Kammermusik Festival

24 – 31 January 2024

Basel, Switzerland

10-year jubilee


The Mizmorim Chamber Music Festival in Basel, founded single handed by Michal Lewkowicz, celebrated its 10-year jubilee with a captivating theme centred around Psalms, cross-religious music with a focus on Jewish music and composers, historically and contemporary. 

The opening concert, appropriately titled "Hallelujah," set a high standard for the rest of the ten-day jubilee festival in different venues in Basel and a variety of musicians. 

Opening the concert, Leonard Bernstein's "Serenade after Plato’s Symposium" underlined the festival's commitment to blending classical, spiritualty and philosophical themes, creating a rich tapestry of musical interpretation. Proof of the claim of Michal Lewkowicz and the festivals endeavour to support contemporary composers and young musician, was Helga Arias' premiere performance, commissioned by the festival. 

The concert concluded with Steve Reich's "Tehillim" minimalist music, merging intricate rhythmic patterns with ethereal melodies. Composed in 1981, "Tehillim" draws inspiration from the Hebrew text of Psalms, with Reich's meditative and transcendent, rhythmic repetitive sounds. The use of multiple vocalists, each layering upon the other, creates a rich tapestry of sound that evolves throughout "Tehillim", brilliantly sung by the Basel vocalist. The inclusion of Lucerne Festival Contemporary and the Basler Madrigalisten added depth and diversity to the opening concert, highlighting the festival's collaborative spirit and commitment to showcasing talent from various musical backgrounds. The public was enthusiastic. 

Other highlights of the festival were concerts at Stadtcasino, Gare du Nord, Ackermannshof, lectures, and talks. 

The vocal ensemble Amarcord's performance at the Basel Synagogue, featuring former members of the Tomaner Choir, was a spiritual journey through the realms of psalms, music, and history. The significance of their connection to the Tomaner Choir, founded in Leipzig 800 years ago, which was originally directed by the legendary Johann Sebastian Bach, added a layer of historical depth to the experience. The sacred setting of the Basel Synagogue contributed to the transcendent quality of the voices of the five male singers, elevating the audience to a higher plane of existence. 

A fascinating lecture on Jewish Psalm practice by renowned musicologist Edwin Seroussi, was presented at the Basel University Institute of Musicology. The inclusion of recordings during the talk allowed attendees to hear examples first hand and gain a deeper understanding of the musical aspects discussed. Introduced by Heydi Zimmermann, a research fellow at the Paul Sacher Stiftung based in Basel, Seroussi shared his renowned expertise in Jewish music and his insights into the living tradition of Psalms within Jewish practice. Professor Seroussi has conducted extensive research on Jewish music in Kerala, India, the homeland of my paternal ancestors. Accompanied by his wife Yael, he ventured through Kerala, capturing the essence of this unique musical tradition, resulting in the production of recordings. Having been previously in contact, Professor Seroussi kindly shared with me his CD featuring the captivating Jewish music of Kerala. The audience primarily comprised of older listeners, prompted my curiosity about the absence of the many students enrolled in music academies in Basel. These music students would have had a remarkable opportunity to learn from one of the most esteemed musicologists.

Jordi Savall and La Capella Reial de Catalunya are renowned for their interpretations of early music, particularly the Spanish Baroque repertoire. Their performance Pro Pacem in yet another sacred ambiance, a church, Martinskirche Basel, was the final highlight of this rich music festival.

Savall, a distinguished viola da gamba player and conductor, such an elegant and self-contained gentleman, brought together with his ensemble an unparalleled depth of understanding and passion to the music of this period, see three images below. His commitment to historical authenticity and his ability to breathe life into centuries-old compositions offered a moment of spiritualty, reflection and was a message for peace.

© C. Raman Schlemmer 

Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf

Photo: C. Raman Schlemmer