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Lore, legends focus of Jewish Music Festival

| Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Particular cultures bring their flavors to iconic fables and legends. The 2011 Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival will combine music, film and theater to address themes also found in "The Exorcist," "Frankenstein" and soap operas.

"Instrumental and vocal chamber music has been a specialty of the festival, where we're really able to make our mark on Jewish music. This year, we're more producing and curating than presenting (other groups)," founder and director Aron Zelkowicz says.

The Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival will explore "Fables and Legends" in three programs that will be presented at four concerts starting Thursday at the Jewish Community Center, Squirrel HIll and continuing at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside and Temple Emanuel of the South Hills.

The chamber music ensembles will feature many members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. They are colleagues Zelkowicz has come to know better from playing substitute cello in many concerts in recent years with the group. This year, he's playing all of Manfred Honeck's concerts.

The ensembles will vary in roster from piece to piece, which presents Zelkowicz with a Rubik's cube to solve in putting it together. Some of the repertoire will be recorded as part of the festival's exploration of music by the St. Petersburg Jewish Folk Music Society from Czarist days in Russia.

All concerts start at 7:30 p.m. The three programs, the last one performed twice, are:

• Thursday: "The Golem." An original score by Betty Olivero will be played by a clarinet quintet with Klezmer accents to accompany the 1923 silent film "The Golem: How He Came Into the World." The presentation is the festival's first collaboration with The Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum. The film's story comes from 16th-century Prague. The Golem was a large clay figure brought to life by a rabbi to save the Jewish ghetto, but then, it escapes the rabbi's control.

The program notes are exceptionally informative, noting that film director Paul Wegener, who plays the Golem in the film, went from being a pacifist to being honored for making Nazi propaganda. The lighting director, Karl Freund, also worked on the silent films "Metropolis" and "Frankenstein."

• Monday: "Jacob and Rachel." Three actors will perform texts from a 1928 Israeli version of a Russian play based on the biblical story of a boy tricked into marrying the older sister of the girl he loves. Music by Solomon Rosowsky and Joel Engel will be blended with the text. The program includes Rosowsky's "Jacob and Rachel Suite," arranged by Zelkowicz for voice, piano four-hands, flute and percussion.

• June 12 and 13: "The Dybbuk." Thirteen instrumentalists and three actors will bring to life a tale of a dybbuk -- the spirit of a person recently deceased who takes possession of a living person. The play the festival will use is the fruit of a Russian Jewish writer who spent three years visiting poor Jewish villages in the early 20th century to preserve traditional folklore.

Additional Information:

Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival

When and where: All shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Jewish Community Center, Squirrel Hill; Monday and June 13 at Rodef Shalom Congregation, Shadyside; June 12 at Temple Emanuel of South Hills

Admission: $20, $15 for senior citizens; $10 for students.

Details: 412-393-3353 or

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