian-born woman who dedicated her life to giving generations of students the gift of music. Like the main character in the film, Feher suffered from loss: she lost most of her family and friends in the Holocaust. In contrast to the character who spent his life running away from his pain, she
decisively started a new life, moved to a new country, Israel, and started a new family, one comprised of her students. She was a model of strength and hope for all of us. In her final days, she suggested that I take lessons from her prized student Hagai Shaham (now a well-known violin virtuoso), for whom I wrote this composition. Shaham’s musical imprint on this Concerto is unmistakable. In addition to working together as musicians, Shaham and I started a foundation bearing our teacher’s name. 
This was our way of passing forward Ilona Feher’s gift of music.

This idea of “paying it forward” is translated into the Double Concerto, with its musical give-and-take between the two solo violin lines. This interplay was sensitively handled by our conductor Robert Bokor, who is himself an accomplished violinist. While researching Hungarian music for this piece, I explored scores by Bartók, Kodály, Ligeti, Hubay, Lakatos and Palya Bea, as well as Hungarian military and wedding songs. This wide-ranging musical quest was my way of immersing myself in the Hungarian musical tradition – a tradition that formed a foundation for the Israeli school of violin-playing by Ilona Feher.

The first movement, Roma, refers to the Gypsy population that originated in India in the Middle Ages. This was an important starting point as it introduced me to a new sound, unlike the stereotypical Romani Gypsy sound that immediately comes to most listeners’ minds. This was the catalyst for developing my own sound world.

The second movement, The Potion, is inspired by a Gypsy tale in which a woman puts a potion in her lover’s drink so that he will marry her. The man wakes up shortly after the potion wears off. Both he and the woman face a shattered illusion and the tragedy of a mistake that cannot be undone. This movement is the heart of the piece, containing the 27-note sequence that conveys both the beauty and tragedy often found in the lives of Gypsies.

The third movement, titled Mulatas/Gypsy Raves, is a Hungarian party that lasts all night. It is a series of party dances – an optimistic and playful finale to the Magyar(Hungarian) Concerto, celebrating the joy and pride of Hungarian culture.

The work was commissioned by and is dedicated to Harvey and Connie Krueger, whose generosity and determination have had an immeasurable impact on Israel’s cultural life.


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