Arts Listings

Jewish Music Festival Returns to Berkeley

By Ben Frandzel, Special to the Planet
Tuesday March 06, 2007

Celebrating both the richness of Jewish musical traditions and new innovations that spring from them, Berkeley’s 22nd annual Jewish Music Festival will explore the diversity and beauty of Jewish music from the world over for the next two weeks. With major artists from Argentina, Italy, Israel and the United States, “in some ways it’s the richest festival we’ve ever had, because it’s so eclectic,” says Festival Director Ellie Shapiro. “There’s everything from Italian Renaissance music to a poetry slam, cutting edge to Israeli pop.”  

The festival opens this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley (FCCB), with Musical Fortunes, a world premiere by Emmy-award winning Bay Area composer Dan Cantrell. Inspired by both klezmer and Romani (Gypsy) music, the song cycle features Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble, klezmer multi-instrumentalist, singer and dancer Michael Alpert, Romani musicians Rumen Shopov and Dusan Ristic, dancers, and stage direction by Aaron Davidman of A Traveling Jewish Theatre. 

The festival will also spotlight a little-known but extraordinary body of music by presenting Italy’s superb Ensemble Lucidarium in a program called La Istoria de Purim: Music and Poetry of the Jews of Renaissance Italy. For both Jewish music fans and the Bay Area’s early music community, this Bay Area premiere is a unique opportunity for discovery. The concert takes place at FCCB on Thursday, March 15 at 7:30 p.m. 

Turning to an equally unique contemporary repertory, the festival presents Klezmer Buenos Aires, performed by Argentina’s Lerner Moguilevsky Duo, who mix klezmer, tango, jazz and Argentinean folk music. The musicians say they make their music “without anthropological pretension,” but instead create a heady mix that unites the passion and virtuosity of their musical sources on an array of keyboards, woodwinds and percussion. Their performance will take place on the Thrust Stage at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison St., on Saturday, March 10 at 8 p.m. 

Along with its international reach, the festival’s devotion to local artists includes a homecoming for New York-based, Berkeley-bred jazz musicians Steven Bernstein and Peter Apfelbaum. On Sunday March 18 at Berkeley Rep, they’ll perform music from their Grammy-nominated recording Diaspora Blues, a work inspired by famed cantor Moshe Koussevitsky.  

At 2 p.m. on the 17th, Bernstein and Apfelbaum join fellow musicians Ben Goldberg, John Schott and Basya Shechter for a panel discussion at the JazzSchool, 2087 Addison, exploring the impact of John Zorn’s Tzadik Records and its Radical Jewish Culture series, which has featured all of their work and stretched the boundaries of Jewish music. That evening at 8 p.m., Berkeley Rep will play host to Pharaoh’s Daughter, Schechter’s groundbreaking group that mixes jazz, rock, Hasidic music, and sounds from across the Mediterranean and Middle East. 

The local focus continues with a new work by UC Berkeley composer Jorge Liderman, Aires de Sefarad, a world premiere for violin and guitar performed by Duo46, and inspired by the music of Sephardic (Mediterranean) Jews. This will take place on Thursday, March 22 at 8 p.m. at Congregation Beth El, 1301 Oxford St. The program opens with Avi Avital, a remarkable young Israeli mandolinist who at age 22 won Italy’s “Citta di Voghera” competition and has already soloed with orchestras around the world. Avital’s virtuosity will be spotlighted in a concert of his own that afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley.  

Several programs will take place in San Francisco locations, including a concert by Israeli vocalist Noa, and a program of rediscovered chamber music written by composers in the Terezin concentration camp. There are related programs throughout the Bay Area. 

Summing up this year’s festival, Shapiro comments, “We wanted to highlight emerging artists as well as new music this year. We’re a very committed Berkeley organization, collaborating this year with La Peña, the Jazz School, Freight and Salvage, and the Magnes Museum, as well as serving the greater Bay Area. We’re about participation as much as performance, and all this comes together on Community Music Day.” This event concludes the festival with a day of workshops, programs for children and families, an instrument petting zoo, a poetry slam, and much more. It all happens on Sunday, March 25, at the Jewish Community Center. 



Information and tickets for all programs are available at (800) 838-3006 or 


Photograph: Avi Avital will perform at the  

22nd annual Jewish Music Festival.