Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival seeks to broaden focus
Variety always has been a natural priority for the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival. Its eighth season, which opens this weekend, is called Cultural Collaborations and will reflect many of the cultures Jewish people encountered in the Diaspora.
"Over the past couple of years, the emphasis has been on the Ashkenazic or Eastern-European side of Jewish European music, which is what many people associate with Klezmer or Yiddish," says Aron Zelkowicz, founder and director of the festival.
"The festival's mission is to do something more broad-based and bring in other, non-European, composers," he says. "The long-term goal of the festival is for the energy and personnel that contribute to these programs to carry over the traditional boundaries that otherwise might divide different styles."
Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival begins this week with two performances of a chamber-music program: on Sunday at Temple Emanuel of South Hills, and on Monday at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland.
Performers will include soprano Lara Bruckmann, clarinetist David Krakauer, members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and other instrumentalists, and conductor David Stock.
The featured work is "Ayre" by Osvaldo Golijov, a widely praised song cycle first performed in 2004 and recorded by Deutsche Grammophon.
"The piece is very beautiful and very moving. It goes through a lot of changes across cultural meetings, looking back to a time when Jewish and Christian and Muslim people lived together in Spain in a very peaceful way. It is an interesting vision," says Krakauer, an international artist who is making his third appearance at the festival.
"I have been privileged to be in the ground floor of 'Ayre,' working with (soprano) Dawn Upshaw, for whom it was written. I have a long-term relationship with Osvaldo. He really wrote the clarinet part for me. All of the individual parts are small parts. We accompany the singer. But each one has the personality of the piece he wrote for. In this festival, I think I am the only person from the original cast. This will be fun. I hope I will be able to help out in the preparation."
The program also includes two pieces for clarinet and string quartet by Russian composer Alexander Krein, which Krakauer will be playing for the first time. Performing them will be another link for the clarinetist with his individual heritage.
Krakauer's teacher Leon Russianoff was a student of Simeon Bellison, who was principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic from 1920 to 1948. Before Bellison emigrated from Russia, where he was principal clarinet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Opera, he formed the Zimro Ensemble, which commissioned and performed notable pieces relating to Jewish experience. Krakauer identifies with Bellison's deep involvement with classical and Jewish music.
The festival's second program is Kosher Gospel on May 31, in which Joshua Nelson will celebrate his dual identity as a black Jew, performing with his Kosher Gospel Singers and band.
"He's very approachable on stage and really charismatic and fun. Whether you've heard these Hebrew songs before or not, I think his energy and enthusiasm sells every song that he sings," Zelkowicz says.
The final program is Swinging and Singing on June 3, featuring klezmer and jazz music performed by clarinetist Susanne Ortner, pianist Tom Roberts plus the Zohar Chamber Singers and a high-school ensemble, performing music of various genres and traditions.