Tag Archives: Jewish music

Artist Profiles: The Klezmatics

The Klezmatics in 2016

The original members of The Klezmatics, Alicia Svigals (violin), Dave Lindsay (bass) and Rob Chavez (clarinet) met after reading an ad in the Village Voice in 1985. Shortly after, Frank London (trumpet), of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, joined the group. Other musicians joined the band a few weeks later: Margot Leverett (clarinet), David Licht (drums) and Lorin Sklamberg (vocals, accordion)

In 1988, The Klezmatics were primarily playing clubs and parties in New York. Through the influence of Ben Mandelson of 3 Mustaphas 3, they were invited to play at the first annual Heimatklange Festival in Berlin, a proto-world music gathering held just as world music was emerging in the global consciousness. The Klezmatics played every night. At the end of the week, the festival’s organizers, who had recently formed a label called Piranha, offered them a record contract. An album, Shvaygn = Toyt (Piranha/Rounder, 1988), Yiddish for Silence = Death, was recorded live, at Radio Free Berlin (SFB). Just like that, the Klezmatics had a record company, and a future.

 

Klezmatics – Shvaygn =Toyt

 

Musically, the band hadn’t quite found their identity. They did, however, tap sources no other Klezmer act had thought to emulate: the small American Klezmer bands of the 1930s and 1940s. They were also beginning to formulate their guiding thematic approach to music and life-seamlessly melding cultural statement (that Yiddish must be spoken, or else disappear) with historical politics (the ardent socialist anthems of their forebears) and modern activism, particularly a joyous affirmation of human rights.

Piranha’s director, Christoph Borkowsky Akbar, encouraged the band to take their time recording their second album. Borkowsky wanted the Klezmatics to find their own path and organically blend their many influences. Klezmer was the lifeblood, but the band also mined the multi-ethnic and cultural influences of New York. Mixing together Jewish drinking songs, socialism and Jewish mysticism, as well as punk, jazz and classical attitudes seemed strangely natural, as did maintaining their reputation as an ecstatic party band. This extended recording period allowed the Klezmatics to forge their own unique musical identity.

By the time they’d finished their follow-up, in 1990, the band was ready to break away from anything resembling predictability. They stated their intentions in the album’s title, Rhythm & Jews (Piranha/Rounder, 1990). Jewish music had always been thought of purely as melody; the Klezmatics felt the true backbone was rhythm, challenging the supremacy of sobbing clarinets, violins and voices. This was also the first time “Jew” appeared on the cover of a Klezmer album. By using the word, the band was boldly asserting their own brand of cultural pride: Jew Positive, a non-exclusionary belief that to find common ground with other traditions, they first had to unabashedly embrace their own.

Rhythm + Jews thrived on energy. The band brought in non-klezmer musicians like the Nubian percussionist Mahmoud Fadl, taking their source material to wildly divergent destinations. They played Eastern European melodies over Arabic and African rhythms; introduced their trademark multi-part group vocal sound (a tribute to British folk-rock pioneers Steeleye Span); and incorporated classical music’s bass clarinet into their already multitudinous palate of sounds. They also began testing the waters of writing their own music with a whirling, homoerotic interpretation of the love poetry of King David. In a pattern that would perpetually repeat itself, the Klezmatics showed that, while they would always view the world through the lens of Eastern European Jewish identity, they would not be fetishistic about it.

The Klezmatics’ next album, Jews With Horns (Piranha/Rounder, 1995) included the breakneck, pun-fueled Man in a Hat (the band’s first song in English), a Hasidic-style wordless chant and a stark, minimalist treatment of 20th century Yiddish poetry. Musical guests included electric guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, The Lounge Lizards), Canadian political folkies Moxy Frevous and New York theatrical girl rock band Betty

The Klezmatics – Jews with Horns

In 1994 the Klezmatics pulled out of the archives a century-old socialist anthem called “In kamf” (In Struggle) for the soundtrack of the AIDS epidemic documentary Fast Trip Long Drop (Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominee), about a gay Jewish man’s struggle with the disease. They put in a modern arrangement, while strengthening the link to the composition’s roots with a chorus of native Yiddish-speaking seniors, who had sung the song in their own politically active youth.

In 1995, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tony Kushner (Angels in America) furthered the Klezmatics’ collaborations when he asked the band to write the score for his adaptation of S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk, the classic Yiddish folk drama of ghostly possession. Those compositions formed the bulk of the next album, Possessed (Piranha/Rounder, 1997). Kushner also wrote the Possessed CD liner notes. The band was joined on the CD by John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood, among others.

The Klezmatics next had the honor of working with acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman, who requested that The Klezmatics join him and three other Klezmer bands to record an album called In The Fiddler’s House (Angel/EMI, 1995). This album and ensuing tour dramatically raised the awareness of Klezmer music in the United States. As the ultimate compliment, Perlman selected six original Klezmatics compositions for inclusion on the CDs and live concerts.

The Klezmatics then paired with popular Israeli singer Chava Alberstein. Alberstein brought the band fifteen Yiddish poems set to music. The band then created striking arrangements to frame the voices of Alberstein and Sklamberg.

The resulting album, The Well (Rounder, 1998), was produced by K.D. lang collaborator Ben Mink, who also played on the recording. It remains one of the band’s favorites, not just for the music, but for the opportunity to help an artist they admire achieve a personal triumph. The Well is one of the band’s (and Ms. Alberstein’s) most popular and beloved recordings and received rave international reviews.

Their next album, Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (Rounder, 2002), was their first non-collaborative album in years. The album also featured a new permanent member, violinist Lisa Gutkin.

The tone of the record harkened back to Jews With Horns, with politics, religion, ecstasy and partying each vying for space, often within the same song. Some of the songs on Rise Up! had originally been commissioned for the band’?s collaboration with the innovative American dance company Pilobolus Dance Theatre.

The band’s intention at this point was to push forward with their own music, but another chance meeting would redefine their immediate future. A few years prior, after playing a concert with Perlman, they were introduced to Nora Guthrie-known to most of the world as Woody’s daughter and Arlo’s sister. The band, however, recognized her as the granddaughter of Aliza Greenblatt, an influential Yiddish poet who had lived in Coney Island and the mother of Guthrie’s Jewish wife. At the time, Guthrie didn’t recognize the importance of her grandmother to appreciators of the Yiddish language and culture. She did, however, know that her father had written a collection of Jewish songs, which she invited the band to record in much the same manner as the Billy Bragg and Wilco collections (Mermaid Avenue I & II).

Beginning in 2003, the band performed the music in a series of concerts, including a Thanksgiving celebration at Carnegie Hall, under the title “Holy Ground”. They also self-produced eight of Woody’s Hanuka songs, which resulted in an album called Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanuka. An album of Guthrie-penned Jewish Brooklyn Americana is planned for the near future.

In 2004, Piranha invited the Klezmatics back to the Heimatklange festival, a double invite rarely extended to performers. The show’s theme that year was New York, a theme fittingly embodied by the band. At Heimatklange, the band performed with jazz vocalist/organist Kathryn Farmer, as well as Joshua Nelson, an African American Jew practitioner of Kosher Gospel who was brought up on gospel icon and collaborative superstar Mahalia Jackson. They performed a series of shows, one night of which resulted in their first live audience album, Brother Moses Smote the Water (Harmonia Mundi, 2004), featuring contributions by Nelson and Farmer.

The Klezmatic’s Brother Moses connected to every side of Klezmatics philosophy. It was a Jewish offering, half of the songs concerned Passover. It also included two audience favorites: the socialist anthem “Ale brider” (“All United”) and ‘Shnirele, perele’, a Hasidic ode to the eternal Jewish yearning for the coming of the messianic era.

The 2006 line-up included Lorin Sklamberg – vocalist / accordionist; Frank London – trumpet; Matt Darriau – multi-instrumentalist; Lisa Gutkin – fiddle; Paul Morrisett – bass / tsimbl; and David Licht – drums.

In 2016, the band released Apikorsim/Heretics (World Village). Co-founder Frank London said the idea was “to make a great recording of Yiddish and klezmer music, as only the Klezmatics can.” Sklamberg added, “It continues in the tradition that we last visited with Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! in 2003. It’s a great collection of songs and instrumentals that could only have come from us. It is also unique in our history in that everything you hear on the recording is played or sung by members of the band. It’s our ‘roots record’, a return to the anarchic nature of some of our earlier music.”

The lineup in 2016 included Richie Barshay on percussion and vocals; Matt Darriau on alto sax, clarinet, vocals; Lisa Gutkin on violin and vocals; Frank London on trumpet, horn, vocals; Paul Morrissett on bass, tsimbl, vocals; and Lorin Sklamberg on lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano.

Discography

Shvaygn = toyt (Piranha, 1989)
Rhythm and Jews (Piranha, 1990)
Jews with Horns (Flying Fish, 1995)
Possessed (Xenophile, 1997)
The Well: Klezmatics with Chava Alberstein (Xenophile, 1998)
Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (Rounder, 2002)
Brother Moses Smote the Water, with Joshua Nelson & Kathryn Farmer (Piranha, 2004)
Wonder Wheel (JMG, 2006)
Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah (JMG, 2006)
Tuml = Lebn: The Best of the First 20 Years (Piranha, 2008)
Live at Town Hall (Klezmatics Disc, 2011)
Apikorsim (World Village, 2016)

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Singer’s Warsaw Festival 2016: An annual celebration of music and culture in Warsaw

warszawa_singera_2016

 

Yiddish culture returns by way of pre-war films and contemporary performances, workshops of dance and song, Jewish paper cutting, ceramics, and Hebrew calligraphy …

 (from the Festival’s website)

Jewish culture in Poland is experiencing a renaissance. Festivals of Jewish music, language, and ancient and modern history are among the finest undertakings of this kind in Poland. This was confirmed by the 13th edition of the Singer’s Warsaw Festival, organized as always by the Shalom Foundation. The creator of the festival is the General Director of the Shalom Foundation, Golda Tencer, an outstanding Polish singer, director, and theater actress.

 

Shabbat Shalom - Sabbath of peace
Shabbat Shalom – Sabbath of peace

 

Collaborating in the organization of the festival were The Ester Rachel and Ida Kamińska Jewish Theater, the Center for Yiddish Culture, and the Edward Dziewoński Teatr Kwadrat (Square Theater). Every year, some of the global music scene’s most prominent artists, their art inspired by and created in the spirit of Jewish culture and religion, come to the Polish capital. Many of these artists have Polish roots, and thus participate with even greater pleasure in this sentimental journey along the road of their lives, one that sometimes runs through countries such as Israel, the United States, Sweden, France, Canada, and many others.

As we read on the organizers’ website, “The Singer’s Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture has been, for twelve years, bringing back the memory of the pre-war Jewish ‘Warsze’ praised by Singer in numerous short stories and novels […] Our goal is to recreate the pre-war climate around ul. Próżna and Plac Grzybowski, if only for a few days, and show the lost world of the Polish Jews. Here we situate Jewish cafes, restaurants, small shops, and artisans’ workshops. At one of the festivals, an old bookstore made an appearance; at another, the editorial office where Singer worked before the war; every year there is also a wine bar and bakery” (see: www.festiwalsingera.pl/en/cele-i-misja).

 

Yakov Rotner conducting famous cantors: Yaakov Lemmer, Benzion Miller and Tzudik Greenwald, accompanied by Menachem Bristowski. Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016. Photo by Janusz Paliwoda
Yakov Rotner conducting famous cantors: Yaakov Lemmer, Benzion Miller and Tzudik Greenwald, accompanied by Menachem Bristowski. Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016. Photo by Janusz Paliwoda

 

Thanks to the Singer’s Warsaw Festival, for a short time every year the streets of the city resound with klezmer music, synagogal singing, traditional Jewish songs, and even jazz (the Singer Jazz Festival, whose artistic director is Adam Baruch, constitutes a separate part of the Festival), as well as remarkable cantorial singing.

The third edition of the Singer Jazz Festival kicked off on August 26 with an opening concert featuring Wania/Bernstein/Parker/Grey (Poland/USA), comprising Dominik Wania (piano), Marc Bernstein (saxophone), Michael Parker (bass), and Devin Grey (percussion). The following day was marked by the appearance of the Dominik Bukowski Group (Poland/USA), featuring Amir Elsaffar (saxophone), Dominik Bukowski (vibraphone, marimba), Piotr Lemańczyk (bass), and Przemysław Jarosz (percussion).

The official opening of the Singer Jazz Festival took place during a concert by the Sefardix trio (the Oleś Brothers and Jorgos Skolias). This World Music ethno-style group forms a part of the Greek-Jewish tradition, reaching back for Sephardic themes and drawing on multicultural instrumentation. In 2013, Sefardix received the Polish Radio Folk Phonogram of the Year award.

Next was a musical event with the theme “Something’s Coming: Love or War,” created by Lena Piękniewska and Paweł Skorupki, who accompanied the poems of young poets from the Warsaw ghetto. Taking part in this event were Lena Piękniewska, Paweł Skorupka, Krzysztof Dys, Sebastian Frankiewicz, Michał Górczyński, Wojciech Pulcyn, and the Royal String Quartet, with visual effects by Karolina Fender Noińska.

The same evening featured a performance by World Citizen Band (Denmark/Germany/Ecuador/USA), comprising Ramiro Olaciregui (guitar), Kenneth Dahl Knudsen (bass), Alex Terrier (saxophone), Tomasz Dąbrowski (trumpet), and Rodolfo Zuniga (percussion), as well as by the duo Oleś Brothers (bassist Marcin Oleś i percussionist Bartłomiej Oleś), with the participation of Leszek Żądło (Germany).

 

Leszek Żądło
Leszek Żądło

 

Appearing at the Singer Jazz Festival on August 30 was the Israeli trio Savannah and the Stringz, known for their daring experiments at the crossroads of music and the performing arts, i.e., cabaret, jazz, and indie-rock all in one: real World Music! They were followed by Ugo Trio (DE), comprising Federico Eterno (saxophone, clarinet), Marco Papa (guitar), and Gioele Pagliaccia (percussion), as well as by the duo Maciej Obara/Dominik Wania with the participation of Leszek Żądło (saxophone).

Playing the next evening was Trio Kuby Stankiewicza: Kuba Stankiewicz (piano), Wojciech Pulcyn (bass), and Sebastian Frankiewicz (percussion instruments). Later, the Singer Jazz Festival hosted the Francesco Bruno Ensemble (Italy). At the end of the day was a concert by Łukasz Borowicki Quartet (Poland/Denmark), with Borowicki (guitar) accompanied by Mads la Cour (flugelhorn), Mariusz Praśniewski (bass), and Karol Domański (percussion), as well as an appearance by Trio Jachna/Wójciński/Szpura with a guest appearance by Leszek Żądło (saxophone)

The next day of the Singer Jazz Festival belonged to the Francesco Bruno Trio (Italy), including Marco Rovinelli (percussion instruments) and Jacopo Ferrazza (bass), and the Małgorzata Hutek Quintet (composed of Małgorzata Hutek, Dominika Kątny on viola, Bogusław Kaczmar on piano, Paweł Wszołek on bass, and Szymon Madej on percussion). The day closed with an appearance by the Nahorny Trio: Włodzimierz Nahorny (piano), Mariusz Bogdanowicz (bass), and Piotr Biskupski (percussion), with guest appearances by Lora Szafran (vocals), Sabina Meck (vocals), Zbigniew Namysłowski (alto saxophone), Wojciech Jachna (trumpet), and Wojciech Myrczek (vocals).

The next-to-last day of the Singer Jazz Festival showed that these final days of music would constitute a transition from cultural World Music towards traditional jazz. An encounter with Warsaw jazz was graced by the Kuba Płużek Quartet: Kuba Płużek (piano), Marek Pospieszalski (saxophone), Dawid Fortuna (percussion), and Jakub Dworak (bass). Immediately following this event was an appearance by the Leszek Żądło European Art Ensemble with the project “Expulsion from Paradise,” followed by Leszek Żądło again, this time performing with the concert band Sphere.

The last day of this monumental jazz undertaking featured a performance by the group Orange Train. We listened to Dominik Bukowski (vibraphone), Piotr Lemańczyk (bass), and Tomasz Łosowski (percussion). Appearing immediately afterwards was MusiConspiracy (PL/UK): Zbigniew Chojnacki (accordion), Fabrizzio Brusca (guitar), Michał Kapczuk (bass), and Jacek Kochan (percussion).

Concerts by world-famous cantors are always a great event at the Singer’s Warsaw Festival. Cantorial concerts constitute truly unique encounters of traditional Jewish and Hasidic music. From this year’s stage we listened to the wonderful voices of Benzion Miller, Yaakov Lemmer, and Tzudik Greenwald. The singers were accompanied by the Chamber Orchestra of the Warsaw Chamber Opera, conducted by Yaakov Rotner and accompanied by Menachem Bristowski. As is true every year, the performing cantors pride themselves on a traditional education under the guidance of masters, enormous talent, and international renown. They perform Chazanut singing, works from liturgical, Jewish, and Hasidic music, and traditional Yiddish songs, along with selections from the repertoires of opera and Broadway.

 

Yaakov Lemmer at Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016 - Photo by Janusz Paliwida
Yaakov Lemmer at Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016 – Photo by Janusz Paliwida

 

This year’s Singer’s Warsaw Festival ended with an open-air concert by The Klezmatics (US), consisting of Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano), Frank London (trumpet, keyboards, vocals), Lisa Gutkin (violin, vocals), Matt Darriau (kaval, clarinet, saxophone, vocals), Paul Morrissett (bass, tsimbl, vocals), and Richie Barshay (percussion instruments). Their music is valued around the world for its experimental connections with multilingual singing, development of arrangements using many traditional and modern instruments, capitalization on Yiddish culture, and combination of contemporary styles of music. During the concert in Warsaw, The Klezmatics celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of their presence on the world music scene. Every year, the Singer’s Warsaw Festival brings us more and more excellent music.

 

The Klezmatics - Photo by Paulina Tendera
The Klezmatics – Photo by Paulina Tendera

 

We asked Nadia Issa, a Polish artist in the art of light who presented her work in the course of Singer’s Warsaw Festival in 2015, what she associates with this festival. Nadia said: “Nostalgia, tradition, music, memory. In the Old Testament, hell (Hebrew: sheol) is understood as a place of silence and forgetfulness. The Singer’s Festival protects us from the ‘sin’ of forgetfulness. In the context of the tragedy of the Second World War, there are memories about the past generation and about tradition, as well as an attempt to save the timeless values in Jewish culture as a debt to our tragically deceased ancestors.”

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26th Jewish Culture Festival, a Krakow festival of World Music

Libelid - Photo by Michal Ramus
Libelid – Photo by Michal Ramus

The first Jewish Culture Festival was held in Poland in 1988, at which time its main goal was to emphasize the very important role of Jews in the creation of the Polish state, cultural identity, and society. After 28 years, the Festival has become Krakow’s best-known cultural event, as well as one of the most important festivals of contemporary Jewish culture in the world.

Every year, nearly thirty thousand people take part in this event; the ten-day duration of the Festival marks the presence in Krakow’s Kazimierz neighborhood of artists, filmmakers, and musicians from around the world.

The themes of the 26th JCF were the Diaspora and the Sabbath, as symbols of historical and contemporary Jewish identity. The implementation of each edition of the Jewish Culture Festival is supervised by the Festival Office, operating under the auspices of the Association of the Jewish Culture Festival (cf. http://www.jewishfestival.pl/pl/).

Shai Tsabari & The Future_Orchestra featuring Ahuva Ozeri - Photo by Michal Ramus
Shai Tsabari & The Future_Orchestra featuring Ahuva Ozeri – Photo by Michal Ramus

The Jewish Culture Festival has become a permanent and very important part of Krakow’s cultural life, in addition to its significant contribution to the spread of knowledge about Jewish culture and tradition, not only in Poland but internationally. The organizers devote particular attention to the cultural significance of music; this is strongly supported by the Jewish religious tradition, in which oral transmission is particularly important. But Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival also represents a bold transcendence of the boundaries of tradition, codes, and signs, which, expressed in the language of music, equates to “world music.”

Today, not only in Poland but also throughout Europe, very important voices are being raised on the topic of the cultural integration of multiple, often historically conflicting, religious circles. In terms of politics and, especially, economics, this problem, far from disappearing, is actually (as shown by the events currently taking place in Europe) growing. However, World Music shows another side of cultural dialogue, one referring to spontaneous cognitive and artistic desires. This is shown and proven not only by the numerous festival concerts, but also by academic lectures such as “The Musical Meeting of Judaism and Islam” by Prof. Edwin Seroussi of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. More on this topic, on the example of the musicians of the 26th Jewish Culture Festival, is presented below.

In 2016, Krakow hosted musicians from around the world, with a significant portion coming from Israel but as well from the United States, Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Turkey.

The first day of the Festival opened with an evening session in the rhythm of mizrahi, a genre that combines Arabic, European and African music. Khen Elmaleh and David Pearl, creators of the best mizrahi events in Tel Aviv today, played their sets. The second day of the Festival featured an international evening concert of cantors, “By the Rivers of Babylon …,” with the participation of cantor Benzion Miller, one of the most famous Jewish cantors in the world (from the synagogue of the Jewish Center in Hillside, New York, and from 1981 Temple Beth El, Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York, USA), who, in Poland with Alberto Mizrahi and the Ben Baruch Choir, inaugurated the 8th Jewish Culture Festival in 1998 in the courtyard of Collegium Maius of Jagiellonian University.

Also taking part in this year’s concert was the world-famous lyric tenor cantor Yaakov Lemmer, followed by Avraham Kirshenbaum, lyric tenor and hazzan of the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem, one of the most outstanding heirs of the legacy of the Levites. This concert was marked as well by the participation of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue Choir, one of the best choirs performing liturgical music; of the composer Maestro Eli Jaffe, a member of the Royal Academy of Music in London and honorary conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra; and of pianist Menachem Bristowski. A Polish accent was provided by the participation in the concert of Krakow’s city orchestra, Sinfonietta Cracovia (PL).

Lola Marsh - Photo by Michal Ramus
Lola Marsh – Photo by Michal Ramus

The third day of the Festival featured an encounter with Jewish music from Austria-Hungary: Glass House Orchestra is the latest project by Frank London, undertaken on the initiative of the Balassi Institute Hungarian Cultural Center in New York. The group, comprising eight respected musicians from different countries, adopts elements of the extremely complex Jewish musical tradition. The result is – as ensured by the organizers of the Festival – truly cosmic.

Also worthy of our attention are The Brothers Nazaroff. As the Festival organizers write on the event’s website: “In the mid-twentieth century, Yiddish music in America was played mainly in the form of lullabies, elegies and Americanized folk songs. It was OK, but a little boring. In 1954 Nathan ‘Prince’ Nazaroff appeared with the album Jewish Freilach Songs (Freilach means happy in Yiddish) which was boisterous and joyful.”

Nathan ‘Prince’ Nazaroff
Nathan ‘Prince’ Nazaroff

By the end of the 26th Festival of Jewish Culture, numerous chamber, club, traditional music, and outdoor concerts had been held. The festival closed with a concert by Totemo, an Israeli music producer and singer. Her music is a combination of futuristic beats and precise sounds, enriched with melancholy lyrics, in a downtempo rhythm.

Given the scope of our review, we are unable to mention all of the artists participating in this Krakow festival of World Music, so we encourage you to take a look at the following websites:

More information: www.jewishfestival.pl/en/
More pictures: www.flickr.com/photos/126134189@N02/albums/with/72157652769675744

Text by Paulina Tendera & Wojciech Rubiś

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Semer Jewish Music Recordings Rediscovered

Semer Ensemble – Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin (Piranha Musik, 2016)

The Semer Ensemble specializes in recreating the Jewish music of 1930s Germany. The album Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin includes recreations of cabaret, 1930s dance music, classical music, Russian folk songs, Yiddish theater hits, operatic arias, and cantorial music.

To set the context to this new recordings, we need to go back to the early 20th century. Berlin-based record producer Hirsch Lewin started a label called Semer in 1932. This gramophone record company made thousands of recordings, capturing the essence of the Jewish music performed during the era. On November 9, 1938, Lewin’s store was attacked and 4,500 recordings and 250 metal plates were destroyed.

From 1992-2001, musicologist Dr. Rainer E. Lotz traveled the world to locate the Semer recordings. He was able to recover and restore nearly the entire catalog. In 2012, the Berlin Jewish Museum Berlin commissioned New Jewish Music artist Alan Bern to create new versions of the archival recordings.

Bern recruited musicians from the United States and Berlin. “It‘s amazing, but 80 years after the destruction of this culture there is once again a critical mass of musicians in Berlin able to take on a project like this,“ says Bern.

The lineup on Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin includes Alan Bern on piano, accordion, music director; Daniel Kahn on vocals, accordion; Fabian Schnedler on vocals, electric guitar; Lorin Sklamberg on vocals, accordion; Mark Kovnatsky on violin; Paul Brody on trumpet; and Sasha Lurje on vocals.

Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin is a significant recording of music that had nearly disappeared and is brought back to life decades later by skilled musicians from both sides of the Atlantic.

Buy Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin

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Yiddish Musical Journey

Lenka Lichtenberg - Yiddish Journey: The Music of Lenka Lichtenberg (ARC Music EUCD2625, 2016)
Lenka Lichtenberg – Yiddish Journey: The Music of Lenka Lichtenberg (ARC Music EUCD2625, 2016)

The influence of Yiddish and klezmer on modern, Western popular music is tremendous. Listeners have osmosed it for many decades, in music halls, theaters, the pop and classical works of George Gershwin, the pervasive radio presence of Simon & Garfunkel throughout the 1960s and 1970s, film scores and advertising. It is one of the elements of our days that is most familiar, but that most of us have never sought to trace or isolate.

ARC Music has done much to make the broad range of Jewish music available to us. “Yiddish Journey” may be the easiest first step down this path of musical exploration the label has released to date.

Ms. Lichtenberg spotlights every part of the “journey” from the Middle East to Poland to Spain. Born in Czechoslovakia to a child survivor of the Holocaust, she was raised Catholic and left unaware of her Jewish roots until age 10.

Like most converts, she became intensely enthusiastic about proselytizing others, and that is fortunate for her listeners. This is a collection of 18 beautiful, thoughtful, artistic songs.

Buy Yiddish Journey: The Music of Lenka Lichtenberg

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