Jewish Music Festival goes global with eclectic styles 

Bay Area ensembles True Life Trio, above, and Real Vocal String Quartet, playing music from around the world, are among the performers at the 28th Jewish Music Festival in Berkeley. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Bay Area ensembles True Life Trio, above, and Real Vocal String Quartet, playing music from around the world, are among the performers at the 28th Jewish Music Festival in Berkeley.

What is Jewish music? Judging from the lineup for the 38th annual Jewish Music Festival, it’s a culture without borders or one definitive style.

The 10-day festival, opening Saturday in Berkeley, presents jazz, folk, classical and contemporary works from around the world.

While Poland is the focus of the 2013 festival, True Life Trio, performing Sunday, is one among many acts with a lineup that represents a thousand years of Jewish life and a legacy that is truly global.

The trio — Leslie Bonnett, Briget Boyle and Juliana Graffagna — formed from the ranks of Kitka, a women’s vocal ensemble, and sings music “connecting Bulgaria to the bayou of Louisiana.” The band’s set list includes 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 — offers a broad repertoire, embracing West Africa, Brazil and rural America.

Festival director Eleanor Shapiro says the focus on Poland and Eastern Europe highlights Jewish history and particularly reflects roots of many Jewish-Americans, including her own, 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,” Shapiro says.

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,” Shapiro adds.

The festival also marks the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising with the world premiere of a piece for voice, piano, cello and clarinet by David Garner.

Crushed a month after it began April 19, 1943, the uprising, Shapiro says, was the “largest and symbolically most important Jewish uprising in World War II, and the first urban revolt in German-occupied Europe.”  

Garner’s composition, called “Vilna Poems” — to be performed by soprano Lisa Delan, pianist Kristin Pankonin, cellist Matt Haimovitz and clarinetist David Krakauer — refers to an uprising of about 50,000 members of Lithuania’s large Jewish population, which followed events in Warsaw, where the ghetto held more than 400,000.

Another festival highlight is an appearance by stage and screen veteran Theodore Bikel, who made his debut at Carnegie Hall 57 years ago. On March 7, he joins Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco and Shura Lipovsky, a noted Yiddish singer from Amsterdam, in a program covering Yiddish and Bosnian-Sephardic cultures.

Jewish Music Festival

  • Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley, and other sites
  • When: Saturday through March 12
  • Tickets: Free to $30
  • Contact: (800) 838-3006,


Select events

  • Opening night: “The Future of Jewish Music in Poland” features Polesye, with vocalist Olga Mieleszczuk and Polish jazz trio Shofar.  [7 p.m. Saturday, Berkeley Repertory Theatre]
  • Local women’s ensembles: Real Vocal String Quartet and True Life Trio appear. [8 p.m. Sunday, Freight and Salvage Coffee House, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley]
  • Michael Alpert: The klezmer artist plays a free show. [6 p.m. March 6, Main Library, 100 Larkin St., S.F.]
  • Theodore Bikel: The singer, actor and activist appears with Europe’s diva of Yiddish song, Shura Lipovsky, and Merima Kljuco on accordion.
    [8 p.m. March 7, Freight and Salvage]
  • ‘Vilna Poems’: The piece commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. [8 p.m. March 9, Berkeley Rep]
  • Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird: The Berlin-based punk-cabaret act releases the CD “Bad Old Songs.”
    [7 p.m. March 14, JCC East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley]

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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