Hundreds of singers from across Europe have convened in Vienna for the first European Jewish Choir Festival.
The festival will culminate on May 12 in a gala concert titled “Shir LaShalom — A Song for Peace” at the Austria Center Vienna, where 400 vocalists from Jewish choirs from 16 European cities will present their repertoires.
The event, is expected to draw some 1,500 spectators over the weekend, is sponsored by the European Jewish Parliament, the Jewish Community of Vienna, the municipality and the Austrian state, among others.
In addition to concerts, the festival’s Jewish and non-Jewish singers are participating in workshops to increase cultural exchange, an element which Roman Grinberg, choirmaster of the Vienna Jewish Choir, described as “extremely important” for organizers.
“The excitement here is enormous, the faces of participants of the initial sessions reminded me of children receiving a new PlayStation,” said Joel Rubinfeld, co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament.
Philadelphia’s classical music-loving community is coming together on May 11 at Centennial Hall in Haverford, Pennsylvania to pay tribute to the achievements of Nelly Berman, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who has touched the lives of hundreds of young music students over the past 30 years.
Jonathan Adler, who has been studying piano at the Nelly Berman School of Music for a decade, describes its formidable director as a drill sergeant and loving grandmother rolled into one. Off to Yale in the fall, where he hopes to continue studying music, Adler told The Arty Semite, “NBS has taught me the importance not only of learning and loving classical music, but of performing the music as well.”
Berman’s daughter, Elena Berman Gantard and others in the school’s community have organized a gala concert, in which 24 pianists will play 24 preludes by Chopin and more than 30 other students will showcase their skills on violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, voice and chamber music. The elder Berman, 74 and suffering from ill health, is making the trip to Philadelphia from Florida to be at the celebration.
“They told me to go do my thing,” said Avner Dorman about a 2011 commission by pianist Orli Shaham, violinist Gil Shaham and the 92nd Street Y to write a composition for their Hebrew Melodies project. “They wanted something related to their project, but they didn’t want to impose any specific idea on me.”
The 38-year-old composer did indeed go off and do his thing, with “Nigunim,” the title track on the Shahams’ new “Nigunim: Hebrew Melodies” album as the result. The piece, with four movements, is inspired by traditional Jewish music, but not in the usual way. “It’s not the weepy Eastern European, Ashkenazi thing you’d expect,” Dorman said.
Instead, the composition is inspired by the intervals and modes that Dorman found through ethnomusicology research on Jewish music from all over the world. The first movement is inspired by North African, specifically Tunisian and Libyan, cantillation. The second is inspired by Georgian wedding music, the third by “sort of” Western music, and the fourth by Balkan dances.
Although none of the movements sound like a nigun, their melodies are circular, like those of traditional Jewish songs. “All the melodies start and end with the same note, so in that sense they work like the tunes one hears in the synagogue or at the Passover seder,” Dorman said. “The rhetoric of the nigun is in there. I guess you could call it a shadow of a nigun, many generations removed from the source.”
Music legend Leonard Cohen was a double winner at this past weekend’s JUNO Awards held in Regina, Saskatchewan. The JUNOs, presented by The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, are the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys.
Cohen was named Artist of the Year, and he also received the JUNO Award for Songwriter of the Year for three songs on his “Old Ideas” album. Cohen was not in attendance at the various JUNO ceremonies and galas to personally receive the honors.
While newcomer Carly Rae Jepsen bested Cohen by winning three awards, the 78-year-old icon beat out both the “Call Me Maybe” singer and pop star Justin Bieber for Artist of the Year. Cohen has now won five JUNOs over the course of his career.
Jewish performers Drake, Adam Cohen (Leonard Cohen’s son), and Toronto group Jaffa Road were among the JUNO nominees this year.
Long Island bands Soft White Underbelly and Travesty didn’t make much of an impact. But when they reformed as Blue Öyster Cult in 1971, the group grew into a global juggernaut, with earworm hits like “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Burning for You” and “Godzilla.”
The band was also immortalized in an endlessly viral Saturday Night Live sketch in which Christopher Walken, as a leather-jacketed producer, demands “more cowbell” during the “Don’t Fear the Reaper” recording session. As if to prove BÖC’s staying power, countless websites still flog “More Cowbell” t-shirts.
Now, more than 40 years after the band’s debut album, founding frontman Eric Bloom is about to take BÖC on its first tour of Australia as part of a circuit of live gigs promoting a 16-CD “Complete Columbia Albums Collection” boxed set released in January.
Though Queens-born Bloom is the only Jewish member of “the thinking man’s rock band” (as critics have called BÖC), other Jews helped engineer the band’s success, including songwriter Richard Meltzer and producer Sandy Pearlman. As he prepared to perform Down Under, Bloom spoke to The Arty Semite by email from Florida. “It’s a cliché, but I’m a snowbird,” he joked.
Michael Kaminer: Jeffry Hyman became Joey Ramone. Chaim Witz became Gene Simmons. Did Eric Bloom, Richard Meltzer, and Sandy Pearlman ever get pressured to change their names?
Next month, Brandeis University Press will release “Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman” by Forward contributor Mark Cohen. (You can read Cohen’s 2010 piece on Sherman for us here.) But there’s no need to wait for May to start immersing yourself in Shermanania (or is that just Shermania?).
For the past few months, Cohen has been uploading Sherman songs to YouTube, many of them little known or even unreleased. That’s the case with the song posted yesterday, a parody of “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” from the musical “South Pacific,” titled “There is Nothing Like a Lox.” Check it out after the jump:
It was interesting timing. While Sandberg’s book sparked debate across the nation about working mothers in white-collar settings, Weissman’s film highlighted the very different challenges of struggling female indie musicians trying to raise families.
“Rock N Roll Mamas,” which was screened March 7 at the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival, follows three women of different ages, backgrounds and family situations. They are all trying to make their livings as rock musicians, and they all pay a price for staying true to their art while raising children. But it seems as though they may not perceive the costs of their decisions as well as the film’s viewers do.
Weissman started working on “Rock N Roll Mamas,” her third film, in 2003. A New York-native with an Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia College in Chicago who was living Portland, she became interested in the lives of indie musician moms after reading an article on the topic. “I saw a real similarity between them and me, as I was a freelance filmmaker and a new mom at the time. It resonated for me — all the juggling and hard work and the low pay.”
Stephen Sondheim turns 83 today — a birthday always worth noting, though this time it will pass without an entire year of galas and concerts, as was the case on the composer’s 80th. Even considering the Jewish contributors to modern American musical theater — Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Leonard Bernstein (and many, many more) — it is Sondheim who has done the most to explore what is possible within the boundaries of the musical form. He is constantly pushing and reinventing, making musicals about ideas, themes, and plots that few other composers would have taken on. As such, I have selected what I consider to be his three finest musicals, though dissent in the comments section is welcome.
“A man with no emotional commitments reassesses his life on his 35th birthday by reviewing his relationships with his married acquaintances and girlfriends. That is the entire plot.”
In fact, there isn’t really a plot at all to Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” which is what makes show such an important break in the history of the American musical. “Company” derives its content from a series of one-act plays written by George Furth, all about a couple in a relationship and an outsider. In the finished piece, the outsiders were composited into a single character, Bobby, with each song a one-act play in itself, a window into the life of Bobby and his relationships with these married couples.
It’s hard to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television lately without running into Clive Davis. He is promoting his memoir, “The Soundtrack of My Life” a book that might just as easily be called “The Soundtrack of Your Life.” Yes, you.
Davis, 80, is a recording industry executive who helped start or enhance the careers of such hallowed artists as Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and Rod Stewart, among others.
His memoir is fascinating and has a big surprise that comes more than 500 pages in: He is bisexual. Davis quickly follows that with a less surprising reveal: His first long-term gay relationship — it lasted 13 years — was with a doctor.
“I obviously couldn’t escape the profession all Jews put on a pedestal,” he writes. Davis was born in Brooklyn. Both his parents died when he was a teenager, so he lived with his aunt and with his married sister, won full scholarships to New York University and Harvard Law, and then went out to look for work.
Davis spoke to The Arty Semite about his career, luck and growing up Jewish.
Curt Schleier: Despite your Harvard law degree and your work on the law review, you were turned down for a job at a white shoe firm because the interviewer thought you weren’t “right” for the job. So you landed at a smaller, Jewish firm.
“Leonard Cohen: The Musical.” What would such a creation possibly look like? I don’t know, but I’m curious to find out.
“Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen” premiered in February at the Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver and will appear at the Prairie Theater Exchange in my own hometown of Winnipeg from January 22 to February 9, 2014.
The CBC reports that the play “tells the story of a writer haunted by his characters as he works in the Chelsea Hotel — but more importantly, it’ll feature Cohen hits like ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Hallelujah.’”
It had also better include “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” Cohen’s song about Janis Joplin and the things they got up to “on the unmade bed / while the limousines wait in the street.” I wonder how that’ll go down onstage.
Barbra Streisand will perform two Tel Aviv concerts in Israel in addition to performing at the 90th birthday celebration for President Shimon Peres.
The concerts will take place June 15 and 16 at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium, Israeli media reported.
On June 18, Streisand will perform at the opening ceremony of the Israeli Presidential Conference, which will be marking Peres’s milestone birthday.
Streisand reportedly has visited Israel many times, and is a strong supporter of Israel, but has never performed in the Jewish state.
One of the best-selling musicians of all time, Streisand has sold some 72.5 million records in the United States. She performed at last month’s Oscars for the first time in 36 years.
Some 4,500 people are expected to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference.
If Bob Dylan were 12 years old, he’d sound like Ned The Kids Dylan. That’s because Ned The Kids Dylan, a pre-pubescent singer-songwriter from Northhampton, England, sounds an awful lot like the bard with the birth name Robert Zimmerman — only with a voice that hasn’t dropped yet.
Ned The Kids Dylan, who tours Great Britain playing his guitar and singing original songs at road shows and music festivals, has been hanging out at concerts for years already, listening to a variety of prominent artists. While Dylan is his number-one idol, he also cites Laura Marling, Billy Bragg and Ray Davies as influences.
The youngster really likes Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” album, and his favorite Dylan songs are “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm,” and “Tangled Up In Blue.” The prodigy is at no loss for words in explaining how and why the icon has been such an inspiration for him.
“Dylan is a storyteller who tells you the truth as horrible as it may be. His words are so well crafted that within minutes he can change the way you think. If I could do that, change the way people think, inspire them, move them, then I would have done what I set out to do!” he told American Songwriter.
Israel is hoping for a big win at the Eurovision Song Contest in mid-May with a performance of “Rak bishvilo” (“Only for Him”) by Moran Mazor.
Mazor, who will turn 22 during the contest, earned the right to represent Israel in Malmö, Sweden, the site of this year’s event, by defeating nine other finalists in the Kdam Eurovision competition. Mazor, the winner of the first season of the “Eyal Golan Is Calling You” a Mediterranean song contest, came out on top after a long, complicated and drama-filled process.
She will perform the song, written by Gal Sarig and Chen Harari, in the second Eurovision semi-final round on May 16. Should she win, it would be Israel’s fourth Eurovision victory. Israel won in 1978, 1979 and in 1998, when transgender singer Dana International sang “Diva.”
Here is Mazor displaying an impressive set of pipes in the performance that earned her the opportunity to go to Malmo:
Babs is heading to the Holy Land.
Barbara Streisand will sing on June 18 at the opening ceremony of Shimon Peres’s annual Presidential Conference, which this year will honor the president’s 90th birthday.
Although the 70-year-old iconic singer has visited Israel privately a number of times, this will be her first official public appearance there. It was reported that it was Israeli concert promoter Shuki Weiss, working closely with Live Nation, who sealed the deal to bring Streisand to Israel as part of a rare European tour.
Because of the involvement of Weiss, who is known for bringing big names to Israel (including Depeche Mode and Alicia Keys this year), there is speculation that Streisand may not just sing her version of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” but might actually agree to play a larger venue. Ynet reports that such a concert would take place either June 15 or 16.
The Israeli-Iranian singer Rita performed at the United Nations General Assembly Hall.
Rita performed in Hebrew, English and Farsi at the “Tunes for Peace” concert on Tuesday night – just the third full-fledged concert at the U.N. venue.
The singer, who goes by just her first name, but whose full name is Rita Yahan-Farouz, performed for an audience comprised of Iranian expatriates, Israeli diplomats, U.N. employees and representatives of 140 U.N. delegations, according to Haaretz.
The concert was sponsored by the New York and Los Angeles chapters of the Iranian American Jewish Federation and the UJA-Federation of New York, and hosted by Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon introduced the evening using the word “shalom,” Hebrew for peace as well as hello and goodbye, and called Rita “a cultural ambassador,” according to Haaretz.
“It is our sincere hope that this musical evening will echo from New York to the hearts and minds of people throughout Israel and Iran,” said Ron Prosor, Israel’s U.N. ambassador.
What do you do if you’re “a Yid who thinks he’s a Goy”?
You go to your gentile friend “Boris,” of course, for help writing “The Aveirah Song.” Aveirah is Hebrew for “sin,” which, “Boris,” being a gentile and all, would be an expert on.
And what kinds of sins does a gentile (or wannabe-gentile) commit?
He doesn’t sing zemirot at the Shabbat meal. He lets his wife wear a wig instead of a kerchief. And for Birchat Kohanim he defiantly keeps his shoes on. He also studies Torah all night long on Nittl Nakht (Christmas), when Torah study is avoided among some Orthodox Jews; drinks only three cups of wine at the Passover Seder, and eats “tons of maror without charoset.”
That’s the thesis of song released February 24 on YouTube that is quickly becoming a sensation among Orthodox members of social media websites. The song’s lyrics are genuinely funny to anyone who knows anything about the Hasidic lifestyle. The tricky thing, though, is to discern what is meant seriously from what is meant as parody, and then to figure out what is unintentional parody.
Watch ‘The Aveirah Song’:
The nominees for the 2013 Juno Awards have been announced, and among them are Jewish musicians Drake, Leonard Cohen, Adam Cohen and Toronto group Jaffa Road, which was nominated for Best World Music Album for “Where The Light Gets In.”
The Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys, will be given out on April 21 in a ceremony broadcasted from Regina, Saskatchewan hosted by vocalist Michael Bublé. It is sure to be a big night for all the nominated artists — some familiar to American music fans, and some less known outside Canada. The former include international sensations like Carly Rae Jepsen of “Call Me Maybe” fame and teenage heartthrob Justin Bieber. Pop and country singer-songwriter k.d. lang will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Toronto-born-and-bred hip-hop artist Drake, 26, recently scooped up his first Grammy for best Best Rap Album for “Take Care.” He is nominated for the Juno Fan Choice Award. Director X (aka Julien Christian Lutz) is nominated for Video of the Year for Drake’s HYFR video.
Leonard Cohen, the legendary 78-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet and novelist is being recognized in a number of categories. The Montreal native is nominated for the Juno Fan Choice Award, Artist of the Year, and Songwriter of the Year (for three songs on his “Old Ideas” album).
Superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel is reconsidering future engagements in Israel after being interrogated by security services upon arriving in and leaving from Ben Gurion airport.
Dudamel, 32, who is music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, was in Israel to conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for a week-long series of eight concerts in January. According to Haaretz he may have been singled out at the airport because he is a citizen of Venezuela and he is now considering not returning to Israel until relations have improved between the two countries.
In a statement to Haaretz, the Philharmonic claimed that Dudamel should have been carrying his letter of invitation from the orchestra. In a February 13 blog post, however, music journalist Norman Lebrecht wrote that “We are assured that he was carrying the letter.” What’s more, Lebrecht wrote, “a representative of the orchestra was with him from the moment he left the plane.”
Who knew the man behind the Brooklyn homecomings of Jay-Z and Barbra Streisand had a thing for heimishe melodies?
Bruce Ratner, the developer and majority owner of the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, which opened last September with a Jay-Z show and hosted borough native Barbra Streisand a month later, holds a special place in his heart for cantorial music.
“My parents are both from Eastern European descent, so that type of Jewish music is in my blood,” Ratner said. “I grew up going to my Conservative synagogue in Cleveland, where they had an amazing cantor who I absolutely loved to listen to. And as I got older, I was always buying cantor CDs. The music is just so refined.”
Ratner, the chairman and chief executive of the real estate development firm Forest City Companies, is taking personal pride in having spearheaded efforts to put on the first Jewish event at the venue: a February 28 concert featuring the renowned Israeli-born violinist Itzhak Perlman sharing the stage with Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. The Barclays performance comes on the heels of the pair’s recent collaboration, “Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul,” an album of Jewish music released in August.
The fuzzed out dulcet tones of Yo La Tengo ring out on “Fade,” the band’s 13th studio album in a long and storied career that stretches nearly 30 years.
Proudly hailing from Hoboken, New Jersey, the trio is composed of guitarist Ira Kaplan, his wife and drummer Georgia Hubley, and bassist James McNew, all of whom share singing duties.
A staple of the indie rock music scene, the band has a cavalcade of accomplishments under their belt, including several movie soundtracks, an outstanding record of philanthropy, and the rare honor of inventing their own Jewish holiday tradition.
Since 2001 the band has played all eight nights of Hanukkah at Maxwell’s, a small restaurant and music venue in their hometown, with a varied roster of music and comedy guests making special appearances each night. Each year the band plays fan favorites and covers of Jewish artists, donating all the profits from the concerts to charity.
A few days prior to the release of “Fade,” Kaplan spoke to The Arty Semite about the band’s annual holiday festivities, the joy of continuously making music, and not giving fans all the answers.
Laurie Kamens: How does it feel to have created a new holiday tradition with your annual Hanukkah shows?
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