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Poland is the Focus of Jewish Music Festival, But It Goes Global

February 26, 2013

True Life Trio The lineup for the 38th annual Jewish Music Festival promises great variety. The 10-day-long festival, beginning on March 12, presents jazz, folk, classical and contemporary works from around the world in several locations.

Poland is the focus of this year's festival, but as the True Life Trio's appearance on March 3 shows, the representation of a thousand years of Jewish life and legacy is truly global.

The trio — Leslie Bonnett, Briget Boyle, and Juliana Graffagna — formed from the ranks of the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble, sings music "connecting Bulgaria to the bayou of Louisiana." They perform folk tunes from Poland, Macedonia, Albania, South Africa, Ukraine, Mexico, Poland, Italy, and Georgia.

On the same program, the Real Vocal String Quartet — violinists Irene Sazer and Alisa Rose, violist Dina Maccabee, and cellist Jessica Ivry — plays and sings a broad repertory, embracing West Africa, Brazil, and rural America.

Real Vocal String Quartet Photo by Lenny GonzalezFestival director Eleanor Shapiro says the focus on Poland and Eastern Europe highlights Jewish history, "which includes the roots of most Jewish Americans. Like most Jewish Americans, my family roots were in Poland and Ukraine.

"The murder of more than 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population in the Holocaust ruptured that continuity within living memory. Music offers a compelling and universal gateway into Polish Jewish history."

Festival highlights include appearances by Theodore Bikel, David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz, and the West Coast debuts of the Polish jazz ensembles Shofar and Polesye.

Bikel, who made his debut in the Carnegie Recital Hall 57 years ago, joins Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco, and Shura Lipovsky, a famous Yiddish singer from Amsterdam on March 7. The program embraces Yiddish and Bosnian/Sephardic cultures.

Opening night salutes the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, soon to open in Warsaw. "A massive undertaking, the museum brings to light Jewish life in Poland over the course of a millennium," says Shapiro.

"This year, we mark the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with a world premiere, by David Garner. Crushed a month after it began on April 19, 1943, it was the largest and symbolically most important Jewish uprising in World War II, and the first urban revolt in German-occupied Europe."

Garner's "Vilna Poems" is performed by soprano Lisa Delan, pianist Kristin Pankonin, cellist Matt Haimovitz, and clarinetist David Krakauer. Vilna, in Lithuania, had a large Jewish population, and the uprising of some 50,000 in the ghetto there was followed after a few months by the events in Warsaw, where the ghetto held more than 400,000.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].