Focusing on repertoire from the sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, Ensemble Profeti della Quinta aims to create vivid and expressive performances for audiences today while, at the same time, considering period performance practices.

The ensemble was founded in the Galilee region of Israel by the bass singer and harpsichordist Elam Rotem, and is based in Basel, Switzerland, where its members undertook further studies of early music at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. In 2011 the ensemble won the York Early Music Young Artists Competition, and has since performed in Europe, North-America, Israel, China and Japan. It gave concerts in prominent festivals and venues such as Oude Muziek Festival Utrecht, Beethovenfest Bonn, London Festival of Baroque Music, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New-York and the Shanghai concert hall. In November 2017 the ensemble was the first to perform Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo in Israel.

The ensemble has recorded two CDs with music by Salomone Rossi, which were warmly received by the public and critics alike. Further recordings are dedicated to music by Luzzasco Luzzaschi, Orlando di Lasso, the Carlo G Manuscript (Diapason d’Or) and a collection of selected madrigals (Amor, Fortuna et Morte). The ensemble has premiered and recorded two large-scale works composed especially for it by Elam Rotem: the biblical drama Joseph and his Brethren and the motet collection Quia amore langueo. Profeti della Quinta are also featured in the documentary film Hebreo: The Search for Salomone Rossi by Joseph Rochlitz, filmed in Mantua, Italy.

Joseph and his Brethren / Elam Rotem

Biblical Oratorio

Profeti della Quinta
Doron Schleifer: Countertenor I
David Feldman: Countertenor II
Lior Leibovici: Tenor I
Jacob Lawrence: Tenor II
Elam Rotem: Bass, Cembalo und Director

Ori Harmelin: Chitarrone
Filipa Meneses: Lirone
Aki Noda: Organ

Lathika Vithanage: Violine I
Sonoko Asabuki: Violine II
Anna Danilevskaia: Viola da gamba I
Giovanna Baviera: Viola da gamba II
Leonardo Bortolotto: Violone
Alon Sariel: Theorbo


“Deep is the well of the past…”
From Thomas Mann’s tetralogy “Joseph and his Brethren”

Joseph and his Brethren [=Joseph] is a musical drama in three acts composed in the spirit of the early operas. It was composed expressly for the ensemble Profeti della Quinta, and is set for five voices, instruments, and basso-continuo. It tells the story of Joseph and his Brethren, one of the most moving stories of the Old Testament, in its original biblical Hebrew.

For most early music lovers, performance practice has long meant the faithful realization of the score through historically informed practices, including instrumentation, ornamentation, temperaments and so on. But recently, more and more early music specialists have begun to stretch those boundaries. The study and implementation of historical skills such as improvisation and composition now informs the work of many leading early music performers, especially those concerned with music from the 16th and 17th centuries. Within this emerging scene, artists create their own ornamented versions or arrangements of works; tracks or even complete CDs emphasize improvisation; and additional instrumental parts for existing songs or even whole operas are newly composed. This practice of reviving and delving further into the context of early music, rather than simply just the plain musical text, is an inevitable consequence of deep involvement with the performance of early music, going one step further down the same path.

However, when using this revived and further explored historical context not to interpret an early text, but in order to compose a new one, it can be said that “new-early music” is created. Far from being anachronistic, “new-early music” allows us to access those aspects of historical music making that are inevitably lost when we deal with early texts: the compatibility that results when a musical piece is tailored to specific performers, the involvement of the composer in the process, and the special sensation of experiencing something new that has never been heard before, shared by performers and audience alike.

Joseph is a piece of “new-early music”. Musically and conceptually, it is inspired by the first pieces composed in the stile rappresentativo at the beginning of the 17th century, and especially by the music of Emilio de’ Cavalieri. In the dedication and preface to his sacred drama from 1600 Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo [Representation of the soul and the body] – the publisher writes that the composer:

“[…] has made me venture to publish some of his unique and new musical compositions. These were written to resemble that style which they say the ancient Greeks and Romans used on their stages and in their theaters to move their audience through different emotions […] like compassion and happiness, weeping and laughter, and others.”

Joseph also takes inspiration from the works of other pioneers of the new style from the first decade of the 17th century: Peri’s and Caccini’s settings of Euridice (Florence), Marco da Gagliano’s La Dafne and Monteverdi’s Orfeo (Mantua). An aim shared by all these pieces (and thus also by Joseph), is to amplify an old and dramatic story using music, and thus to move the audience. Even though Giuseppe is biblical, whereas the Italian models all use Classical myths, this preserves the essence of setting an old and epic dramatic story that is known to the audience. Compositionally, Joseph is based on the model of Cavalieri’s Lamentations for the Holy Week (composed probably shortly before 1600), which includes texts taken directly from the Old Testament and the first extant known sacred monodies. Joseph follows this model in that it is set for five voices with basso continuo, with contrasted short varied sections, comprising choruses, duets and solos.

Inspired by Renaissance compositional concepts, Joseph is based on the doctrine of soft and hard affects and the way that they are rendered in music. From the point of view of counterpoint, Giuseppe combines traditional 16th century technique alongside the so-called “seconda prattica”, both in the polyphonic as well as in the monodic sections, as in Cavalieri’s music. The style of the instrumental pieces in Giuseppe is based on the instrumental sinfonie found in the famous Florentine Intermedii of 1589 (an event produced by Cavalieri, with sinfonie composed by Malvezzi) and other contemporary sources.

The text of Joseph is taken directly from the Old Testament in its original language – Hebrew. Setting biblical Hebrew text to the “western / Christian” musical language also has a connection with early 17th-century Italy; Salomone Rossi, a Mantuan-Jewish musician and colleague of Monteverdi, alongside his secular work as a madrigal and instrumental music composer, set Hebrew prayers and psalms using the “Christian” musical language of the day (Hashirim asher liShlomo, Venice 1622/3).

The biblical story of Joseph has inspired artists through the ages. Tolstoy considered it to be one of the greatest stories of all time and confessed that with every reading of it he was brought to tears. The story of Joseph was also the basis for the tetralogy masterpiece of Thomas Mann, Joseph und seine Brüder, written between 1926 and 1943. In the 1970s Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted the story for their musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that enjoys worldwide success to this day. Giuseppe, while following a distinguished tradition of works inspired by the story of Joseph, is unique in that it tells the story in its original language; one of the most beautiful aspects of the book of Genesis is the tight connection between the stories and the unique language in which they are told. In this sense, the specific use of the Hebrew language in key moments in the tale of Joseph is dramatically inseparable from the story itself.

Thus the different layers of the past, cultural, religious, artistic and linguistic, are dissolved into each other – a past whose well is deep indeed. Giuseppe is definitely not the first attempt to compose in a historical musical language. However, it seems to be the first time that the musical language of early Italian 17th century has been used on this scale. Naturally, for the performance of Giuseppe, the relevant instrumentation and performance practice have been respected. Like its early models, Giuseppe was created simply to serve a beautiful old story on a beautiful plate of music, and in doing so, to arouse the passions of the audience.
Elam Rotem