Thursday, January 21, 2021

Yiddish Books, Songs, & Dances

 For the past 24+ years, I have hosted "N'Shoma" on radio station WMRD-AM1150 (Middletown, CT), simulcast on WLIS-1420Am (Old Saybrook, CT).  When the show debuted on the first Sunday in November 1996, I walked into the station with 20 albums and 15 CDs.  With a few exceptions, most of the recordings were by members of the 1970s-80s "Klezmer Revival".   Besides Andy Statman and The Klematics, I owned several albums by the Boston, MA-based Klezmer Conservatory Band. Organized in 1979 by educator, ethnomusicologist and multi-instrumentalist Hankus Netsky (pictured above, a graduate of and long-time faculty member of the New England Conservatory), the ensemble (which has ranged between nine and 14 members) began appearing up and down the East Coast. Their debut album, "Yiddish Renaissance", was issued in 1981 and they have since appeared on 17 other recordings and compilations. In 1995, the KCB joined forces with The Klezmatics (co-founded by former member Frank London), Brave Old World, and the Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra to support Israeli-born classical violinist Itzhak Perlman in his project exploring Klezmer titled "In The Fiddler's House" (EMI Classics/ Angel Records). The KCB's relationship with Maestro Perlman continues to this day!

Photo: Matt Cavanaugh (The Boston Globe)

Around the same as the KCB formed, a student of Yiddish Literature named Aaron Lansky founded the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA. Located on the edge of the campus of Hampshire College, Lansky and his staff began to collect books written in Yiddish –– in fact, the Center has since expanded to house over a million books (!) as well as digitizing 12,000, making these books available to scholars and interested readers around the world.  As the YBC expanded, they made room for author talks, concerts, plays, movie series, and more. 

The KCB and The YBC will celebrate their respective 40th anniversaries this Sunday afternoon–– the press release is below –– on Sunday morning at 11 am, I'll play an interview with Hankus Netsky on "N'Shoma" to whet your appetite even more to join that afternoon's ZOOM event. 

On Sunday, 
January 24 at 2 p.m. EST, The Yiddish Book Center looks back on the history and evolution of the Yiddish revival with The Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Yiddish Book Center:  Forty Years in Yiddishland, a video special celebrating the 40th anniversary of these two enduring institutions pivotal in spearheading the unprecedented international resurgence of Yiddish culture.  The event is free and open to the public. It will be presented via Zoom and will stream live on the Yiddish Book Center's Facebook page. To reserve a virtual seat in the Zoom audience—which will allow you to submit questions—registration is required:

The broadcast will feature KCB founder and director, New England Conservatory Contemporary Improvisation Department Co-chair and former Yiddish Book Center vice president for education Netsky and Lansky, the Center’s founder and president. It will include an historical overview of the band’s history along with video concert footage from over the years, including excerpts from acclaimed productions including “A Jumpin’ Night in the Garden of Eden” (1986), “The Fool and the Flying Ship” with Robin Williams (1991), and two PBS Great Performances Specials, “In the Fiddler’s House” with Itzhak Perlman (1997) and “Rejoice" (2014) featuring the KCB along with Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. The program will present Netsky and Lansky in conversation with L.A. Times and NPR film critic Ken Turan, along with tribute greetings from well-known KCB collaborators, including Itzhak Perlman and Joel Grey.  

The Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Yiddish Book Center: Forty Years in Yiddishland will explore how forty years of activism has assured Yiddish literature and music an enduring place not only in the world of Jewish culture but among the world's most cherished cultural traditions. This event is co-sponsored by KlezKanada, Golden Land Concerts & Connections, Yiddish New York, Center for Traditional Music and Dance, the American Society for Jewish Music, Boston Workers Circle, Boston’s Jewish Arts Collaborative (JARTS), and National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. The program is made possible in part with the generous support of Peter D. Mark in loving memory of Eugene L. Mark.

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