Music is inextricably tied to the history of the Jewish people. From early cantorial music in the First and Second temples and chanted piyyutim, to rhythmic klezmer and the folksy melodies behind Debbie Friedman’s guitar-led numbers, music has always defined, united and inspired Jews. The San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at the Lawrence Family JCC honors that ancient link each year with the San Diego Jewish Music Series.
Now in its 12th year, the series makes accessible to the community musicians representing a variety of Jewish musical genres. Spread across three performance days and more than 100 individual instrumentalists and singers, the series begins March 23 at 7 p.m. with classical; continues March 27 at 2 p.m. with a fusion orchestral band representing klezmer, jazz and Ladino; and concludes with choral music by local adult and youth choirs April 3 at 1 and 4 p.m.
“The Music Series is wonderfully eclectic and a great opportunity for all ages to come and enjoy,” says Sylvia Bendelstein, chair of the series committee for the second time. “It’s exciting to know the groups or musicians will bring a quality performance and a wonderful repertoire to the concerts.”
According to Bendelstein, her committee spends several months discussing and determining the types of music they’d like to bring to the next series. Once they’ve selected their preferred musical genres, D. Candis Paule, producer of the series, begins homing in on the most qualified and suitable musicians to fit the bill. Selecting the perfect musicians is no easy feat. Each musician, and the talent and music they bring to the series, must coincide with the CJC’s mission.
As Bendelstein describes it, each musician must “expand and enrich cultural life in San Diego by presenting the finest in Jewish artistic expression, encouraging the preservation of Jewish culture and heritage and nurturing new creativity in the arts.” If their reputations and history of musical performance are any indicator, this year’s group of musicians should have no problem ensuring the CJC stays true to its mission.
Seasoned pros and budding prodigies
The Jewish Music Series begins this year with a classical performance of both Jewish and non-Jewish works performed by two musicians, each impressive for his own reasons. “An Evening of Flute and Cello Delights,” presented in conjunction with the Italian Cultural Center of San Diego, will entertain ears young and old with, first, world renowned flute soloist Rafaele Trevisani, who is on tour from Italy. Trevisani, who will play a Jewish and Italian repertoire, has also performed in Israel and with Claudio Simone of Solisti Veniti in Italy. Opposite the long and illustrious career of Trevisani comes 19-year-old Julian Schwarz, a cello prodigy and undergraduate sophomore at the Colburn School Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. According to Schwarz, whose father is completing his 26th and final season as music director of the Seattle Symphony, the two will most likely perform their own selections as well as a joint recital.
“I’m sort of in the in-between stage of being a student and a professional [musician], and I’m trying to balance those two roles as best I can,” says Schwarz, who travels about a week each month playing concertos and recitals while simultaneously living a student’s life in Los Angeles.
Schwarz’s love of music is traceable to many of his family members, and to late Seattle Symphony cellist David Tonkonogui, who performed as part of the Music of Remembrance organization to preserve Holocaust-era music, and who gave Schwarz his first cello lessons at age 6.
“[Tonkonogui] was my main, and still is in many ways, my main inspiration,” says Schwarz, whose paternal grandparents narrowly escaped persecution during the Holocaust by fleeing for the U.S. “…He instilled the love of music in me and always allowed me to have sort of free creative license. He sort of inspired me to become a musician.”
The combination of the seasoned professional flutist — a former student and now colleague of Sir James Galway — in Rafaele Trevisani and of the budding cello prodigy in Julian Schwarz should give audience members of all ages a musical chemistry to appreciate.
David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre; 7 p.m. March 23; $22/JCC members and $26.50 non-members.
Not your grandmother’s klezmer
A Jewish music series without klezmer would be like the fiddler on the roof without his fiddle. Luckily, this year’s series will not only have its fiddle, but more than 10 other instruments, too, in the form of Aaron Kula’s Klezmer Company Orchestra. The name is a bit of a misnomer, says Kula, who started the South Florida-based group in 1997.
“We don’t fall into the band category, and we don’t fall into the orchestra category,” he says. “We’re a hybrid ensemble. You get a little bit of the salsa band, a little bit of the rock band, a little bit of the Arabic band and a little bit of the classical orchestration. It’s a really interesting mix.”
In fact, Kula says, he’s developed a cross-pollination musical style over his 30-year career, incorporating the best of all his experiences. KCO incorporates four of those very diverse genres: traditional older klezmer melodies, a variety of American jazz styles, Latin influences and classical elements.
Kula and his nine core musicians will bring their eclectic musical stylings to the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach at 2 p.m. March 27, for adults age 21 and up. A grant from the Leichtag Family Foundation is making this event possible, with hopes that a younger crowd, and members of the North County community, will especially enjoy the group’s exotic and very danceable rhythms, Bendelstein says.
“They’ve got such a wonderful style,” she adds, “and they are keeping klezmer alive by recognizing the importance of its roots while infusing it with a modern beat.”
In fact, free salsa lessons precede the show, and if the short audio clips on KCO’s Web site (www.klezmercompany.com) are any hint, those lessons will come in handy.
“We’ll play a lot of music from the album we cut two years ago called Beyond the Tribes,” Kula says. “What inspired the CD was picking and choosing melodies from diverse cultures. It’s really very concretized music. It’s not club music, or bar mitzvah or party music. It’s highly structured, but [guests] will get a lot of fun dancing music…whatever culture they think they’re hearing, they’re probably right.”
Says Kula, the group has a very strong following in Florida and consistently sells out, since their music is really appealing across cultures and generations. Since this is the group’s first time ever touring outside of Florida, though, they’ll be in for new crowds and a new fan base.
“I just hope people come out to hear our music,” Kula says, “because it is not singularly focused.”
Belly Up Tavern, 143 South Cedros Ave., Solana Beach; 2 p.m. March 27; Tickets $20-36.
Honoring the music of Henri Goldberg
Wrapping up the San Diego Jewish Music Series will be performances of a different sort. Sing Out! San Diego Jewish Choirs will feature the most musicians by far of the three events — so many, in fact, that the April 3 choral performances will be divided into two 1 and 4 p.m. shows. According to Bendelstein, the two programs will include about 100 singers each, spread between 10 local Jewish choirs.
Eileen Wingard is chairing the choral program, which will celebrate the musical collection of the late Cantor Henri Goldberg, who died in 1977. According to Wingard, Cantor Goldberg was active in several San Diego choirs and eventually donated his extensive musical library, which includes arrangements by famous European cantors, some from the 19th century and others by much later singers. Each of the choirs will sing a piece or two from Goldberg’s collection in addition to their own arrangements.
“We are all very excited to have this wonderful gathering together of all these singing groups in our community,” Wingard says. “We hope it will be an inspiring event bringing all the choral groups together, and as the saying goes, ‘Prayer reaches the gates of heaven when it’s on the wings of song.’ We hope to inspire and lift the spirits of everybody in the audience.”
The music will be a combination of religious and secular, Yiddish and Ladino, rousing and mellow. Participating will be adult and children’s choirs from a variety of synagogues and organizations around town. In the first show will be Adat Shalom’s junior, youth and adult choirs and the Menchtones Barbershop Ensemble; Temple Solel’s youth choir; the JCC’s J*Company On the Town youth choir; and Kol Hakavod, the San Diego Jewish Men’s Choir. In the second show, Beth Israel’s teen and youth choir and their adult choir; Kol Hakavod, returning a second time; and women’s choir Sisterhood Shira.
One final highlight of the choir festival, Wingard notes, is a display of some of the unusual contents of Cantor Goldber’s library, including out-of-print pieces, things published in Israel and Germany, a piece from Romania and items from Mexico.
“In the process of sorting [Cantor Goldberg’s] library, we thought it would be nice to have something special to initiate the library when it’s nearly all sorted and when we can start making it available to various music groups,” Wingard says. “What better way, since most of the music is choral music, than to have a choir festival.”
David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre; 1 and 4 p.m. April 3; $15/JCC members and $18 non-members, per show. VIP tickets with benefits available for all three events. Call (858) 362-1348 or visit www.sdcjc.org for more details.