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Israeli musician Efrat Ben Zur puts Emily Dickinson poems to music

Isaeli actress and musician Efrat Ben Zur has set Emily Dickinson poems to music.

Isaeli actress and musician Efrat Ben Zur has set Emily Dickinson poems to music. Purchase photo reprints »

“Emily Dickinson become the darling of modern composers ... by filling her poems with the clanging, thumping noises of everyday life,” wrote Oxford University English professor Valentine Cunningham in 2002 in The Guardian. Back then, he noted, there were over 1,600 settings of her poems to music, a number that has continued to rise dramatically.

Most recently, award-winning Israeli singer and actress Efrat Ben Zur has set Dickinson poems to music.

“Robin,” Ben Zur’s third album, is a collection of Dickinson’s poetry set to acoustic and alternative sounds. Included are many of the poet’s favorites, including “If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking” and “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” The album has been described by Israel Today as a “magical, moving, heartwarming masterpiece … that get’s under your skin.”

Ben Zur and her band will perform Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Yiddish Book Center, 1021 West St., Amherst.

The interest in setting Dickinson’s poems to music makes perfect sense, says Jane Wald, executive director of the Emily Dickinson Museum. Much of Dickinson’s poetry was written in hymn meter, she said, so it is not a far stretch to put her poetry to music.

“Emily Dickinson was a musical person,” Wald said. “Music and meter were pretty influential with her in several different ways.”

Wald says she is looking forward to hearing how Ben Zur interprets the poems and the comparison between the mood of the poems and the mood of the music.

“When you put them to music, it can take them in a completely different direction,” Wald said. “It opens your mind to different interpretation.”

Born in 1968, in Tel Aviv, Ben Zur is one of Israel’s leading ladies. After graduating from the Nissan Nativ’s acting studio, she went on to act in Israeli films and TV series. She is also a leading actress in Israel’s Gesher Theatre. During her career, she has been nominated twice as Best Supporting Actress by the Israeli Film Academy, and won the Haggiag Award from the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2010 for her role in “...Be yom hashlishi.”

Ben Zur has released three albums since 2001 to enthusiastic reviews. Time Out says her voice is reminiscent of singers such as Sharon Van Etten & PJ Harvey. Haaretz.com recently named “Robin” the No. 2 Israeli album of the year.

Ben Zur is “thrilled to be coming to the U.S. and be able to perform on Dickinson’s home turf,” said Michael Paysnick, executive director of the Springfield Jewish Community Center, one of the event’s sponsors. Other local sponsors are the Jewish Community of Amherst, the Emily Dickinson Museum, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Yiddish Book Center. “It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come along too often. I think this is something that the community will really enjoy,” Paysnick said.

The worldwide interest in Dickinson’s poetry has become a kind of phenomenon in the last dozen years, Wald said. Recently, her poems have been translated into numerous languages including interpretations from Japan, Germany, Brazil and Spain.

“It may not be obvious how her influence has taken root in so many different places, so [the concert] is a wonderful way to demonstrate that. ... The themes of Emily Dickinson’s poetry are timeless and their appeal can be universal,” Wald said. “There is so much one can explore and tease out of her poetry.”

Tickets cost $18; $12 for students; and $36 for patrons-preferred seating, which includes entrance to a reception following the performance. To purchase, call the Springfield Jewish Community Center at 739-4715 or visit www.yiddishbookcenter.org/efrat.

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