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Betty Olivero

(1954 – )

Betty Olivero is an Israeli composer born in Tel Aviv. Her parents, who were born in Greece, emigrated to Palestine in 1932. Her Sephardi-Mediterranean cultural background was the most powerful element in the crystallization of her personality as composer. At the same time, her musical training was completely Western. She graduated from the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv in 1979, having studied composition with Yitzhak Sadai and Leon Schidlowsky. In 1982, she completed graduate studies at Yale University with Jacob Druckman and Gilbert Amy. In 1986, she won the Leonard Bernstein Fellowship at Tanglewood, where she commenced three years of studies with Luciano Berio, which led to a prolonged stay in Italy. In October 2002, she was appointed to the position of professor of composition at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. She won the Koussevitzky Award (2000), the Prime Minister’s Prize (2001), the Rosenblum Award (2003), and the Landau Award for the Performing Arts (2004).

Betty Olivero developed a unique personality as a distinctly local Israeli composer who is at the same time deeply identified with contemporary trends in Western music. While highly individual, her communicative and intensive expression represents the most convincing realization of the ideological trend in early Jewish music in Palestine and early Israel, defined as the collective ideology (Hirshberg, 1995, 241–272). Olivero commented that her thought of the form and the development or way of making decisions, is in completely Western terminology and the precise notation. At the same time the harmony, the melody, the colors, the timbre – are derived from oriental music that I was surrounded by (Fleisher, 1997, 275). Nearly all of her many vocal compositions use texts from Jewish prayers and folk songs in Hebrew, Ladino, and Arabic. She collaborated for many years with the singer Esti Kenan-Ofri, who specialized in performing Sephardi and Arabic vocal rendition, as well as with clarinetist Giora Feidman, who has been the most salient performer of ḥasidic music. Olivero’s music stresses that which is common to the Jewish heritage rather than that which is specific to different Jewish ethnic groups. For example, in her Mizraḥ (East), Feidman smoothly moves from quotes of ḥasidic music to a Sephardi folk song. Her vocal works range from nearly direct quotes of Hebrew, Yemenite, and Bedouin folk songs as in maqamat to the stylized, powerful expression of intense pain in her Hosha’anot.


J. Hirshberg, Music in the Jewish Community of Palestine 18801948 (1995); R. Fleisher: Twenty Israeli Composers: Voices of a Culture (1997), 271–81).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.