Yair Harel

Yair Harel

Artistic Director

Yair Harel is a Jerusalem-born musician and educator who has revolutionized the face of Israeli culture by putting piyyut – Jewish traditions of sacred song – on the country’s musical map. Since 2008 he has served as the artistic director of the critically-acclaimed Jerusalem Piyyut Festival and the Piyyut Ensemble of the Ben Zvi Institute. He also founded and is the present editor-in-chief of the “Invitation to Piyut” website. The crown jewel of his efforts, however, is establishing the New Jerusalem Orchestra with fellow artist Omer Avital.

Harel’s vocal style is based on his knowledge of different North-African and Middle-Eastern Jewish traditions, as well as Hassidic music and free improvisation.

Born in Jerusalem on December 13, 1971, Harel received a traditional Jewish education before going on to study the zarb (Persian drum) with two master teachers of the Persian tradition, Roger Yshay and Daghmeshid Chemirani. Harel studied the tar (the Persian lute) and Persian classical music with Peretz Eliyhau, a noted expert in the field, and improvisation with the celebrated Israeli composer and musicologist, André Hajdu. He then studied Andalusian music with two masters of the Jewish-Andalusian vocal tradition, Rabbi Meir Attyah and Rabbi Haim Louk. Also an accomplished vocalist, Harel’s vocal style is based on his knowledge of different North-African and Middle-Eastern Jewish traditions, as well as Hassidic music and free improvisation.

The crown jewel of his efforts, [however,] is establishing the New Jerusalem Orchestra with fellow artist Omer Avital.

Harel is a founding member of the Oman Chai Ensemble, a group that created a trilogy of critically-acclaimed musical performances for the Jerusalem-based Israel Festival: Writing from Within (2004), The Floating Tower (2007), and Raza De Shabbat (2011). He is also one of the founding members of the Tafillat Ensemble (2001) whose album, Tafillat, was released in 2010 by John Zorn’s distinguished Tzadik label in New York City. The group performs in Israel and abroad.

A popular lecturer, Harel has developed numerous projects that connect the world of piyyut, prayer and song to various educational and communal frameworks both in Israel and abroad.

A popular lecturer, Harel has developed numerous projects that connect the world of piyyut, prayer and song to various educational and communal frameworks both in Israel and abroad. In Israel, he has led workshops and courses in traditional Jewish vocal music and Middle Eastern percussion and improvisation at the Hebrew University, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and The Jerusalem Academy High School for Music and Dance.

He was one of the founding members of the Singing Communities Project as well as the Yedidi, Hashachacta? (“My friend, have you forgotten?”) piyyut project at the Hebrew University’s Beit Hillel. He has also reached across the ocean and, together with Rabbi Roly Matalon and Eva Heinstein, established Invitation to Piyyut North America, a project that aims to enable North American communities to transform piyyut into part of their spiritual, cultural, and communal practices.