Shesh Besh in America

The IPO’s East-West Ensemble brings its multi-ethnic harmony to the U.S. in March and April


Left to Right: Sami Kheshaiboun (violin), Yossi Arnheim (flute), Michael Maroun (oud), Peter Marck (bass), Aziz Naddaf (tablah). Photo by Oded Antman.

Shesh Besh, the Israel Philharmonic’s acclaimed Arab-Jewish ensemble, is coming to America for ten concerts in late March and early April.

There will be four East Coast performances beginning March 24 (three in Washington, D.C. and one in Philadelphia) and six West Coast concerts (five in California and one in Portland) beginning April 1. (Complete schedule follows)

“The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra does more than make world-class music. It brings people together in celebration of Israel’s unwavering pursuit of excellence and unique diversity,” said AFIPO Executive Director Danielle Ames Spivak. “This tour highlights the rich cultural tapestry of Israel, where people, across ethnic and religious lines, can come together in celebration of the international language of music.”

Shesh Besh, which was created as part of the IPO’s KeyNote music education program, includes three IPO musicians and four of the finest Arab musicians in Israel. It offers audiences a learning experience beyond the music. As important as the compositions performed is the composition of the ensemble performing them, and the way each program weaves together traditional Oriental material with works by Bach, Dvorak, and Saint-Saëns, as well as original compositions by both Jewish and Arab composers.

On the tour will be Peter Marck, the longtime IPO Principal Bassist, who retires this year after 45 years with the orchestra.  Marck is a founding member of Shesh Besh. In 2000, he worked with IPO Principal Flutist Yossi Arnheim and KeyNote Director Irit Rub to design the ensemble and its goals.

“When the IPO was launching KeyNote, Irit and I knew that we had to do something in the education department for the Arab community – to involve them in some way,” Marck said via Skype from his home in Tel Aviv. “Shesh Besh started right at the beginning of KeyNote – even before we went into schools.”

Because this year’s tour coincides with an IPO tour to Australia, audiences will hear Shesh Besh in a special configuration.

“We are coming with five players, which is actually the classic configuration for an Arab ensemble,” Marck said. “Just as we have string quartets in Western music, in Eastern music they have the takht, which is five players.

“The program will go back and forth between Eastern and Western pieces, and we will do pieces that are hybrids of both styles,” he continued. “We’re also going to talk about our relationship with each other and our relationships with the music.”

The touring members are Arnheim, playing flute; Aziz Naddaf, who plays the tablah; Sami Kheshaiboun, who plays the Eastern violin; Michael Maroun, who plays the oud; and Marck on double bass.

The Eastern violin is called a kamanjā, which has two to four strings tuned in fourths or fifths. The tablah is a drum that resembles the tambourine, and the oud is a short-neck lute-type instrument with 11 strings.

“Shesh Besh has been very successful, especially for the Arab community. That’s the important part,” Marck stressed. “And not only has it been an education for students and audience members, it’s been an education for the Israel Philharmonic players. To have Arabs with us on our own stage, in their own language and with their kids in the audience, has been a great education for the orchestra. Out of a kind of complete isolation has come mutual respect.”

Shesh Besh, the Hebrew word for the Middle Eastern game of backgammon, was an early sign of KeyNote’s hope for the ensemble.

“It’s a game with red triangles and black triangles and black men and red men,” Marck explained. “And it’s kind of luck … and it’s kind of skill. It’s a good mix. That’s Shesh Besh.”



March 24 & 25 • AIPAC Policy Conference, Washington, D.C. [INFO]

March 27 • American University (Workshop), Washington, D.C. [INFO]

March 31 • ARTolerance, Philadelphia, PA [INFO]

AFIPO 2019 Bay Area Musicales

    April 1 – Google Headquarters, Palo Alto, CA [INFO]

    April 2 – Salesforce East, San Francisco, CA [INFO]

April 3 • Beth Jacob Congregation, Beverly Hills, CA [INFO]

April 4 • Private Residence, Beverly Hills, CA [BY INVITATION ONLY]

April 7 • Private Residence, La Jolla, CA [BY INVITATION ONLY]

April 9 • Congregation Beth Israel, Portland, OR [INFO]