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The musical staying power of Kol Nidre

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

By Eileen Wingard

Eileen Wingard

SAN DIEGO — Eighteen segments are featured in Alan Oren’s remarkable documentary about the Kol Nidre prayer, “Eighteen Voices Sing Kol Nidre, Secrets of a Sacred Chant.” Not all are musical voices. There are the Chassidic Rabbi telling a Kol Nidre tale by the Baal Shem Tov, and Neil Levin, from the Milkin Foundation, pontificating about the sources of Jewish music . There are two holocaust survivors recounting incidents where the Kol Nidre lifted their dejected spirits while at a labor camp and in Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
    
Most beautiful are the various renditions of Kol Nidre, first by Angela Buchdahl, senior cantor at the Central Synagogue in Manhattan, then by Al Jolson in the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer, and later, by Cantor Raphael Frieder of Temple Israel in Great Neck, New York. In addition, Israeli Cellist, Amir Eldon, once the youngest member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, plays the first part of Max Bruch’s setting of the chant. Max Bruch, the son of a Christian clergyman, learned the Kol Nidre melody through his friendship with Berlin’s Cantor Abraham Jacob Lichtenstein. Snippets of other arrangements are heard or mentioned, from Perry Como and Johnny Mathis to Electric Prunes and Memuga Beach Surf Music.

Like an eighteen square quilt, with each piece having the same border, the Kol Nidre melody unifies the interesting narrative.
    
Oren, currently a professor of journalism at Pace University, is the son of a rabbi. .He is the former Entertainment Editor for USA Today. Other documentaries he has written include the Emmy award-winning “History of Madison Square Garden.”
    
While visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., he was awed by the power of Kol Nidre on a Shoah survivor. That experience motivated him to create this inspiring documentary. 

During this high holiday season, Public Broadcast stations are airing the documentary in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, and Denver. Unfortunately, San Diego’s PBS station did not select it. Perhaps we can influence our local station to air it next year.

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Wingard is a retired violinist with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and a freelance writer

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New CD captures cello and piano performance true to Beethoven’s genius

August 29, 2010 Leave a comment

By Eileen Wingard

Eileen Wingard

SAN DIEGO–Bridge Records, a new  label, has produced some adventurous recordings. In 2007, the company introduced a collection of songs by Sefan Wolpe (1902-1972), an unheralded genius whose lyrics were in German, Yiddish, Hebrew and English.

There followed other Wolpe albums such as a children’s puppet show tale, Lazy Andy Ant.  Additional Bridge recordings include the live 1947 Carnegie Hall recital of Nadia Reisenberg
the brilliant Israeli pianist.

A recent release is the complete music for cello and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by Laurence Lesser, cello and Haesun Paik, piano.

Lesser, a protege of the great Gregor Piatigorsky, currently heads the Cello Department of the New England Conservatory and has had a formidable career as a solo and chamber music performer as well as being a distinguished educator.

One could not ask for a more capable pianist for Beethoven’s music than the South Korean native, HaeSun Paik.   Not only were the runs articulated like  strings of pearls, but  her carefully calibrated dynamics shaped the phrases into beautifully expressive entities. Since earlier works were titled  for “piano and cello,” where Beethoven himself would perform the piano part, it is essential that these sonatas have the service of fine solo-ability pianists.
 
Lesser played his 1622 Amati cello with  noble sound and beautiful musicality. The opening Twelve Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Oratorio Judas Maccabeus displayed Lesser’s fine lyrical qualities.

In the Sonatas in A Major, C Major and D Major, he demonstrated  dramatic passion. Particularly impressive was the final fugue of the D major sonata, performed with exultant mastery by both musicians. These cello sonatas by Beethoven helped elevate the cello to its current importance as a solo instrument.
    
This complete collection of Beethoven’s cello works is a “must have” for all lovers of string music.

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Wingard, a former violinist with the San Diego Symphony, is a freelance music reviewer based in San Diego.

Pops concert under the stars drew 1,000

July 31, 2010 Leave a comment

By Eileen Wingard

Eileen Wingard

SAN DIEGO — Despite the cool evening, nearly 1000 people gathered at Allied Gardens Park last July 11 to hear the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra (TICO), conducted by David Amos, in its annual “Summer Pops Concert on the Green.”

Sponsored by the Grantville-Allied Gardens Kiwanis Club, the event was enhanced by sophisticated sound equipment, colored light play, and a program designed to satisfy a gamut of tastes.
    
New this year was “Prisoner of Azkaban” from the Harry Potter movies’ musical score. It was undoubtedly recognized by the younger set. Richard Rodgers’ “Victory at Sea” showcased concertmaster Juanita Cummins’ in a well-executed square dance solo. The first trumpet passages were beautifully rendered by Ronald Miller.   Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March #4” catered to classical taste, while “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” with dramatic narration, appealed to the baseball fans.  Familiar marches by Sousa and others  kept feet tapping. 

Jay Wilson, a civic leader whose generosity helped ensured the concert’s taking place, conducted Sousa’s “El Capitan March,” and Don Brennan, a leader in bringing about Mission Trails Visitors’ Center, conducted Sousa’s “Fairest of the Fair.” They were each awarded TICO’s golden baton (gold colored).
    
During the Armed Forces Medley, those who had served were asked to stand when the music for their branch of service was played. It was impressive to see the large number of men, many advanced in age, who fought for our country.
    
The concert concluded with a sprightly “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The brass and the three-member flute section on piccolos, stood for their respective solos. The audience departed marching and humming to the beat.
    
Food, including baked potatoes, was sold during the intermission. There were children on the playground, swinging to the music. Many families brought picnic dinners which they spread out on blankets.
    
I attended with three generations of the Bendelstein Family. Sylvia Bendelstein is the new chair of the JCC’s Jewish Music Series Committee on which David Amos serves. She was there with her husband, a radiologist at Kaiser Hospital, her elder daughter, who is working for her teaching credential, and her mother-in-law, who was visiting from Australia. We all enjoyed the music, the informal atmosphere, and the feeling of community which such events inspire.  

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Wingard is a freelance writer and retired violinist with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra

 

Shen Yun a musical, terpsichorean and visual feast

July 14, 2010 Leave a comment

 By Eileen Wingard

Eileen Wingard

SAN DIEGO–With creative inspiration drawn from traditional Chinese culture, Shen Yun Performances presented a remarkable spectacle at the Civic Theatre last Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. The final show will be tonight. The gorgeous handmade costumes and the breathtaking digital animated backdrops enhanced the sumptuous visual feast. Silken sleeves, cloud-like fans, archers’ bows all contributed to the uniqueness of each segment.
    
The dancers were an outstanding collection of beautiful young men and women whose gracefulness, skill and dedication permeated their every move. The source of the choreography is Chinese classical, ethnic and folk dance. Lead dancer Michelle Ren, Yungchia Chen and Siya Yang were the choreographers for this program.  
    
Set to original music, the dancers were accompanied by a 40-piece live orchestra under the direction of Ying Chen. The instrumentation included the Chinese erhu, the pipa, the bamboo flute and the Chinese gong, as well as the usual complement of Western instruments. 
    
Some of the dances came from specific areas of China, a Miao Village, the Yi people, Tibet and Mongolia. Others were from historical periods such as the Drummers of the Tang Court, dating from the Tang Dynasty. Two of the dances told specific stories, Wu Song Battles the Tiger taken from a popular novel, and Splitting the Mountain, based on a beloved Chinese fairytale. The opening, The Emperor Ushers in a Glorious Age, and the finale, Buddha’s Teachings Spread Far and Wide, reflected Chinese religious beliefs.  One piece, with the dancers in modern dress and the backdrop of a city of high rise buildings, showed the repression, still existent in China, toward practitioners of Falon Dafa, the practice to which most of the performers subscribe.
    
Also programmed were a performer on the two stringed, bowed erhu, Xiaochun Qi, and two vocalists, soprano Min Jiang and tenor Yuan Qu. All were accompanied by Peijong Hsieh at the piano. They provided welcome contrasts to the dance ensemble numbers.
     
Each section of the program was introduced by two charming masters of ceremony, Kelly Wen and Leeshai Lemish. They spoke both English and Chinese, with Wen doing most of the Chinese narration and Lemish, who has both Israeli and American citizenship, doing most of the English script.
This is a show not to be missed. For information, call: 888-973-7469
    
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Wingard is a retired violinist with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and a freelance writer

Israelis Matathias and Stanislavsky perform beautifully together at local recital

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

By Eileen Wingard

Eileen Wingard

SAN DIEGO –Violinist Asi Matathias and pianist Victor Stanislavsky presented an exciting recital on June 17 at the Dove Library in Carlsbad. This concert was part of the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture’s Music Series and was underwritten by the Leichtag Foundation.
The two young Israeli artists shared their formidable talents in works by Vitali, Franck, Grieg, Bloch and Sarasate. The Franck Sonata, a favorite of violinists, was performed with keen attention to nuances.

Matathias, who possesses a marvelous bow arm, brought out the lyricism and melodic flow of the five movements. Stanislavsky, whose piano part is even more challenging than that of the violin, played with great sensitivity and dynamic control.

The Grieg Sonata shone with virtuosity. Both artists contributed to the dramatic impact of the work. Bloch’s Nigun was given a warm interpretation, eschewing the powerful force some violinists bring to the work for a more introspective spirituality.

The piece where Matathias revealed his highest level of artistry was his encore, Romance Andalusia by Pablo Sarasate. This work had all the subtle rhythmic variety, tonal suavity and iridescent tone quality required to evoke the beauty of that Spanish province where Moors, Christians and Jews once lived together peacefully during a Medieval Golden Age. The Romance could not have had a more convincing interpretation. Perhaps, because Matathias’s father is from Greece, and many Greek Jews were originally from Spain, the violinist probably has Sephardic ancestors and therefore, his special affinity for this music.

Currently, Stanislavsky is the pianist for Yoav Talmi’s conducting classes at the Buchmann-Mehta School at Tel Aviv University and Matithias is studying with Pinchas Zukerman at the Manhattan School of Music. Both are America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship winners. With these mentors and this kind of support, with an abundance of talent and friendly, outgoing personalities, both violinist and pianist are surely on their way to important careers.

Violinist Matathias can be heard again in this area on August 5 in a private home in Rancho Santa Fe. For information, contact: julygalper@aol.com .

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Wingard is a freelance writer and a retired violinist with the San Diego Symphony

TICO programs continue to innovate

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

By Eileen Wingard

Eileen Wingard

SAN DIEGO–One of the greatest musical joys is listening to fine chamber music in the intimate setting of a private home. The living room of Lee and David Amos’ lovely Alvarado Estate provided just such a setting for a recital by violinist Jacques Israelievitch and pianist Kanae Matsumoto.
Some forty guests, including patrons and musicians of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra (TICO), attended the May 23 recital benefiting the orchestra. The audience listened to sonatas by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Pierne, Maurice Ravel and the Baal Shem Suite by Ernest Bloch. 
    
The Ravel Sonata was particularly impressive. The second movement, Blues: Moderato had just the right feel of jazzy improvisation, while the final Perpetuum Mobile: Allegro accelerated to an exciting climax.
    
The Pierne, a seldom-heard favorite of the violinist, received a sympathetic reading, and the Baal Shem Suite, especially the Nigun, was projected with dramatic boldness.
    
The opening work, Debussy’s Sonata, the last composition by the composer, was actually taught to the artist by the violinist who debuted the work with the composer himself.
    
Israelievitch’s introductory comments about each selection created a relaxed informality to the afternoon, and delicious refreshments served afterwards, allowed the guests to mingle with the artists.
    
The high level of artistry confirmed Israelievitch’s reputation, named Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government, and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award for his distinguished contribution to the performing arts in Canada. A French native who graduated from the Paris Conservatory at sixteen, Israelievitch served as concertmaster of the Toranto Symphony Orchestra for two decades. Before that, he held posts as concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Currently, the internationally renowned violinist is chair of strings at the Chautauqua Institute and a faculty member at York University in Toronto. 

Pianist Kanae Matsumoto is on the faculty of UCLA. A native of Japan, she earned her Masters and Doctoral degrees at UCLA. Her  fine accompaniments enhanced the performance.
    
Sixteen days after the benefit recital, TICO gave a concert at Tifereth Israel Synagogue. The ambitious program included Brahms’ Third Symphony, Brahms’ Academic Overture and Arnold Rosner’s world premiere of “From the Diaries of Adam Czerniakow” for narrator and orchestra.
    
The viola soloist needed to be replaced, the concertmaster was indisposed, a first violinist was delivering a baby, and Rabbi Rosenthal was absent from the second violin section. TICO conductor David Amos had more than his usual share of personnel problems. However, the show did go on.
    
With an impressive narrator , celebrated San Diego actor Jonathan Dunn-Rankin, Arnold Rossner’s  work  left a deep impact. The chillingly tragic narration had fitting music, opening with foreboding sounds from the trombone and bassoon.
    
It was apparent that the orchestra was well rehearsed for the Rosner premiere and the musicians performed with dedication and understanding.
    
The Brahms Symphony fared less well, especially the first movement. The Tragic Overture, however, had much to be admired, especially in the woodwinds. With only two rehearsals, the TICO forces did a remarkable job.
    
July 11, TICO will perform its annual Pops program at Allied Gardens Recreation Center Park. Last year, 1500 attended, picnicking on the lawn to listen to the 7:00 pm concert. This year ‘s program will include music by Sousa and scores from Harry Potter and The Sound of Music.

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Music columnist Wingard is a retired violinist of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra

‘The Show Across the Street’ and then some

June 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Carol Davis

By Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO–The 17th annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Arts Festival: ‘A Joyous Celebration of Art and Soul’ spread its program across the June calendar offering a variety of art, dance, music and theatre. Here are some impressions of the programs yours truly was able to attend. 

The first offering, The Show Across the Street presented by Teatro Punto y Coma (a world premiere Jewish comedy in English) at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, Lyceum Space (where most programs were held) was presented early in June.

Billed as an attempt at creating an ‘unofficial’ sequel to Fiddler on the Roof, a Jewish Mexican -American theatre troupe gathers in an empty space (across the street from where a successful run of “Fiddler” is playing) to write a musical comedy about who and what the then characters in “Fiddler” might look like/ be like and act like now.

Written and directed by Robert Moutal and choreographed by Dalia Feldman, it is based on a story by Pepe Stepensky and stars no less than seven actors, all attempting (at various levels of competency) to write the new musical. Their input will be assembled and coordinated by director, Sam Rabinowitz (Solo Maya) who sold his worldly possessions to own this theatre across the street from ….

Rabinowitz, it is noted is a failed director. OY!

My understanding was that this was the first time it had been performed in English having been written in Spanish in the Teatro Punta y Coma style. To be honest, I might have enjoyed it more in Spanish; it might have liberated the actors.

On opening night, The Space was filled to capacity with supporters from the Ken Jewish Community. The Ken underwrote the show and from the responses of the audience, everyone seemed to be having a fun time. As for this reviewer’s reaction, it is my firm belief that some things just don’t translate well and some things get lost in translation. I couldn’t find much to laugh about when the rest of the audience did. I don’t think I’m the audience this company was reaching out to.

The company, hard as it tried, was all over the place working to come up with ideas for a sequel to “Fiddler” but ‘all the kings horses and all the king’s men’, the use of videos, cameras, music and dance (the best part of the evening) couldn’t put this Humpty Dumpty idea together again.

Might it be still be a work in progress?

I was able to get my fix of Yale Strom’s Klezmer and Hot P’Stromi music and John Malashock’s dance group with the presentation of “Malashock Dance with Yale Strom: Chagall” (a work in progress presented for the first time for this Festival and thoughtfully reviewed by dance critic Sheila Orysiek) following a wonderfully delightful feast of music and song with Elizabeth Schwartz and the Hot P’Stromi gang. The evening ended with pieces from Malashock’s “Tribes”. This complete dance program had a spectacular airing at the North Park Mary Birch Theatre in 1996.

Strom, who has been associated with the Jewish Arts Festival since its inception as a musician and composer, is a renowned expert on Klezmer music. He is always a welcome sight. His sounds resonate no matter if it’s Klezmer, accompanying Malashock or having his lovely Elizabeth singing in her own full, rich voice in Yiddish. (“Rozkinkes mit Mandln”… ‘Apricots and Almonds’ I believe he told me). It almost sounded like a lullaby to me. I love listening to Yiddish music. That was a treat.

I next headed north to the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach where they hosted two play readings. According to Artistic director, David Ellenstein, “The theatre is always pleased to host these readings”. For the past several years this theatre has been involved.

Mark Harelik’s The Immigrant is a finished play having been performed over the years at different venues. In 1993, Dan Wingard (son of one of our Women Of Valor recipients, Eileen) played the part of Haskell Harelik in The Immigrant. At the play reading, Mark read the part of his grandfather Haskell (name change to be sure) who arrived on the shores of Galveston, Texas in 1909.

If memory serves, the play has been updated since, with comments and photos from the playwright’s family collection. In the end Harelik then spoke as his father.

Harelik’s play is part memory, part tribute to his family and part valentine. The story he weaves about the immigrant who doesn’t speak a word of English, who chooses to stay as the only Jew in the community in the godforsaken gulf coast town of Hamilton, Texas, population 1,200 (then) to sell bananas from his push cart, who is helped by the (very convenient) town’s only banker and his wife and who becomes more assimilated as he grows his business, is a rags to riches story.

The account laced with bits of Jewish humor, history, some glossed over anti Semitism and coupled with a fortuitous encounter with the lone banker, Milton Perry (who helped finance Haskell’s business dealings) and his wife, is a tapestry of what life looked like for the immigrant Jews in the hinterlands at the turn of the century.

In fact, several of Harelik’s relatives still reside in Hamilton, Texas. All four of his uncles graduated high school in Hamilton and served in the different branches of the military during WW II.  Harelik’s Dad, who stayed behind after his brothers moved away, took over the family business and turned it into a bigger, more diversified department store where it stands today. His Dad passed away in 2007 well in to his nineties.

Steve Lipinsky directed The Immigrant with Harelik as Haskell, Linda Libby as his wife Leah, Richard Doyle as Milton Perry, (the bank owner) and Jennifer Parsons as Ima Perry. It was interesting to watch as the play progressed, all four growing older at play’s end and that’s without a stitch of a makeup change. It’s called great acting.

One of the most impressive parts of the evening that struck me more that anything was the family photo collection.  At first glance, I felt I was having a Fiddler On the Roof moment when the show opened with ethnic music in the background, pictures of pogroms and shtetls in Russia and finally early century authentic scenes from Hamilton County, TX.

If the play ever comes back, I recommend you see it. I’m guessing we all have those stories. Harelik just put them to paper.

Lionel Goldstein’s Mandate Memories (He’s looking for a new title) is definitely a work in progress. Director David Ellenstein told the audience that we were the first and only audience to hear this play as it is, so far. Goldstein, who has collaborated with Ellenstein in the past (Halpern and Johnson a comedy drama about love, truth and memories), wrote the play as a sort of rebuttal to the anti Semitism so rampant in the London press and BBC in general and to British playwright Caryl Churchill in particular.

Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, A Play for Gaza, written in 2009 in response to the bombing of Gaza, is a ten minute play that lasts a lifetime in the minds and hearts of Jews everywhere who firmly believe Churchill is not only anti Semitic but anti Israel. The play was reviewed by yours truly (in July of 2009) after having attended a program at the now defunct 6th @ Penn Theatre called the Resilience Festival. The companion piece to “Children” was called Welcome to Ramallah by Sonja Linden and Adah Kay. 

At the time Churchill wrote Seven Jewish Children, playwright Israel Horowitz wrote What Strong Fences Make advocating that one could criticize Israel without being anti Semitic just as one could criticize Palestine without being anti Arab. He goes on: “Those who criticize Jews in the name of criticizing Israel, as Ms. Churchill seems to have done in her play, step over an unacceptable boundary and must be taken to task”)

Goldstein’s play is loaded with a combination of ideas, tutorials and wandering thoughts. If it is in fact a rebuttal to Churchill (which one would never know unless one read the playwright’s notes and or knew about Caryl Churchill) he goes about it in such a convoluted way that makes it too wordy, instructive to an historical point and too wandering. And why does it need to be a rebuttal? The story, once edited and complete, should stand on its own.

His characters, June Stirling (Rosina Reynolds) is a 62 year old ‘once widowed, once divorced homemaker and Gustav Frolich (Robert Grossman), an eighty something year old survivor’ of the camps meet up one sunny day at Stirling’s English countryside home. They have never met before and it is at his request, under the guise of his having a letter for her that he has come to deliver, she allows him in to her home.

She is curious, polite and a bit turned off by the intrusion. He is an arrogant, evasive and skilled storyteller who beats around the bush at every question she asks while attempting to get his story out. We learn about his background, his Holocaust experience, his being in Israel (Palestine) at the time the British were in charge, and his fighting for the Irgun (they called it a terrorist origination). All this exposition comes with a history lesson like a schoolteacher teaching a class to one of his students.

But the bait that keeps him there is the letter he claims he has along with the stories he tells about her deceased father, a British officer who was minding the store for England even after the Balfour Declaration was signed. The history lesson (all can be found on line) in essence allowed for the establishment in Palestine for a homeland for the Jewish people does bring a rise in her but is quelled by more stories of her father.

Her birth father, it is revealed, died before she was born and she was curious to learn more about him and how he died. So much of his telling felt like a never-ending odyssey. By the time he finally got to the nitty gritty of his what he was all about, my mind was wandering.

Underneath all the talk is a lovely story of redemption, forgiveness, truth and coming to terms with one’s self. It is a combination Holocaust tale without being a Holocaust story. It is a story of forgiveness without asking for outright exoneration; it is a story of truth told in a way that we know truth exists inside as well as outside.

Mandate Memories is a humbling and inspiring look into a proud people who have suffered, caused suffering and are now looking to make peace. And it is the beginning process of a new play. Both Reynolds and Grossman make it seem real. Hopefully Goldstein will take some of the suggestions given at the talk back (after the reading) and work some of them in while cutting some of the original to give it a bit more viability for a commercial success. 

The Klezmer Summit (with free Knishes) on June 21st at 7:30 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre wraps up the Festivities.

Se you at the theatre.

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Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego