Mandy Patinkin takes an Intercultural Journey to Philadelphia Sunday

Udi Bar-David and his collaborators bridge music from different cultures.
Udi Bar-David and his collaborators bridge music from different cultures.
Posted: March 21, 2013

CAN MUSIC be a powerful uniting factor, when politics, religion and geography constantly force people apart?

Udi Bar-David, an Israeli cellist in the Philadelphia Orchestra, has spent the last 10 years proving that it can. His organization Intercultural Journeys has intertwined the musical flavors of Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, African-American, Asian, Latin-American, Western and American Indian musicians. In concerts all over the world, Intercultural Journeys has demonstrated to audiences a respect for the expressions of other cultures and the joyful universality that music brings.

This Sunday, Bar-David, Arab-Israeli violinist Hanna Khoury and Syrian-Venezuelan percussionist Hafez El Ali Kotain will collaborate with an unusual guest artist, the celebrated Mandy Patinkin. Familiar through films ("The Princess Bride"), Broadway hit shows, concerts and, most recently, Showtime TV hit "Homeland," Patinkin has appeared frequently in events promoting nonviolence.

"It's a truly inspiring feeling to partner with a film and Broadway star like Mandy, who is as eager as we are to bring people of the Middle East together and inspire peaceful co-existence," said Bar-David.

Khoury has worked with Patinkin many times in the past. This time out, the ensemble's program will incorporate Patinkin's selections of Broadway and Yiddish music, and his pianist, Paul Ford.

"I am not naïve in thinking that this collaboration will change the Middle East," said Khoury. " . . . We may only be offering a dream for hope - well, this is the first step toward realizing that dream."

Israeli-born Bar-David's mission was profoundly inspired by a 1998 meeting with Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in southern France.

"He taught us that we are all connected, and inspired me to think about music as a unifying force," said Bar-David. "I began playing with an African-American musician, performing Jewish and African-American spirituals in synagogs and churches, then added a Palestinian oud player and began to form an organization dedicated to cross-cultural work through the arts."

Since its founding in 2003, Intercultural Journeys has played, sometimes in conjunction with Philadelphia Orchestra tours, in China, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Palestine and Israel, as well as throughout the United States. Though there's no way to assess its impact, the musicians always feel the power in their message.

"We can measure it best by the transformative impact it has in our audiences and dialogues, and in conferences," said Bar-David. "With the arts as a tool for understanding, the best language of connection, we have witnessed how barriers have been broken. The next stage is for people to achieve that understanding, to live in coexistence. We're really creating an atmosphere for dialogues, a point of departure to lead into more positive understanding between people."


An Evening with Mandy Patinkin, David L. Kurtz Auditorium, Penn Charter School, 3000 W. School House Lane, 3 p.m. Sunday, $45, interculturaljourneys.org.

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