Whether you love or hate the result, the election is over, and it’s time to find comfort and re-focus. A historical festival in New York, talk with Masha Gessen in San Francisco, and Israeli film festival in Chicago might prove just the ticket; if you’d rather stay home (we don’t blame you), unwind with the season 5 premier of “Billy on the Street” and a few new essays on great Jewish artists.
1) Watch the triumphant return of “Billy on the Street”
Regardless of your political affiliation, after the end of a year and a half of intensely vitriolic campaigning, we could all use a laugh. The man to provide that laugh is Billy Eichner, whose show “Billy on the Street” returns for its fifth season on Tuesday, November 15th. Eichner’s show is a frenetic carousel of confusion, exultation, and oddity; it mostly consists of him flagging people down on the street to shout questions at them like “would you have sex with Paul Rudd?” and “for a dollar, am I sexy?” (He sometimes rewards answers with incomprehensibly weird gifts, like an empty birdcage.) Guest stars in the upcoming season will include Andy Samberg and Seth Rogen, and Eichner’s flailing energy will make you laugh despite yourself.
2) Read about the incomplete masterpiece of “the world’s greatest animator,” the remarkable ups and downs of Joan Rivers’ career, and Jon Stewart’s remaking of the late-night comedy world
Via MTV, read Brian Phillips’ tender, imagistic profile of Yuri Norstein, the Jewish Russian artist many consider to be the greatest living animator. He’s spent the last 40 years – yes, 40 – working on an animated adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Overcoat.” Over at Vanity Fair, learn first about Joan Rivers in an essay adapted by Leslie Bennetts from her biography of Rivers, out next week. After that, more comedy: check out Chris Smith’s oral history of Jon Stewart’s time on “The Daily Show” in which Stewart, Stephen Colbert and more muse about Stewart’s years on the show and their lasting impact.
3) Explore the history of Jewish chamber music
Thursday, November 10th, the Israeli Chamber Project presents “Jewish Voices” at Manhattan’s Merkin Concert Hall. The concert, which samples composers Bernard Herrmann, Shulamit Ran, Aaron Copland, and Karl Goldmark, will bridge music from radically different eras, countries, and schools of composing. The ensemble is based in Israel and New York; hear a sampling of their music below.
4) Revisit late-nineteenth century Jewish New York
Sunday, November 13th Manhattan’s Museum at Eldridge Street hosts the Generation to Generation Festival, an insight into how the Jews of New York, many recent immigrants, lived at the end of the 19th Century. The festival’s offerings include performances of early synagogue music, food-making demonstrations, and re-enactments of formative events in the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s history.
5) Get radical
“Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism,” out this week, is a history of Jewish radical action and thinking starting in the swath of Eastern Europe formerly known as Yiddishland. Coming from two French academics – sociologist Sylvia Klingberg and philosopher Alain Brossat – the book might be uniquely timely, as Jews across the world ponder how to confront and engage with tides of nationalism and populism. Also out this week is Amos Oz’s “Judas,” his first since 2002’s “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” Writing for the Forward, Ranen Omer-Sherman commented that “Judas,” which he called “especially urgent and profoundly universal,” is “one of the most triumphant novels of [Oz’s] career.”
6) Learn about Jewish life in 20th-century Russia from a legendary journalist
Speaking at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center on November 14th, Russian-American journalist and activist Masha Gessen will discuss the strange and troubling history of Jews in 20th-century Russia. Gessen’s latest book, “Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region” (now that’s a mouthful) tells the story of the area set aside by the Soviet Union as a homeland for Jews, an experiment that was quickly and violently abandoned.
7) Catch the closing weekend of the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema
Chicago has been inundated with Israeli films since November 1st, and this is your last weekend to partake! Highlights should include the Chicago premieres of “Baba Joon,” the first Farsi-language film to win the Israeli Academy Award for Best Film, “The Settlers” on November 13th, and “Hummus! The Movie” on November 10th. (The last event includes a hummus and wine tasting; need I say more?)
8) Hear first-person testimony from an eyewitness to the Nuremberg trials
Also in Chicago, Chicago Tribune reporter Kathy Bergen will interview her father Hal Bergen, who assisted with the Nuremberg trials as a 19-year-old Army sound technician, at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center on November 13th. Following shortly after the 70th anniversary of the trials, it’s worth revisiting the lasting impact they had on the post-World War II world.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax
To some lovers of classical sounds, organ music seems irremediably goyish, despite outstanding achievements by such Jewish composers as Aaron Copland and Arnold Schoenberg in writing for the so-called “king of instruments.” For these, “The Organ and Its Music in German-Jewish Culture,” recently published in paperback, will be a real ear-opener. Its author, musicologist Tina Frühauf, notes that “until the Middle Ages, the organ was not officially permitted in any Christian liturgy inasmuch as instrumental music was associated… with the Jewish services once held in the temple at Jerusalem.”
Even after organs appeared in churches and became taboo for synagogues, there remained some Jewish fans of organ music, notably the 15th century Italian humanist philosopher Yohanan Alemanno, who in “Solomon’s Desire,” his commentary on the “Song of Songs,” included praise of a performance at the Mantua court by the German organist Conrad Paumann, a touring superstar of the 1400s. By the 18th century Haskalah, Europe’s Jewish Enlightenment movement, the time was ripe for a return of the organ as liturgical instrument. In 1810, at the Jacobstempel synagogue in Seesen, Lower Saxony, an organist named Gerson Rosenstein first participated in services. Debate was sparked and in 1818, Eliezer Liebermann, an Austrian Talmudist, wrote “The Bright Light,” a treatise which argued that organ playing had been the “Jewish custom in the Temple prior to the Christians’ adoption of the instrument.”
Some rabbis worried that if organs needed repair or adjustment on Shabbat, would that qualify as work, and if so, would a Shabbas goy be required to do it? An 1845 resolution decided that according to the Talmud, music-making qualified as a “display of art” and therefore was not work. The Vienna chazzan Salomon Sulzer opined in 1869 that a special virtue of the organ was that it was loud enough to easily “cover dissonances” of inferior cantors guilty of “trivial vocal ornamentations” or “weepy Polish virtuosity,” resulting in “that self-satisfied pseudo-artistry which often attacks esthetic beauty as a mildew attacks a seedling crop and poison it.” In 1933, Berlin organist Ludwig Altman was hired by one congregation only after he proved he could play thunderously enough to drown out a painful-sounding cantor.
Organ playing in European synagogues was violently halted, along with so much else, in 1938, but has enjoyed an afterlife in Israel, where many modern composers, such as Jacob Gilboa, Josef Dorman, and Ari Ben-Shabtai, are inspired by the instrument, even more than in today’s America.
Listen to Aaron Copland’s Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1924] here.
Listen to part of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Variations on a Recitative for Organ (1941)” here.
A November of concerts featuring fall colors and Yiddishkeit is available to Manhattan music lovers. On November 3 & 4 at New Brunswick’s State Theatre in New Brunswick and Newark’s NJPAC respectively, explosively expressionistic colors will be conveyed by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and conductor Augustin Dumay in Arnold Schoenberg’s stirring “Transfigured Night.” Also on November 3 at the Ukrainian Institute of America, broodingly autumnal shades will be explored when the Ensemble Made in Canada plays Gustav Mahler’s ultra-romantic Piano Quartet. On the same day at Bargemusic the bountiful musical harvest will continue as Trio 21 offers the New York premiere of an arrangement for piano trio and narrator of Glen Roven’s sensitively fashioned orchestral work for children, “Runaway Bunny.”
On November 8 at Lincoln Center’s Rose Studio will be two performances of a chamber music programme including Aaron Copland’s kaleidoscopic 1937 Sextet for Clarinet, String Quartet, and Piano by an ensemble featuring violinists Arnaud Sussmann and Areta Zhulla, as well as cellist Fred Sherry. Copland, who is most likely the only Jewish gay Communist composer whose music was ever performed and recorded by The United States Marine Band, is also unique for the splendid range of expression and melodic charm of his works.
The following day at Bargemusic,, pianist Nataliya Medvedovskaya performs an excerpt from “Three Preludes” by Richard Danielpour, a New York-born composer of Persian Jewish origin. Danielpour described these prismatic pieces as “musical responses to dreams that I had.” A more somber-tinted reverie by the same composer will be heard on November 14 at the 92nd Street Y when the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio interprets “A Child’s Reliquary” which the composer calls a “kind of ‘Kindertotenlieder’ [Mahler’s ‘Songs on the Death of Children’] without words.”
As this fall’s concert season kicks off, Manhattanites in search of classical performances with a dollop of Yiddishkeit will have a delightful array of choices, starting with the genial ghost of beloved Austrian Jewish violinist Fritz Kreisler, which presides over the New York Philharmonic’s Opening Gala. On September 27 at Avery Fisher Hall, Itzhak Perlman will play Kreisler’s “Tambourin Chinois,” which some music snobs might see as an unadventurously musty selection for such a high-profile orchestral outing, but Kreisler’s legion of fans will be ever-grateful.
At the same venue on October 4, 5, and 6, pianist Emanuel Ax will solo in Arnold Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto, with the Philharmonic led by Alan Gilbert. More modernism will be heard on October 20 at the High School of Fashion Industries when a group of Musicians from Marlboro, including violinists Itamar Zorman and Lily Francis and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt play the Hungarian Jewish composer György Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano and Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 1, among other works.
Schoenberg and Mendelssohn, those disparate spirits, are combined on October 25 at Carnegie Hall when the Israel Philharmonic under the baton of Zubin Mehta performs a highly original program of Schoenberg’s “Kol Nidre” and Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1, as well as the New York premiere of veteran Israeli composer Noam Sheriff’s “Mechaye Hametim (Revival of the Dead).” Soloists include Yuja Wang and Thomas Hampson.
Also at Carnegie, on October 27, Robert Spano leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.” Music lovers pining for a little more Kreisler-like fiddling schmaltz should hurry to Merkin Hall on October 30 to hear virtuoso Paul Huang in his New York debut playing Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasy,” once a staple of the staggeringly able Jascha Heifetz (Kreisler would have balked at its technical demands). As the month rounds off, the benevolent mastery of Emanuel Ax, one of today’s classical musicians most temperamentally in the Kreisler tradition, will again be heard. On November 4 at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater, Ax will perform Schoenberg’s “Six Little Piano Pieces” as well as the chamber version of Mahler’s “Song of the Earth,” arranged in part by Schoenberg, who died before completing it, whereupon this version was eventually made performance-ready in an edition by German composer Rainer Riehn. Any month in which Schoenberg and Kreisler are so prominently honored is a good month for Jewish music.
Listen to Kreisler play his own “Tambourin chinois” accompanied by Franz Rupp here.
See a trio of young Icelandic musicians, Sigrún Eðvaldsdóttir (violin), Stefán Jón Bernharðsson (horn), and Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson (piano) playing part of Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano in 2006 here.
Watch Jascha Heifetz playing Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasy” here.
And see Yuja Wang playing Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 here
• Aaron Copland owed much of his career to Serge Koussevitzky.
• Leonard Bernstein was in Tanglewood’s first class and became a Koussevitzky protégé and a worldwide symbol of Tanglewood.
• Paul Fromm was insired by Koussevitsky to create the Fromm Music Foundation to support new music.
• Erich Leinsdorf inaugurated Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music with funding from Fromm.
• James Levine, until recent ill health forced his resignation, presided over a new period of harmony following the rough transition caused by Ellen Highstein’s many changes when she took over directorship of the music center at the end of Seiji Ozawa’s long tenure.
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