The Arty Semite

Forgotten Songwriter of 'Twist and Shout'

By Michael Kaminer

“Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Piece of My Heart.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.”

The songs are recognized almost everywhere. But their Jewish creator, Bert Berns, has nearly vanished into obscurity.

That should change this year, with a book, documentary, and stage musical — all inspired by Berns and his music. April 15 sees the release of Joel Selvin’s “Here Comes The Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues” (Counterpoint); in June, the off-Broadway musical “Piece of My Heart” will open at the Pershing Square Signature Theater in Manhattan. And a documentary on Berns is slated for distribution this fall.

Other Brill Building songwriters may have had the glory, but few influenced pop music as much as Berns. He stewarded the early careers of Neil Diamond and Van Morrison, co-founded Bang Records with music-industry heavyweights Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, and recorded with legends like the Isley Brothers, the Drifters, and Ben E. King. And none other than Sir Paul McCartney extolled Berns and his music in a recent video posted on Time.com.

The son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants, Berns contracted rheumatic fever as a child, which ultimately caused his death from a heart defect in 1967. His son, Brett, and daughter, Cassandra, are now overseeing the multimedia celebration of their father and his work.

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Chicago Concert Brings Interfaith Music Together

By Menachem Wecker

“This sanctuary is the most religiously diverse place in this great city,” said Michael Siegel, the rabbi of Anshe Emet, a Conservative synagogue in Chicago.

If that sounds like crowing, consider that conspicuous among the attendees of the synagogue’s April 6 “Sounds of Faith” concert were kippas, Greek Orthodox vestments, and headscarves.

The program, which packed the synagogue’s 1,100-capacity main sanctuary, featured Koranic recitations, Old Testament cantillation, and monastic chants. Musicians ranged from the choirs of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church and Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation to the Islamic Foundation Children’s Choir and Anshe Emet cantor [Alberto Mizrahi and Temple Sholom of Chicago (Reform) cantor Aviva Katzman.

“The greatest thing that happens at this concert is community building. There are divides and there are people who say ‘We should never get together,’ and ‘Oh my God! The Koran was being read on a Bima of a synagogue?!’” said Mizrahi in an interview. “Well they’re not used to hearing the ‘Sim Shalom’ of [Max] Janowski either.”

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Podcast: The Best Hasidic Composer in Brooklyn

By Jon Kalish

Over the past 200 years, the Modzitzer hasidim have become known for their beautiful melodies, or nigunim. Thousands of them, in fact. Today, 88 year-old Ben Zion Shenker is one of the most prolific, and respected, Modzitzer composers. For his latest album, “Hallel V’zimrah,” he teamed up with klezmer and bluegrass virtuoso Andy Statman. The Forward’s Jon Kalish caught up with Shenker in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn to talk about composing Jewish music, meeting the Modzitzer rebbe, and performing on Yiddish radio.

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Cracow Crescendo

By Martyna Starosta

“We sing in Yiddish, we sing in Hebrew and sometimes we sing in Polish,” explains Zofia Radzikowska who joined the JCC choir in Cracow when it first opened two years ago.

At the beginning it was uncertain whether the choir would be able to attract enough members. Today the multigenerational ensemble is a lively proof of the small but vibrant local Jewish community.

Each singer has a slightly different reason to sing in this group: Some want to learn more about their Jewish roots whereas others recognize something in Jewish culture that was inextricably linked to Polish culture.

A big sign at the entrance of the local JCC trumpets: “Building A Jewish Future in Cracow.” That seems like a pretty bold undertaking if one considers the bigger historical picture of complicated Jewish-Polish relationships.

But choir member Paulina Skotnicka says the JCC is able to create a “non-judgmental place where nobody is maligned based on his or her background.” This welcoming approach inspires a lot of optimism.

Skotnicka sounds both down to earth and realistic when she says the choir is doing its small part to revive Jewish culture that was all but wiped out in the Holocaust.

“We can’t actually recover what is lost,” she says. “But we can certainly build something new.”

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Marissa Nadler Isn't Afraid of the Dark

By Michael Kaminer

Boston-based singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler, long a critical darling with a cult following, seems poised to cross over with the haunting “July,” (Sacred Bones) her sixth studio album in ten years. Reviews have been the strongest of her career; UK pop bible NME called “July” “a career high,” and the PopMatters blog dubbed it “one of 2014’s best albums so far… A triumph.” Pundits usually trip over themselves trying to describe Nadler’s dark, wry confessional folk; in just one review, music site Pitchfork name-checked Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval, German folkie Sibylle Baier — and Edgar Allan Poe.

Newly signed to high-profile music company Sacred Bones, Nadler is now a labelmate of indie royalty like David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch and Fleet Foxes, which makes the acid opening lines of “July” feel a bit ironic: “If you ain’t made it now / You’re never gonna make it.” The Forward caught up with the singer by email between gigs in New England to support her new album. “And I’m doing the driving as well!” she said.

Michael Kaminer: Journalists seem to grasp at descriptions for your music. If you had to introduce yourself and your music to our audience in a couple of sentences, how would it read?

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Growing Up Jewish in Rock's Golden Age

By Michael Kaminer

At age 19, Graham Gouldman scored his first U.K. top-10 hit with “For Your Love,” the ageless tune first recorded by the Yardbirds. He went on to write smash songs for the likes of Herman’s Hermits, Jeff Beck, and the Hollies before forming the band 10cc — a hit factory in itself — in 1972.

This month, Gouldman added another distinction to a stellar resume. He’s one of four tunesmiths who’ll get inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony this June in New York. The Kinks’ Ray Davies, “Midnight Train to Georgia” writer Jim Weatherly, and Elvis Presley collaborator Mark James will also be honored.

Born in Manchester, England, Gouldman started playing guitar at age 11 after a cousin returned from Spain with a cheap acoustic guitar. “As soon as I held it, I was gone,” his bio says. Gouldman left school “as soon as was legally possible,” joining a band called the Whirlwinds. After a stint with another band, the Mockingbirds, music manager Harvey Lisberg hired him to write songs for one of the biggest acts to break out of Manchester — Herman’s Hermits.

These days, Gouldman continues to tour tirelessly with 10cc; in 2012, he released “Love and Work” (Rosala Records), a solo album. The Forward caught up with Gouldman by email.

Michael Kaminer: What does the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame honor mean to you?

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The Year of Jason Robert Brown

By Curt Schleier

This will definitely be composer Jason Robert Brown’s year.

A musical version of Robert James Waller’s “The Bridges of Madison County” (music, lyrics and orchestration by Jason Robert Brown) opens February 20 on Broadway.

“Honeymoon in Vegas” (music, lyrics, dance and vocal orchestration by Jason Robert Brown), which received rapturous reviews during its debut at the Paper Mill Theater in New Jersey, opens on Broadway in the fall.

The film version of his innovative off-Broadway play, “The Last Five Years” (book, music and lyrics by Jason…you get the picture) will be in theaters later this year.

All this on top of the Tony he won (best original music score) for “Parade,” about the Leo Frank trial and “13,” his Broadway follow-up, about a young bar mitzvah-age boy transplanted from New York to the Midwest after his parents divorce.

I first saw Jason perform almost 20 years ago at a small suburban theater not far from Monsey, NY, where he grew up. I wish I could say I purposely sought out the show. Actually, his show was — to my way of thinking — just thrown in as part of a subscription to the plays I really wanted to see. But it wasn’t very long before he blew away with a musical review, “Songs for a New World.”

After that I followed him almost everywhere, walking that fine line between sycophant and stalker. I saw “The Last Five Years,” the story of his first marriage. I sat across the aisle from him at a preview performance of “Parade.” (For the record, that was a coincidence.)

At “13,” the PR folks gave out CDs of the score with the press kit and I rushed to him to get it autographed. He told me I was the first.

Finally, at the Paper Mill, I saw him in the lobby, reminded him of our past and begged him for an interview. He said three magic words I’ll never forget: “See the publicist.”

Well it wasn’t “no.” So here we are, a few weeks before Madison County is slated to open, and Jason is on the phone.

Curt Schleier: When did you realize you’re a genius?

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Neshama Carlebach Isn’t Just Shlomo’s Daughter

By Karen Skinazi

Our high school, the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto was, as its name indicated, a community school. Kids entered ninth grade from the spectrum of Jewish day schools — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Sephardic. But it was also a community school in a different way; we were a small group (graduating class of 110), and we looked out for one another. So when one of my classmates starred, in that first year of high school, as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in a local production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a bunch of went to see her. None of us knew her very well yet (nor each other), but we loved watching her. “She’s a born performer,” whispered one of my classmates.

That couldn’t have been a more prescient observation I thought earlier this month, watching Neshama Carlebach perform with Joshua Nelson, another star of the shul circuit, at the Jewish Center in Princeton, New Jersey, hundreds of miles and in a country apart from the one where I first saw her on a stage. Still sprinkled with fairy dust, Neshama belted out songs that give life to her “soulful” name, songs that left the crowd beatific. All around me, faces were lit up with rapture; people swayed and sang along; some broke into spontaneous dance. When I went to give my old classmate a hug after her performance, I had to fight off dozens of other admirers who wanted to give her a hug, not because they also knew her, but because they loved her without needing to know her.

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Israeli Singer Proves Surprise Hit In Yemen

By Yoav Appel

(Reuters) — An Israeli singer has become an unlikely star in Yemen, an Arab country where his hit songs blare from cafes and taxis.

Zion Golan’s parents were born in Yemen, but like other Israelis, he is banned from traveling to the conservative Muslim nation, which has no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Known in Yemen as Ziyan Joulan, his songs — whose Arabic lyrics are written by his mother-in-law — are distributed on bootleg CDs and downloaded from the Internet.

“Yemeni music is in my heart and in my soul,” Golan told Reuters.

“My big dream is to go to Yemen. My parents told me many stories about Yemen, about Sanaa, about Aden, all about Yemen, so I felt it was right to write, to perform songs in a Yemeni style, which I feel is part of me.”

In Sanaa, Waddah Othman, a doctor, grinned as he displayed an array of Golan’s songs on his mobile phone.

“I adore this singer,” he said.

Abdullah al-Haj, who owns a video and music shop in Sanaa, said music of Yemeni Jewish singers was in high demand by local youngsters, who increasingly are getting music off the Internet.

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Welcome to the a Capella Revolution

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Listen to Pentatonix, and you’ll be sure that you hear instruments. In fact, it is an a cappella quintet of young singers — four men and one woman — who perform without any accompaniment, and manage to make a remarkable range of sounds in musical styles ranging from pop to electronica to R&B and dubstep.

Pentatonix emerged just over two years ago, when they won the third season of the a cappella reality show “The Sing Off.” They’ve put out three albums thus far and, with 4.5 million YouTube subscribers, are hugely popular. Pentatonix’s super-fun medley of Daft Punk songs has close to 47 million views on YouTube, and their cover of Lorde’s “Royals” more than 23 million. Pentatonix also sings original songs, like the delicate, powerful “Run to You.”

Avi Kaplan, 24, is Pentatonix’s baritone or “vocal bass.” Kaplan has been making music with a cappella groups since high school and was majoring in opera, as well as winning prizes as part of a vocal jazz ensemble, at a California college when he was invited to join the nascent Pentatonix right before “The Sing Off” auditions. He also plays guitar and arranges choral and a cappella music. Kaplan spoke with The Arty Semite from Texas, where the group was getting ready for a college performance, in a warm up to their 28-date sold-out North American concert tour, which began February 5 in Tulsa and will lead into a European tour.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen: Why do you think a cappella music is so popular?

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Pete Seeger and Me

By David Bromberg

To state the obvious, Pete was an iconic figure in the folk music movement in the United States. As were many, many of my colleagues, I was profoundly influenced by Pete’s music just as I started to really enjoy music. I first found him through the recording of The Weavers reunion concert at Carnegie Hall. It was a great record, and for me, Pete’s performance of “Wimoweh” was the highlight.

Pete inspired me to try to learn to play the banjo. Fortunately for the world, that didn’t take, but I did learn a lot of what I know about certain styles of guitar playing from a book on playing the guitar that bore Pete’s name, before it was revised and published with Jerry Silverman’s name in place of Pete’s. The first time that I saw Bob Dylan was at one of Pete’s concerts. Pete brought him out to sing, and gave him a great introduction. I don’t think that many people in the audience had heard of Bob Dylan before that moment.

Pete was also an iconic figure in American politics. He was an inspirational activist for many ideas that seemed somewhat successful, until just recently. I’m speaking of the cause of unions, and the cause of ending minority repression. Of course neither cause was ever totally successful, but we were doing a lot better a few years ago. Now there is no Pete Seeger to lead us.

I didn’t agree with all of Pete’s political convictions, but I found it incredible that people who swore to uphold our constitution tried to silence him. To say he was brave, strong, and a great musician is understatement in every respect. Pete built the house that he lived in, and he led (forgive me for bringing this in) a moral life. He was true to his convictions in every part of his life, as far as I, or anyone I know, could see. I believe that we may have just lost a just man.

Proverbs 20:7 The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.

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Why Jonathan Richman Is the True Bard of Massachusetts

By Eitan Kensky

Einar Einarsson Kvaran/Wiki Commons

There’s Johnny Rotten laughing that he doesn’t remember the words while the rhythm kicks and drives. The bass is muddled but insistent, louder with every measure, angry that no one’s joined in. Johnny yells to stop so that someone can feed him his lines. The volume drops, but the band never does. Suddenly this song, a cover of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” — which I’ve always heard as a song about being young and excited and about the thrill that comes when life is yet to be discovered — suddenly this song is about the drum and bass and power and about playing whatever you want to play, because this is your band too, and who cares if the lead singer knows the words?

Eventually Paul [Cook, the drummer] shouts the first sounds: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6!”

He waits for Johnny to pick it up, but he doesn’t, so Paul adds “Roadrunner roadrunner!” and the band runs, or really they just keep going like they did before, pounding even more intensely. Johnny Rotten sings the way anyone would if they were forced to perform what they half-remembered. He mumbles random syllables [actual transcription: uhlalalalala] and shouts what words he knows: “Going faster miles an hour!” “With the radio on!” Somehow he remembers that there’s a verse about Stop & Shop, maybe because “Stop ‘N Shop” sounds vaguely exotic.

It’s impossible to call the cover better. I’m not even sure that I would call the cover good if I weren’t so deeply in love with the original. But there’s something enervating about the way the Sex Pistols, an ocean away, dive into a song that screams “I’m in love with Massachusetts,” and which celebrates neon lights in the cold, the AM radio, and route 128 (when it’s dark outside). It’s exhilarating to hear the song explode with a kinetic energy so different from the tight, organ-propelled original.

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How to Sing Like a Real Folk Singer

By Itzik Gottesman

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here

Can you say with certainty that someone sings in an authentic Yiddish style? Fortunately, we have materials to help us figure it out — the records and CDs of folksingers, the recorded compilations from Ruth Rubin, Sofia Magid, Ben Stonehill and others; the recordings in the “Vernadsky Library” in Kiev, and the homemade family recordings that show up from time to time.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that you can’t speak only about one style, or even several. It all depends on the age of the singer, their birthplace and where they grew up.

Even in my family, two singers can sing in completely different styles. My grandmother Lifshe, from the small town Zvinyetshke, sang with a lamenting, sad voice, inviting listeners to sympathize with the suffering she expressed. My mother, from the larger city of Chernowitz, sang with less ornamentation but with a more secure feeling.

In the new recording from Brooklyn resident Herschel Melamed, “A Long Life In Yiddish,” you also hear a folksinger who sings in an authentic folk style. The CD includes 18 songs, and although the project was not undertaken as a commercial enterprise, it looks and sounds professional. In fact, two discs were produced with the same songs: one without musical accompaniment, and the second with the help of musicians Avi Fox-Rosen and Alec Spiegelman.

Herschel Melamed was born in Opalin, Poland and grew up in Luboml, where he worked in his brother Kalman’s shoe shop. At the beginning of the Second World War he became a soldier in the Polish Army and was later sent by the Soviets to a communal farm in the Ural Mountains, where he spent the war. His daughter Myra told me that he might have stayed there, but he learned that his younger brother Laizer had survived, so he left the communal farm and traveled westward to Chernowitz, where he married and where his daughter was born.

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Why a Finnish Band Called Themselves 'Talmud Beach'

By Michael Kaminer

British pop-culture monthly Uncut excited music fans this month with its review of what may be the world’s first Finnish-Jewish blues trio. Trouble was, the magazine got it wrong. Talmud Beach may have a Jewish name, but none of its players are members of the tribe. The band’s moniker, though, bears a Semitic connection. Bearded, hat-wearing guitarist Aleksi Lukander nearly got beaten for his “Jewish” looks, “and the experience led to the phrase Talmud Beach,” says their label’s website.

Jussi Pitkänen

The band also draws on Jewish inspirations for its stripped-down, nearly sepulchral tunes; Lukander cites sources as far-flung as Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Saul Bellow and Woody Allen for Talmud Beach’s textures and colors. The band got its start in 2006 on Mannerheimintie — one of Helsinki’s main drags, and a hub for buskers — where Lukander and drummer Petri Alanko both lived and played. Bassist Milko Siltanen joined in 2011. The Forward talked to Lukander by email from Helsinki about mistaken identity, the musical potential of the Talmud, and a pointed Jewish response to the band’s name.

Michael Kaminer: You adopted the name Talmud Beach after a few scary incidents where you were mistaken for a Jew — and violence ensued. Can you explain?

Aleksi Lukander: Me and the drummer Petri were traveling around Eastern Europe and playing on the streets a few years back. For the first time I had grown a long dark beard. I’d bought a black hat for the trip, because all the old bluesmen wore hats. At the time I usually wore a black blouse and black pants — so I was wearing black pants, black blouse, black hat and I had long dark beard. I didn’t realize it myself, at first I was stunned, why do people think I’m jewish? Then my friend took a photo of me and it was only then, when I saw the connection.

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Israeli Apocalypse Rock Breaks Big Stateside

By Michael Kaminer

The fuzzy guitars, pulsating bass,and incomprehensible lyrics intrigued me. So I looked up the song that was streaming on KEXP, the Seattle indie-rock station I broadcast at home. The band’s name seemed Finnish or Icelandic, until I realized the words were actually phonetic Hebrew.

GONI RISKIN

Vaadat Chirigim, it turns out, is that rarest of musical animals — an Israeli rock band poised to break big stateside. The Tel Aviv noise trio is having a huge year. Along with an album release on California-based Burger Records for “The World Is Well Lost” — a slightly awkward translation of [“Haolam Avad Mizman”] — Vaadat Chirigim have become darlings of trendspotting media like Spin, Paste, and Filter. KEXP, a hugely influential station, even made Haolam Avad Mizman’s title track its song of the day — a bullseye for a new band. The Forward caught up with guitarist and singer Yuval Haring from Tel Aviv.

Michael Kaminer: Your songs have Hebrew names. Is there anything inherently Jewish or Israeli about the music you write and play?

Yuval Haring: Our songs are completely in Hebrew, not just the names. We sing about the end of the world. The end of Tel Aviv bohemia. About apocalypse. About not being able to let go of the past. It is nostalgic. It is about hopelessness and at the same time it is about moving forward. It is about everything that Israeli youth today is concerned with (and I mean the youth that I’m surrounded by; not everyone, of course). The fact that there is no future in sight that isn’t controlled by fat pinkish rich politicians who are only concerned with old-school ethics and maintaining financial face.

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Why David Broza Covers BDS Supporter Roger Waters

By Jon Kalish

In early 2013 singer-songwriter David Broza spent a little over a week in an East Jerusalem recording studio working on his new album. The Israeli superstar says it has been a life-long dream to have Israeli and Palestinian musicians work together on a project. The resulting album is “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” (S-Curve Records), recorded in the studio that is the home base of Palestinian group Sabreen. It was produced by two Americans, Steve Greenberg and Steve Earle, and features a cameo by the Haitian-American star Wyclef Jean on the title track.

David Broza with producer and country star Steve Earle.

Broza and Jean, who co-wrote “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” sing, “Same face in the Haifa Is the same face out in Nevada / Same face in Nablus Is the same face out in New Orleans singing the blues.” In the chorus they croon “shalom/salam.”

Israeli musicians Gadi Seri and Yossi Sassi ventured into East Jerusalem for the recording sessions, where they were joined by Palestinian musicians Elias Wakileh, Said Murad and Yair Dallal. The Palestinian Hip Hop duo G-Town, Palestinian-Israeli singer Mira Awad and the Jerusalem YMCA Youth Choir also recorded with Broza. The choir, which is described as half-Palestinian, half-Israeli, is seen in the music video of Broza’s rendition of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” The video opens with images of an Israeli soldier, piles of litter in East Jerusalem streets, and Broza interacting with Palestinian teenagers.

Broza also does covers of songs by Elvis Costello and Pink Floyd. Costello and Roger Waters, the Pink Floyd front man, are known for supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel. In a recent interview, Waters spoke of the “systematic racist apartheid Israeli regime.” But Waters’ take on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict didn’t phase Broza, who calls Water’s song “Mother” “one of the most anti-boycott, boundary-breaking songs ever.”

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7 Best Classical Concerts of 2013

By Raphael Mostel

Of the many great classical music events this year in New York, seven with some Jewish content particularly stood out:

1: Mozart collaborated on three operas with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who was born to a Jewish family in the Ghetto of Venice. All three are among the greatest ever written, and explore issues of identity and disguise — subjects familiar to Jews throughout history. Jewish Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer specializes in making familiar music fresh, and he certainly delivered with his brilliant, playful, semi-staged version of “The Marriage of Figaro,” the first of the three, at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival.

Richard Termine
Iván Fischer leads Mozart’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ at the Rose Theater.

Figaro, which Napoleon called “the first cannon shot of the revolution,” is a comedy about class and entitlement (or the lack thereof). Da Ponte helped Mozart distill the layers of deception in the original Beaumarchais play. For this semi-production, Fischer distilled them further, eliminating sets and scenery entirely, except for costumes hanging overhead. One by one each “disguise” descended, spotlighting each character’s transitions.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra, which Fischer created and is now widely considered one of the finest in the world, in this production mixed authentic 18th century with modern instruments to create a remarkably vital realization of the score. Focused by these spare suggestive choices, one felt as if hearing the work as it must have felt the first time it was played.

The performance easily equaled Fischer’s thrilling bare-bones staging of “Don Giovanni” from a couple of years ago and artistic director Jane Moss is trying to convince Fischer to take on the third of the Mozart / Da Ponte trilogy, “Cosí Fan Tutte.”

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Top 5 Middle Eastern Metal Albums of 2013

By Mordechai Shinefield

At some point in the early ’90s, folk metal acts from the Middle East received the decidedly un-PC neologism, Oriental Metal. The term, implying a heady mix of thrash guitars, throaty vocals and maqam-inflected scales, fell into disuse but the relevant bands did not. In a year when the Middle East was marked with military coups, ongoing sectarian civil wars, and one of history’s largest refugee crises, metal bands stood at the vanguard — distilling chaos into chaotic music and writing some of the best albums of the year. Here are five of them:

“Let Us All Unite” (Syria)
By Anarchadia

Out of civil-war-torn Damascus, thrash metal Anarchadia opens their debut full-length album with the sound of automatic weapons and former President George W. Bush intoning a warning against terror. Nour Sabbagh’s death metal vocals underpin an album full of political awareness and hope for a better future. While “Narchaotic” bemoans narcoleptic despair in the wake of turmoil, instrumental “Elevation Call” is a gorgeous progressive ascent into transcendence.

“All is One” (Israel)
By Orphaned Land

Scene godfathers Orphaned Land open their fifth album with a twisty Arabic guitar riff and then a feel-good series of concepts about friendship and peace in the Middle East. Tracks “Let the Truce Be Known” and “Our Own Messiah” are as prog-epic as anything since their breakthrough “Mabool”; closer “Children” asks “How can we live with this horror that we bring to this world?,” lyrics laser-focused on a tribe of orphaned children living in a broken land.

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Top 7 Jewish Albums of 2013

By Mordechai Shinefield

“Bella Ciao”
By Barbez

Following up his 2007 ode to Paul Celan, Dan Kaufman writes a gothic masterpiece inspired by the ancient Roman Jewish community and the Italian Resistance to the Nazi occupation of Italy. Tracks like album opener “Et Shaare Ratzon” are swirling ahistorical melodies packed with aural hooks and haunting poetry about World War II.

“Pillar Without Mercy”
By Deveykus

My album of the year matches hasidic niggunim with the slow burn of doom metal. The familiar chants aren’t malleable; even slowed down into trudging dirges they maintain their sweeping ecstasy propelled into divine transcendence. Originally hasidic songs borrowed tunes from Polish bar songs and the French national anthem — in 2013 it is up to the task of transforming doom metal from something foreboding into something holy.

“One Bead”
By The Epichorus

JTS semicha candidate Zach Fredman and Sudanese singer Alsarah make gorgeous music together on their debut, “One Bead.” The way Jewish devotional hymns and North African chants mix together is testament to the power and elegance of the two lead singers, whose voices intertwine around Hebrew and English lyrics in peaceful meditation.

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Best Experimental Jewish Music of 2013

By Jake Marmer

This year, we ventured to create a set of five memorable 2013 releases that are not easily defined either as “Jewish music,” jazz, or klezmer, but represent alternative, thought-provoking musical experiments, rooted in yet transgressing Jewish musical traditions.

Please note that the works below are listed in alphabetical order — there’s no ranking here.

“Pillar Without Mercy”
By Deveykus

In this release, young klezmer trombonist Dan Blacksberg dredges up heavy metal’s darkest essence, situating it within the klezmer/niggun vocabulary. Thrashing, and not even ironic? And yet, the heavy metal uninitiated (myself included) may just come to realize how oddly soulful this music is, and how profound a catharsis it may engender. This is not about exorcising your demons, nor about teenage angst, but a truly intelligent — even intellectual — encounter with massive noise that surrounds us and that we’ve been absorbed into. So much so that, as niggun references and melody lines emphasize, the very spiritual essence may just be bound-up somewhere deep in this register. See some recent footage here.

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  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
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