Scene at Berklee: Noa and Gil Dor

The two Israeli musicians shared their artistic journeys and performed pieces from their new collaboration, Letters to Bach

March 17, 2020

Scene at Berklee presents snapshots and stories from the hundreds of clinics, workshops, performances, and other events that take place in our community year-round.

As a child of the 1970s, Achinoam Nini grew up listening to Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, the Police, and other popular Western artists, as well as the Yemeni music her grandmother loved. She wasn’t all that interested in classical music. But last year, the Israeli singer and musician, known to fans as Noa, released an album called Letters to Bach, which pairs her original vocals with classic works by the composer. In a recent workshop on campus, Noa and Gil Dor '75, her longtime collaborator, discussed the project in conversation with Berklee President Roger H. Brown and Boston Conservatory at Berklee faculty member Andrew Shryock

Noa and Gil Dor performed several pieces from Letters to Bach.

“Music is our sword of light,” Noa told the assembled students, many of whom share her Israeli heritage. She talked about her background, her childhood in New York City, and her decision to move back to Israel at age 16: “I think the contradictions in my life were always so huge that I needed somewhere to process them. That’s why I became a musician.”

Dor spoke about his own similarly varied experiences, including a stint at Berklee in the 1970s before he moved to New York to pursue a musical career. He praised the complex structure of many Bach pieces, likening the polyphony in some compositions to “the atoms of carbon in a diamond.” Noa compared its layers to “geology,” saying, “The more you listen to music, the more you turn to classical and say, ‘That’s f***ing amazing.’” The two performed several pieces from Letters to Bach, including “Look at Me,” which Noa wrote from the perspective of two women on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian border. Her lyrics are set to the Largo movement of Bach's Concerto No. 5 in F minor. 

While Noa acknowledged that her songs are informed by politics, feminism, and many other influences, she pointed students back to the thing itself: “I’m always thinking about how to produce the best sound that will serve the music,” she said.  

Watch Noa and Gil Dor perform “Look at Me”: 


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