Erica Dee curated the show Weaving Voices, which takes place Aug. 9 at CRAB Park at Portside. (photo from Vines Art Festival)
Weaving Voices features Jewish community member Erica Dee, Tonye, Miss Christie Lee, Janelle Reid and Sara Cadeau, with instrumentalists Sean Mitchell and Jonny Tobin. The performance at this year’s Vines Art Festival on Aug. 9 is based on Dee’s singing workshop, Sing for the Soul.
Dee has been offering the group singing classes over the past two years. “This has been one of my favourite projects I have ever created and it has inspired me to write a whole new album and live performance,” Dee told the Independent. “Sometime in 2020, I will release this new project with a new name and it is very different from anything I have performed. It will be a live, multi-sensory experience that is meant for listening rooms and theatres, or parks. And I will activate the spaces with my singing workshop prior to the show and then include the participants in my live performance. I won’t share the name yet, but it does include my family’s name in it.”
Dee’s cultural heritage includes Jewish and Italian roots, and jazz on both sides of the family. Her paternal grandparents are Evelyn Stieglitz (z’l) and Murray Landsberg, who she described as “the sweetest Jewish couple, who met in the Bronx in the 1930s. They were 13 and 15 and they were together until my grandmother past away a couple years ago. My father, Paul Landsberg, is a prolific jazz guitarist, who started his career teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. My mother, Rita Marie, was born to Rita Shirley Dallesandro and Jim Smith. Rita Shirley’s brothers, Frankie and Arthur, started a jazz big band in the ’50s called the Dellasandro’s, where they played saxophone and clarinet.”
Born Erica Dee Landsberg in Boston, Mass., Dee goes by only her first and middles names. She grew up “in the mountains of the Sinixt Territory (Nelson, B.C.). My mother, father, sister and I moved to the Kootenays in 1989 because my father helped start Selkirk College’s music program.”
Expressing her gratitude at being a Canadian citizen, Dee said she first moved to Vancouver in 2005, a couple months after graduating high school. “I followed my passion,” she said, “as I had already been performing and writing and I was ready to move to the big city to expand my artistry. I also followed my heart here, after falling deeply in love with a female DJ and producer who was running Vancouver’s only lesbian bar at the time.”
Dee is a vocalist, DJ, writer and producer. She released her first recording, Golden Mixtape, a combination of remixes and original work, in 2011. Her debut album, New Skies, came out in 2016.
“I am firstly a singer,” she said, “which means I get to connect to my instrument (aka my body) in such a deep and intimate way. I usually have some burst of inspiration come to me, whether it’s a hook, or a bass line, or a drum beat. Then I spend time developing the tone, feeling and resonance. Words usually come after, as I find when I add words to my art, it brings it into the mind and I like to stay in the body for as long as possible.
“As far as production goes, I have been producing music for over 10 years and have yet to release something that is completely self-produced. I use production as another way to get my ideas out, using drum pads, keys and programs like Logic and Ableton, and then eventually collaborate with other musicians and producers to complete the creation.
“Recently,” she added, “I have been creating on a loop pedal, which has taken my artistry to a completely new level. I started DJing when I was 20, when I realized that I could be my own band mate, and started touring a performance where I would sing and MC over top of my DJ sets, fusing together the music that I love and moves me with my originals and remixes.”
Dee collaborates a lot, both in performances and in the creation of new work. Her bio notes that she has “supported and toured with artists such as Lil’ Kim, Mos Def, Quest Love, A Tribe Called Red and Bad Bad Not Good.” Past guest artists have included Snotty Nose Rez Kids and Desiree Dawson.
“I love the magic that happens when artists share space together,” she explained. “Each person is unique, with their own experience, tone, voice, stories and inspirations. It activates every part of my soul to witness artists coming together in this way, harmonizing, improvising, and the dynamics of different voices coming in and out of the music. I always say, sometimes just having another person in the room is enough, without a word shared. I can feel every piece of music they have absorbed since their creation lighting up the space. It is truly is my favourite part about being an artist.”
For the Vines Art Festival show, Dee said, “I have brought together a group of such powerful artists…. Each of these artists shares their stories and truth in such a real and accessible way.”
Dee said she is honoured to be part of the festival, as she really connects to its core values. Part of the festival’s mission is to offer “platforms for local artists and performers to create with and on the land, steering their creative impulses toward work that focuses on the environment – whether a deep love of nature, sustainability, or climate justice.”
“Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside and I find a lot of my inspiration in nature,” said Dee. “I attended Waldorf School as a kid, where I learned how to use my hands to connect and create with the natural world in a sustainable way.
“Since then, I have always had a very strong connection and appreciation for the land I occupy. Wherever I travel, I always take the time to educate myself on whose land I am on and acknowledge that within my show. I use my platform to share information about the social and environmental issues that I feel are important – I actually got fired from a festival in Calgary for speaking about the pipeline and how much harm it will cause to indigenous communities.”
For the performance at Vines, Dee shared that there is going to be “an extra special element.”
Of that element, she said, “I have never done this before and I am so excited. During the first time I sat down with Heather [Lamoureux, the festival’s artistic director], I had a vision and I am really looking forward to bringing it to life!”
Weaving Voices on Aug. 9 takes place at CRAB Park at Portside, at 7 p.m. Other Jewish performers in the festival include mia susan amir, Ariel Martz-Oberlander and Rabbit Richards, and it features more than 80 artists overall, performing at parks throughout the city. Every event is free admission and more information can be found at vinesartfestival.com.
Byron Schenkman performs in the concert called Chopin Preludes on Aug. 1 at Christ Church Cathedral. (photo from Byron Schenkman)
“I think Chopin was an exceptionally sensitive pianist and composer – more of a poet than most. Sometimes his music is almost painfully beautiful. And, these days, I think we need all the poetry and beauty and sensitivity we can find!” Byron Schenkman told the Independent.
Schenkman returns to the Vancouver Bach Festival this year. Presented by Early Music Vancouver, they will perform preludes by Frédéric Chopin on Early Music’s 19th-century Broadwood fortepiano on Aug. 1, 1 p.m., with a pre-concert talk at 12:15 p.m., at Christ Church Cathedral.
The concert is a collaboration with the Vancouver Chopin Society. Describing Chopin as “a central figure of 19th-century Romanticism,” the program summary notes that “his connections to Bach are clear in his own preludes, which were directly inspired by Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.” To place “Chopin’s music in the context of Romantic composers who influenced his work,” Schenkman’s performance will include pieces by Maria Szymanowska, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
Of playing Chopin, Schenkman said, “I think the biggest challenge – and the greatest joy – is honouring the delicacy of Chopin’s music even when it is intellectually complex and emotionally very deep. Compared with performing most other composers’ work, it’s like creating art out of glass instead of marble or bronze.”
Schenkman performs on piano, harpsichord and fortepiano, which is, simply, a piano made in the 18th and early 19th century. They also have contributed to more than 40 CDs, including some on which they have played on historical instruments from the National Music Museum, in Vermillion, S.D., and from the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. The award-winning musician is a founding member of several ensembles, and teaches music history at Seattle University, as well as being a guest lecturer on the harpsichord and fortepiano at other institutions. In 2013, they launched Byron Schenkman & Friends, a Baroque and classical chamber music series in Seattle.
A graduate of the New England Conservatory and Indiana University, Schenkman said, “I grew up in a home with lots of music. I often heard one of my older sisters practising the piano and it is still a very comforting sound for me, especially the repertoire that she practised most: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin.”
In past Bach Festivals, Schenkman has performed Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and Ignaz Moscheles.
“I am really happy to be returning to Vancouver, one of my favourite cities,” they said. “And I am honoured to be part of the wonderful Vancouver Bach Festival along with so many inspiring colleagues.”
This year’s 14-concert festival, which runs July 30 to Aug. 9, begins with EMV’s ensemble-in-residence, Les Boréades, in a performance over two nights – July 30 and 31 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts – of Bach’s Complete Brandenburg Concertos. It also closes at the Chan Centre – with Henry Purcell’s Hail Bright Cecilia – but the other concerts take place at Christ Church. For tickets and more information, visit earlymusic.bc.ca or call 604-822-2697.
Gabriel Paquin-Buki, far right, founded the band Oktopus, which started performing in 2010. (photo by Rémi Hermoso)
Among the Jewish performers at this year’s Mission Folk Music Festival, July 26-28 at Fraser River Heritage Park, are Vancouver’s Jesse Waldman and Montreal’s Gabriel Paquin-Buki. For both musicians, family has been a key inspiration.
Waldman is a guitarist, singer-songwriter, studio producer, sound designer, and film and TV composer. Originally from Thornhill, Ont., just north of Toronto, his bio describes a cassette of his grandmother singing the Yiddish folk song Papirosen to his mother as one of his “most cherished possessions.”
“That recording was from the late ’50s, most likely 1957,” Waldman told the Independent. “My family had one of the first consumer-level tape recorders, they also had one of the first eight-millimetre film cameras, too. They always loved documenting the family, taking time capsule-like snapshots to cherish and enjoy later on in life.
“The recording of that particular song – which is about a young girl selling cigarettes on a street corner – has a beautifully haunting melody. I believe my grandmother learned it from her mother, my great-grandmother. At some point, it was transferred onto a stereo cassette recorder and a few copies were made. The same tape also contains interviews with my mother, a toddler at the time, and other family members, since passed away.”
A guitar he found in his parents’ basement also played a part in the start of his musical career.
“The guitar was an old beat-up nylon-string classical guitar that belonged to my Aunt Sherri,” said Waldman. “Actually, I suspect it belonged to one of her ex-boyfriends. I figured out how to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ on one string and was hooked for life! That was back in 1989.”
Waldman made his way to Vancouver in 1995 “on a whim,” he said. “I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew me and reinvent myself. From the moment I saw the mountains and smelled the ocean, I instantly felt at home. Then, after meeting the people and getting a feel for the laidback vibe of the West Coast, I was sold on Vancouver.”
For Paquin-Buki, whose group Oktopus began performing in 2010, it was his father who introduced him to klezmer.
“My father was born into a Polish Jewish family and has carried klezmer music with him all his life. His transmission to me of this cultural legacy occurred quite naturally. The cassettes he would play in the family car, the klezmer recordings during parties at our home, the live bands at family weddings and those rare times he would play songs on the piano were enough for me to access the roots of this musical tradition,” said Paquin-Buki.
“As it is for many children, I believe it was the rhythm of this music that excited me. The recordings we listened to were mostly of fast songs and, for me, were synonymous with joy. My love for this music today has so many facets! When we listen to klezmer, we can somehow feel the richness of the Jewish people’s millennial history and hear their encounters with musicians from all over the planet and across centuries. Also, major-minor ambivalence in the main klezmer scale (the freygish) embodies the dichotomy between laughter and tears so characteristic of Jewish culture. And it’s always fun music to play.”
Waldman has similar views. “I’ve always enjoyed klezmer music,” he said. “The mile-a-minute dance numbers, the sorrowful ballads and the cheeky vocals. Many klezmer compositions use melodies based on the harmonic minor scale, which includes a minor third and a major seven, which makes it sound particularly haunting and mournful to me. In terms of culture, all of my band mates in my early days were Jewish. I definitely cut my teeth with fellow Jews who know the delights of Shabbos dinner and a good bagel with lox and cream cheese!”
While he enjoys klezmer, Waldman’s music is predominantly folk and blues. “I love the sound, the rawness and heavy emotional weight of those styles,” he explained. “I also love the storytelling aspect of it, specific life experiences, places and relationships. Real folk and blues is unique to each artist but also has a tradition of carrying classic songs through the generations. I also love how blues has a way of transforming deep pain into something beautiful.”
Waldman’s debut album, Mansion Full of Ghosts, which was released in 2017, is described as “an exploration of the city’s vast duality, a backdrop of beauty mirrored by a fierce underbelly and a need to keep a light on in the dark.” It includes songs about his neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside, and, in talking about what drives him to make socially conscious music, he said, “I think mostly my compassion for other people, particularly those less fortunate than myself. I also yearn to connect with people on a deeper level and music and honest lyrics are a good way to achieve that.”
Among the talent featured on that album is his partner, Megan Alford. Currently, the two are working on a recording of her music, Field Guide to Wildflowers, scheduled for an early 2020 release. “My role is producer and guitar player,” said Waldman. “She is an outstanding songwriter with a great voice and poignant and deeply personal lyrics. We’ve been working together for a couple years now and the songs have really come to life.”
As can blues music, klezmer holds space for both happiness and sadness. In addition to being a musician, Paquin-Buki holds a master’s degree in comparative literature. In his first semester, he took two courses that focused on literature from the concentration camps. Le Verfügbar aux enfers (The Lowest-Class Worker Goes to Hell), written by Germaine Tillion, a prisoner at Ravensbrück, particularly caught his attention. “This work has a substantial musical dimension and contains a lot of humour…. I was very keen on exploring this taboo subject of laughter and the Holocaust and especially on trying to understand what its benefits were and what shapes it could subsequently take…. For the time being, there is no direct connection between this topic and Oktopus’s music but, in performance, it allows me to flesh out historical intros between pieces. It also adds a new dimension to these tears that are halfway between laughter and sorrow, since klezmer music – and particularly the clarinet – reproduces vocal inflections that convey laughter and sorrow.
“I would very much like to compose a piece based on one of the works I used in my thesis, ‘La danse de Gengis Cohn.’ I also have a mind to add a work from KZ Muzik, a vast box set recording that traces and publishes many works composed in concentration camps. But, overall, the fact remains that my own academic project on such a profound and terrifying topic has changed my general view of the world and impacts everything I do.”
Paquin-Buki is the driving force behind Oktopus’s mission to perpetuate klezmer. “By striving to perpetuate this musical tradition, I am keeping the culture of my ancestors alive and this is of special significance to me,” he said. “Nevertheless, since klezmer carries universal values, our approach also makes substantial room for the musical traditions of Quebec.”
Indeed, Oktopus combines elements of different cultures.
“The klezmer repertoire is so vast that we cannot possibly cover it all in our lifetimes,” said Paquin-Buki. “But we have also chosen to incorporate classical melodies – we are all classically trained and so we necessarily view klezmer through the lens of classical music, in the way our ears have been trained to hear it – as well as Quebec chansons [folk songs] and, sometimes, songs from other cultures around the world.
“Trying to somehow recreate these songs as they were played decades or even centuries ago is not really in line with our view of tradition, which is not a static concept for us. Tradition is something that evolves and so, in certain respects, we try to imagine what the klezmorim repertoire might have been like if they had settled in Montreal. They would have necessarily incorporated Québécois and Canadian songs and styles. Historically, klezmer absorbs the different cultures it encounters along its way, while staying true to its deep roots, which colour everything it touches. The important thing is to remain connected to those roots.”
One challenge in maintaining that connection for Paquin-Buki has been that his “classical training got in the way in some respects because klezmer is largely an oral tradition.” He couldn’t find any scores for a klezmer ensemble and, he said, “In the environment in which I functioned as a musician, nothing was possible without written-down notes. But, to make a long story short, I finally decided to write out the arrangements myself. They turned out very badly at the beginning, but with help and a lot of work, they evolved into something presentable.
“The group’s configuration,” he said of Oktopus, “is loosely based on what I heard on recordings of the Klezmer Conservatory Band: clarinet, violin, flute, trombone, tuba (now bass trombone), piano and drums. Back in 2009, I was not acquainted with that many musicians, so I recruited a few friends and other promising students from the faculty of music. The group began playing in 2010 – three pieces performed in a chamber music concert at the Université de Montréal. The following year, we were offered our first professional engagements.” Oktopus has two albums – Lever l’encre (2014) and Hapax (2017) – both of which were nominated for Juno and Canadian Folk Music awards.
“Dueling pianists” Lester Soo and Marilyn Glazer entertain at the last Empowerment Series session of the season. (photo from JSA)
Co-sponsored by Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Kehila Society of Richmond, the fifth session of this season’s JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series took place at Congregation Beth Tikvah. It more than lived up to the series’ theme this year: “Renewing and Reinventing Ourselves.”
As usual, the program was preceded by a lunch provided by Stacey Kettleman. Beth Tikvah’s Rabbi Adam Rubin did the Hamotzi and Toby Rubin, co-executive director of the Kehila Society, welcomed everyone. Among the 120 or so attendees were members of the Kehila Society and of JSA, as well as a group from L’Chaim Adult Day Care.
The entertainment portion of the program took place in the sanctuary, where Ken Levitt, president of JSA, spoke briefly and Rubin introduced the “dueling pianists”: Marilyn Glazer and Lester Soo, both of whom are accomplished musicians and piano instructors. The two have known each other for 35 years and have been playing duets for much of that time – one piano, four hands. At the Empowerment Series performance, they began with four Hungarian rhapsodies and continued with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. They then played a number of Gershwin tunes and ended with Cole Porter.
Rubin thanked the pianists for their wonderful performance, which was the last event of the 2018/19 Empowerment Series. The series will begin again in the fall, with a new lineup of events presented by JSA with other seniors groups in the community.
Shanie Levinis an executive board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
On July 12, Strings for Peace will have its world première at the Indian Summer Festival, which is described as “a multi-disciplinary arts festival ‘where worlds meet’ in Vancouver.”
Produced by the Indian Summer Arts Society, the festival’s mission “is to offer daring, multi-arts events that bring together diverse artists, audiences and artists in a spirit of global dialogue and citizenship.” Sharing a similar spirit, it is fitting that Strings for Peace – created and performed by sarod masters Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bangash, and guitarist Sharon Isbin – will be unveiled at the festival.
“The legendary sarod master Amjad Ali Khan emailed me 10 years ago to invite me to a concert of his in New York and to explore the idea of a collaboration,” said Isbin, a three-time Grammy Award winner whose repertoire includes Baroque, Spanish-Latin music and jazz fusion. “I had long admired Indian classical music, and was bowled over to hear his performances with his sons…. A warm friendship developed and, six years ago, he conceived the idea of composing ragas for us all to perform together. I received the music last December and loved it. They said that’s good because we have already booked a tour with you in India in February 2019! I had little time with my schedule, but was motivated because the music was exquisitely beautiful, as is their artistry. It was a magnificent experience to perform together in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi. I cherish our friendship and the opportunity this has given me to explore an inspiring new genre and collaboration.”
The four performers have made a recording for release in 2020, said Isbin, “and I am excited that Strings for Peace will be touring in the U.S. during summer and fall 2020.”
In an article earlier this year in the Hindustan Times, Isbin speaks about the difference between the Indian classical, mainly oral, tradition and the written Western classical music tradition. “Indian classical music has long pieces. You are taken on a journey,” she notes. “It is a very expansive state of consciousness, whereas a Bach or a Beethoven piece has a clear and defined sense of enclosure.”
“Performing together in India last February,” she told the Independent, “I was amazed to hear similarities between improvised embellishments in Indian classical music and melismatic nuances in Spanish, flamenco and Sephardic music.”
Born and raised in Minneapolis until age 18, Isbin lives in New York City. She is the founding director of the Juilliard School guitar department and director of the guitar department of the Aspen Music Festival. She performs around the world and has appeared as a soloist with almost 200 orchestras.
“When I was 9, my family moved to Italy for my father’s sabbatical year as a scientist and professor of chemical engineering,” she said of her beginnings as an artist. “My older brother Ira asked for guitar lessons, hoping to be the next Elvis. My parents found a great teacher who had studied with [Andrés] Segovia, but when my brother learned it was classical, he bowed out and I volunteered to take his place. I loved that an instrument was built for me, and that you held and caressed it to make music.”
Of the role, if any, Judaism or Jewish culture plays in her life, Isbin said, “My grandparents came to the U.S. as refugees from Russia and Poland to escape deadly pogroms, and I have many relatives who live in Israel. I have always felt a cultural connection to Judaism and to Israel. In fact, I was a teenager when the first work ever composed for me was a concerto by the late Israeli composer Ami Maayani, which I premièred with the Jerusalem Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra. Since then, I’ve premièred more than 80 works written and arranged for me.”
Her experience with the Khans highlights how she views music’s potential to bring together different cultures. “There is only one human race, and we all need to appreciate and celebrate that commonality,” she said. “Music, because it transcends language, can be wonderfully uniting.”
Strings for Peace premières July 12, 8 p.m., at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. For tickets and the full schedule of the Indian Summer Festival, which opened July 4 and runs to July 14, visit indiansummerfest.ca.
Itamar Erez’s new CD, Mi Alegria, is being launched with a concert at the Annex. (photo by Wolfgang Vogt)
Composer, performer and teacher Itamar Erez releases his new CD in a concert June 20 at the Annex. The title, Mi Alegria, or My Happiness, is a play on words: his daughter’s name is Mia.
Originally from Tel Aviv, Erez teaches guitar at Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music and collaborates with renowned musicians from numerous cultures and musical traditions. His music is infused with the melodies, instruments and rhythms from across the Middle East and beyond.
Erez traces his love of music to his childhood home. His father was a pilot who brought many stories and gifts home from overseas trips – food, clothes, shoes and the music.
“You couldn’t get a lot of records. My father would always bring music with him,” said Erez in an interview with the Independent. “Really interesting music: Bartok, Stravinsky, Coltrane and Bach. I absorbed a lot of it.”
There was also live music in his home, he said. He tells these stories with ease, which is reflected in his style of composition, with its shifting, fluid themes and nuanced moods.
“At 6, I asked to play the piano, so we got one and my older sister and both parents took lessons. We’re all musical,” he said.
Added to all the different traditions in Israel, Erez got a well-rounded education in music, which shows in his eclectic repertoire.
“I remember the first piece I wrote that was performed in a theatre: a piano and upright bass duo. I was 16 or 17,” he said. “It was a magical experience to come out with my own music.”
The relationship between father and son, through music, is mirrored in his relationship with his own son, Yahli. The new album features a song written for his son, “Yahli’s Lullaby.”
“It came about when I was improvising in my room and my son was playing,” said Erez. “He was really listening and asked me what it was.”
Erez derives inspiration from a wealth of other sources: literature, history and myriad musical traditions. “My muse is constantly changing,” he said. “It alternates between world music and jazz, with a lot of classical music.” About Mi Alegria, he said, “this release is definitely going towards jazz.”
“I focused on classical composition at one time, and I felt limited,” he explained. “At some point, I just decided to let go of figuring it out. Something wants to come out, influenced by different traditions, meeting musicians from all over the world, like the Turkish musician I met.”
These influences can be heard on his new album.
“‘Samai’ is based on a Middle Eastern melody that I’m ‘quoting’ – a very traditional piece. The original is a folk tune based on a metre of 10/8; classical Arabic or Turkish tradition,” he said by way of example.
“In my daily practice, I play Bach. It’s really important to me, but not in concert because it’s not my tradition.”
Instead, he prefers to perform his own compositions. “I love the freedom of playing my own music because it doesn’t have to fit a standard of performance,” he said.
Erez writes down his compositions, but only when he needs to share them. When he is composing in the moment, improvising on the piano, “I rarely play a piece the same twice,” he said. “When you’re learning to compose and improvise, it’s important to try things out for hours, transcribing, figuring out what other musicians are doing … just getting lost in the sound.”
Of his new release, Erez said, “I’m super-excited. It’s been awhile since my last release and this is a really fresh new sound.”
For Mi Alegria, Erez worked with percussionist Hamin Honari, with whom he has been collaborating for several years, as well as musicians François Houle, Dani Benedikt, Celsa Machado, James Meger, Kevin Romain and Ilan Salem.
The piece “Tides” evokes the ocean so clearly, with eddies of rapid notes below the slower, tidal shifts in the music, with the cymbal taking the role of the surf, crashing on the shore. “Requinto” is a mischievous piece that moves quickly, with many rapid changes, including the sudden arrival of a sweeping clarinet solo – it calls to mind the swift footsteps of children chasing butterflies. “Shesh” is syncopated, laden with whirling rhythms and pregnant pauses. The intense, mesmerizing repetitions and rising tensions evoke the intelligence of Dave Brubeck or Moe Koffmann, while the wind section takes the listener to the Middle East and China.
The new album is fueled by Flamenco-sized passion but also the playfulness of Bach. The result is a work of both tremendous discipline and unbridled freedom. All in all, the mood of the album suggests so much of human experience and emotion, from joyous to the pensive, from comical to introspective and brooding, and beyond.
In addition to the concert June 20 at the Annex, with opening band the Giving Shapes, Erez also performs on July 11 at Hermann’s in Victoria and July 28 at Frankie’s in Vancouver, with his quartet.
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
The June 12 performance of Moshe Denburg’s The Longing Sky features Yuji Nakagawa on sarangi, left, and Harrie Starreveld on shakuhachi. (photos from VICO)
This year’s Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO) Global Soundscapes Festival highlights the instruments and traditions of Japan. It features a concerto by Moshe Denburg, and percussionists Jonathan Bernard and Niel Golden, both members of the Jewish community, are among the performers.
“As an organization committed to bringing forward and collaborating with all cultures of the world, we have had a connection with Japanese musical culture since our inception in 2001,” explained Denburg, VICO founding artistic director, of the festival’s focus. “Our present artistic director, Mark Armanini, studied composition with the late Elliot Weisgarber, who was my mentor and friend as well, and was, in a real sense, a progenitor of interculturalism in Vancouver. His own studies and musical explorations took him to Japan and into Japanese music. This is one longstanding Japanese influence in our midst.
“The VICO has collaborated with Japanese musicians on many occasions in the past,” he continued. “The first major encounter was in 2010, at a concert production called Imagined Worlds: Japanese Interventions, at which concert we had two visiting Japanese musical virtuosos. In 2013, we produced a mini-festival, together with the Japanese consulate and the Japanese community here, called Chrysanthemums and Maple Leaves. One of the main soloists of this festival, Naomi Sato, has been with us for further iterations of this festival concept, in 2014 and again this year. She plays a traditional Japanese mouth organ called the sho. This year, in addition to Ms. Sato, we have Miyama McQueen-Tokita on koto and Harrie Starreveld on shakuhachi.”
The festival’s opening concert on June 5 at the Waterfront Theatre features Debris, a new mini-opera by Rita Ueda, “inspired by the 2011 tsunami and the debris that washed up along the West Coast of North America,” works by Weisgarber, as well as traditional Japanese music. Denburg’s The Longing Sky is part of Raga-tala-Malika! A Garland of Ragas and Talas with VICO and Friends, at the Rothstein Theatre on June 12.
About The Longing Sky, Denburg said, “After my tours of musical study in India and Japan, which took place in the mid-’80s, I returned to Canada to begin realizing some of my global fusion ideas. Around 1994, I sketched a work which brought together the two traditions I had previously been exposed to, and conceived of a double concerto for shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and sarangi (Indian bowed string), instruments that, in their own unique ways, spoke to me of longing.
“The Longing Sky originally came to me as part of a two-movement work that I conceived of then, called Between the Source and the Longing Sky. The source represents our life here on earth, while the longing sky represents the possibility of reaching out to a new life in space. This was and still is our global situation today: we have the means to explore other worlds, but the early promise of moving into space has hardly been realized. The sky is within each of us, and represents our longing for a better world, a larger creative palette, a future vast and free.”
The work premièred in November 2013, with featured soloists Dhruba Ghosh on sarangi and Starreveld on shakuhachi. “In 2017, at the young age of 59, Dhruba-ji passed away suddenly of a heart attack,” said Denburg. “This remount of The Longing Sky is a tribute to him, our dear colleague, mentor and friend. Appropriately enough, his student and disciple, Yuji Nakagawa, will be the featured sarangi player, and Harrie will reprise his role on shakuhachi. May Dhruba’s memory always be a blessing.”
Learning the techniques involved with playing an unfamiliar instrument, in order to compose for it, begins with one-on-one sessions with the performer, said Denburg.
“I did this with several shakuhachi performers over the years, studied many materials and listened to many recordings,” he said. “Regarding sarangi, I found, in the early ’90s, a very well-known Canadian ethnomusicologist, cellist and sarangi player, Regula Qureshi, who taught, until her recent retirement, at the University of Alberta. My first learning sessions were with her, and I supplemented these with certain materials that I found in ethnomusicological treatises. Of course, one can never really ‘know’ how to write for an instrument until one has tried to transmit the composition to a performer and listened to the result. In my case, I am still learning how to write for sarangi – actually, the process never ends.
“Another aspect of composing for such an instrument, and indeed for many instruments of the world, is that as they are part of the great ‘aural traditions’ of the world,” he added. “One prime example of this is the music of India – the composer needs to supplement written materials with aural aids; audio materials that are sung, or played on synthesizer or another instrument. But, most importantly, the composer has to sit down with the performer and work on the musical lines he has composed, and sincerely take advice from the performer as to what works and what does not work. This is one aspect of intercultural work that cannot be emphasized enough – the written composition is not the only way, nor even the best way to create great music. This is humble pie for most Western composers, and one might say an added benefit of intercultural exploration.”
On the topic of cultural appropriation, Denburg said, “We have been aware of these issues and, in fact, we may be convening, in 2020 or 2021, a cross-Canada series of discussions exploring best intercultural practices.
“One thing that we have done over the years,” he said of VICO, “which we believe has been acceptable practice, is that we have always emphasized the collaborative aspect of the work. We are not expressing someone else’s narrative, but rather our own, new intercultural narrative. And, when we present other cultures, this is precisely what we do – we present those cultures in performances by accepted exponents of them. So, in a VICO concert, you will often find some demonstration pieces of the collaborating cultures themselves. For example, in Raga-Tala-Malika, we will have a traditional raga presentation, probably featuring our guest sarangi player together with our guest tabla player; and a shakuhachi solo may also be presented. These are the undiluted presentations of ‘other’ cultures. Then, in pieces like The Longing Sky, and others on the program, a truly intercultural piece will be performed.”
Golden will be playing tabla on Denburg’s piece on June 12, and likely accompanying the sarangi player on tabla for a traditional Indian piece in that show. He is also scheduled to play with Starreveld and Nakagawa at the closing concert of the festival, June 13, at the Annex.
According to his bio, when Golden moved to Victoria from Toronto in 1986, “he helped form the world, folk fusion trio, New Earth. Their self-titled CD took them to Seville, Spain, where they represented Canada for six weeks at Expo ’92.… Blending African, Indian, Western and other world music, their first CD, Indiscretion, earned them a Juno nomination as best global recording of 1995.”
Throughout the years, Golden has continued to study tabla and has collaborated with many artists, including Denburg for the past 18 years – Golden is a member of the VICO. He is also a member of the new world music quartet Saffron, performs in the trio DNA, as well as the trio Three Worlds, which recently released a self-titled CD.
Bernard – principal percussionist with the Vancouver Island Symphony – will be playing in the Global Soundscapes Festival on June 8, in Zen and Now, and in Raga-Tala-Malika. His bio notes: “His interest in world music has led him to perform Chinese, Javanese, Balinese and Korean music and study traditional and contemporary Chinese percussion in Beijing, Arabic percussion in Cairo and Carnatic rhythm in South India.” He has premièred more than 70 chamber works with various ensembles, and has toured throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.
For Global Soundscapes concert tickets ($20-$35), more information on the artists and the full performance schedule, visit vi-co.org.
Vancouver composer Itamar Erez will have a world première of his work at the Sound of Dragon Ensemble (Vancouver) and Melody of China (San Francisco) concert May 30, 7 p.m., at the Western Front. Erez will be playing guitar with Sound of Dragon, as well. His composition, Migrant Voices, was inspired by Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities, which Erez read when he was younger. It is an imagined set of conversations between Marco Polo and the emperor of the 13th-century Mongolian empire, Kublai Khan. Each chapter of the book is a prose poem, describing an imaginary city that Marco Polo “discovered” in his travels. “I remember being deeply inspired by it as a young person,” said Erez. “In a similar way, perhaps, the music of Migrant Voices is a kind of a ‘discovered’ folk song, from an imaginary city, country or culture. Based on a 9/8 and 7/8 time signature, it definitely has elements taken from certain Balkan/Greek music, Turkish or Armenian. Not sure, to tell you the truth, exactly why and how – it just came to me one day as if a voice whispered it in my ear.”
The May 30 concert – in celebration of Asian Heritage Month – is the first collaboration of two professional music ensembles with Chinese roots from across the border between Canada and the United States. For tickets and more information, visit soundofdragon.com.
The Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir in a performance last fall at the Peretz Centre, led by conductor David Millard, with pianist Danielle Lee. (photo from VJFC)
As they say, nothing comes from nothing and so it is with the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir of the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture. Officially, our birth date was 1979 – and that’s what we’re celebrating in the June 9 spring concert unironically called Freylekhe Lider: Yiddish Party Songs – but, when you come right down to it, we were in labour for around 25 years before finally coming into the world.
An early predecessor to the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir was a group called the UJPO’s Vancouver Jewish Folk Singers. UJPO was the United Jewish People’s Order and it was a decidedly political organization that positioned itself somewhere left of Lenin. Its eight-member choir, though keen on socially progressive issues as well, was somewhat less political and more focused on bringing Yiddish and international music to the Vancouver community. Yiddish singer Claire Osipov, the choir’s founder and director, formed the group in 1956 and kept it going for six years. In that time, the choir performed at Peretz Centre events, as well as reaching out to the community beyond. On two occasions, the choir performed at the CBC studio and was broadcast over CBC Radio.
Everyone familiar with Claire knows she seems to have boundless energy when it comes to her love of music and so, to no one’s surprise, she took on additional musical duties and began a children’s choir at Peretz in 1959. The Peretz Centre had an active children’s education program under principal Leibl Basman and Claire’s choir drew on this group, bringing in children who ranged in age from 7 to 11. Noteworthy in this choir was part-time piano accompanist Gyda Chud, current president of the Peretz Centre.
Time and circumstance brought both those choirs to an end some time in the 1960s and, for a time, the halls of the Peretz Centre were chorally silent.
Then, a Peretz choir formed under the direction of Morrie Backun, an employee of Ward’s music. Little is remembered about this choir because Morrie discontinued the group after just one year. Tammy Jackson sang in this choir and one of her main recollections is not so much the repertoire and performances as the brilliant discount they got on sheet music.
* * *
Searle Friedman arrived on the Vancouver scene 1978. He had been out of the country for a number of years studying music in East Germany. After his studies, he and his family – wife Sylvia and sons Michael, Robert and David – settled in Toronto, where Searle became conductor of the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir.
After a time, the family decided to move to Vancouver and Searle came here on his own initially to pave the way. At first, he taught at an alternative education program (called Relevant High School) that was based at what was then called the Vancouver Peretz Institute but, after a year, he parted company with that organization. Since his Ontario teaching credentials were not immediately transferable to British Columbia, Searle spent much of his time at Peretz and it was there that he had a conversation with Tammy, who suggested that he form a choir to occupy his time.
The beginnings of the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir were rather humble, comprising just a few members and a Russian pianist named Wolfgang. The roster at that time is only vaguely remembered but it certainly included Tammy (Searle’s niece) and Sylvia (his wife). It likely also included David Friedman (Searle’s son), Goldie Shore, Betty Ewing, Davie Cramer, Carl Lehan and Margie Goldhar. When there were no-shows at rehearsals, the standing joke was that the choir could at least consider the possibility of becoming a barbershop quartet.
In those early years, the choir performed informally at various Peretz Centre festival occasions and cultural gatherings. The repertoire was a potpourri of traditional Jewish folk songs sung in Yiddish, as well as some non-Jewish selections that piqued Searle’s interest – “Roosters Crowing on Sourwood Mountain” and “Martian Love Song,” to name two. Incidentally, Searle could never figure out why the “Roosters” song never sounded quite right, until one day he discovered somebody in the bass section was singing “roosters growing on the side of the mountain.”
But the choir grew rapidly. Searle was not just a brilliant conductor and arranger. He was very much a people person and had a charisma and affability that drew others to him. He had a knack for making his singers believe in themselves. Maurie Jackson, an early recruit, recalls Searle often saying to struggling singers: “If you can talk, you can sing!” In a short time, the choir grew to around 30 members, including me.
I had seen Searle’s choir perform and I thought about joining but my interest was kind of a passing thing. I was determined to do something Jew-ish but my real hope was to join a folk dancing class at the Jewish Community Centre. My job kept me glued to a desk most days. I figured folk dancing would be a good way to get some exercise, lose some weight and meet new people. As fate would have it, the folk dancing class was canceled, so I had to begrudgingly fall back on my second choice – the choir. It was a choice that I stuck with for almost 36 years and a choice that introduced me to Tammy – the remarkable lady I’ve been married to for 31 years and counting.
Tammy’s uncle, Searle, was inordinately pleased to know he had played matchmaker to two of his choir members. As often as Searle gave me pointers on singing, he also asked for updates on the state of my relationship with his niece: “Are you seeing each other after choir?” “Are you engaged yet?” “Do you have a wedding date?”
Rehearsals were a lot of fun. Searle liked to laugh and humour was always a part of our repertoire. I recall one day when Searle was working hard at getting us to blend our voices more closely. He wanted to hear the choir singing as one voice. After puzzling over how to make us understand this, he said, “I want all of you to try really hard to feel each other’s parts!” That did us in for most of the rest of that rehearsal, and even Searle had to take time to get back his concentration.
Searle’s one nemesis in rehearsals was his wife, Sylvia. While the rest of us were in awe of his talents and put Searle on a pedestal, Sylvia felt no such compunction. She freely advised Searle of proper pronunciations of Yiddish words and even was vocal about the pace of various songs when she thought Searle had got it wrong. The expression we often heard from Sylvia was, “In my village….” The expression we often heard from Searle was “Sylvia, who’s running this choir?” For fear of hurting his feelings, no one ever answered that question. Many a rehearsal degenerated into heated debates regarding Yiddish linguistics and the proper treatment of traditional songs.
As well as increasing the size of the choir, Searle wanted to increase our presence in the community and give us a focal point for our efforts. With that in mind, we performed our first annual spring concert in the spring of 1984. Our guest artists were the Shalom Dancers. In addition to the choir fans who attended, the Shalom Dancers brought to the performance their own appreciative followers. The result was a very large and lively audience. The pervasive feeling in the choir was, “We’ve got to do this again!” And so, we have, every spring.
* * *
Searle’s energy and love of music had always made him seem like an unstoppable force of nature. We thought and hoped he would last forever. We were wrong. Due to a childhood bout of rheumatic fever, his robust exterior masked the effects of a damaged heart. When he was still a young man, his doctors basically told him not to take on any long-term magazine subscriptions. They said that, with the damage to his heart valves, he would not survive past the age of 40. Searle’s response was to get married, raise three sons, travel to East Germany to study music, get his Canadian teaching certificate and start a choir. When it came to living his life, Searle was not about to call it a day.
In September 1974, Searle had a heart valve replacement and got on with his life. After he founded the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir in 1979, he was spending repeated stints in the hospital. Nevertheless, he pushed through his medical setbacks and always came back to us ready to lead the choir without a backward glance.
I had a conversation with Searle that pretty much says it all. I was visiting him in the hospital.
Me: How are you doing, Searle?
Searle: Fantastic! I’ve gotten some very good news from my cardiologist.
Me: (greatly relieved) Wonderful! What did he tell you?
Searle: Well, it turns out he sings in a choir and he’s not happy with it. He’s thinking of joining ours! And he’s a tenor!
Searle returned to us from that hospital stay and all of that seemed behind him. But tragedy struck on Dec. 31, 1990. Searle’s heart just stopped. He was only 64.
Just over a week later, we had our first choir rehearsal without Searle. We stood in a large circle and began our warm-up exercises, led by our accompanist, Susan James. No one’s mind was on what we were doing. After a few minutes, I suggested we stop so I could say a few things about Searle. I can’t remember exactly what I said but I spoke about Searle and how much the choir meant to him, and about keeping it going as a tribute to his memory. The floodgates opened. Every choir member spoke of how much Searle had meant to them personally. When it ended, we got down to the business of carrying on what he had begun. If we doubted ourselves, we only had to look at one of the choir members who stood in that same circle to warm up and sing with the rest of us – Searle’s wife, Sylvia.
* * *
After Searle’s passing, Susan stepped up and became our conductor. She was a more reserved individual than Searle but a skilled conductor and her attention to detail was legendary. Nothing got by her and every note sung that was not to her satisfaction was drilled again and again until we got it right. And, sometimes, when the notes were right, we were still stopped dead in our tracks because the page turns were too loud. We worked harder during rehearsals, and we were better singers for it.
Susan’s tenure was five years. She was a devout Christian and the choir was composed mostly of a bunch of godless secularists. In her farewell letter to the choir, she expressed her sadness at not being able to share her beliefs with the rest of us. She left in 1995, after our annual June concert and our season had ended.
Again, a member from our ranks stepped up and helped us carry on. In fall 1996, David Millard – who for a few years had been a paid professional singer in our tenor section – became our conductor and, much to our good fortune, is still at it today.
Over the years, David has conducted, served as our resident Yiddishist, sung as a soloist, filled in on occasion as our pianist, written choral arrangements for many of our songs and led audience sing-alongs at festival celebrations. As we declared in one of our concert narrations, David is the Swiss Army knife of conductors.
In recent times, he composed an original six-part cantata based on a Yiddish translation of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky” – “Yomervokhets,” in Yiddish. David’s interest was piqued when he read a Yiddish translation of “Jabberwocky” by Raphael Finkel. Finkel had apparently found a Yiddish-English dictionary that no one knew existed. In this dictionary, the “Jabberwock” translates as the “Yomervokh” and the “frumious Bandersnatch” is noted as the “froymdikn Bandershnits.” The hero’s blade that went “snicker-snack” as it sliced into the Jabberwock made a different sound held by a Jewish hero – “shnoker-shnik.” Who knew?
Translation issues aside, “Yomervokhets” is a brilliant original composition and an audience favourite. No history of the choir would be complete without it and it is to be featured at the choir’s 40th anniversary concert in June.
* * *
Helping us sound our best over the years have been our piano accompanists. Some choirs sing a cappella (without accompaniment). Some choirs, such as ours, are community choirs that welcome enthusiasts of all abilities. For that reason, many of us welcome the guidance of an accompanist to help keep us on pitch. (Some of the choir still think a cappella is an Italian dish involving meatballs.)
Good accompanists are not easy to come by. They need to work closely in tandem with the conductor, often to the point of reading his or her mind.
Over the years, we have relied on many pianists to keep us in tune. Currently, we are accompanied by Danielle Lee, who joined us at the start of this season. But, Elliott Dainow stands out as our longest-serving accompanist – almost 20 years! Beyond contributing his talents at the piano, Elliott was a choral arranger and his version of “Oseh Shalom” has been performed by the choir many times. Though he grew to be a member of the family, to everything there is a season, and Elliott left us in June of 2017, in order to give more time to the renovation of his home on Hornby Island.
* * *
Over the years, the choir has performed at countless venues, including the Peretz Centre, South Granville Lodge, Louis Brier Home and Hospital, Cityfest Vancouver, Vancouver Public Library, VanDusen Gardens, Cavell Gardens, Orpheum Theatre’s Parade of Choirs, the Vancouver Planetarium, the Israeli Street Festival and Victoria’s Congregation Emanu-El.
Sadly, one of our more recent choir performances was at a memorial service for our beloved Sylvia. Shortly after our June concert in 2016, she became ill and passed away that December. She was our last original choir member still active with the choir. In the program notes of our June 2017 concert, we wrote: “The choir dedicates this concert to the memory of our beloved Sylvia Friedman, who sang with us for all but one of the 38 years of our existence. Sylvia wanted to sing this one last concert before retiring. Her death in December 2016 prevented that, but, in our hearts, she is always right there beside us, singing as beautifully as ever.”
Under David’s able baton – figuratively speaking, since he really just waves his arms and hopes somebody notices – and inspired by the devotion to Jewish music of Searle and Sylvia Friedman, the choir is looking forward to its next 40 years.
For tickets ($18) to Freylekhe Lider June 9, 2 p.m., at the Peretz Centre, visit eventbrite.ca.
Yoni Rechter will be in Vancouver to perform for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
“I love to know the world through music, and music has brought me to many places …. When I come and play and then I also make connection with the place, I prefer it to being the usual tourist. So, I’m glad I have the opportunity to come back to Canada after so many years … especially to Vancouver, that I heard so much about it,” Yoni Rechter told the Jewish Independent in a phone interview.
Rechter headlines the community Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration May 8 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. While he has toured around the world, he hasn’t ever performed outside of Israel on Israel’s Independence Day. So, why now?
“There are two artists,” he said, “who were previously in this concert – Nurit Galron  and Shlomi Shaban  – they are both friends of mine, I work with them. Each one of them told me how nice it was to be there at the Yom Ha’atzmaut event, so I got good recommendations.”
Since he wrote his first song more than 50 years ago, Rechter has become a virtual icon of Israeli music. The composer, pianist, singer and arranger has created music for solo performances, bands, theatre, film, symphony, dance and opera. He has more than a dozen albums and has collaborated with a large portion of the who’s who of the Israeli cultural arts scene. Yet, he remains humble.
“I worked with the right people. I mean, people that I had the opportunity to learn from them, from the beginning of my musical career,” he said of his success. “I was first in the group Kaveret – you know, Poogy? By the way, we performed in Canada in ’76. We were in Montreal and Toronto and Winnipeg, and I still remember the temperature in Winnipeg. I think it was in winter; it really was the lowest temperature I ever felt. Anyway, then I worked with Arik Einstein, then I worked with Yossi Banai … and then I had the opportunity to work with very important theatre directors, like Hanoch Levin, Nissim Aloni and Miki Gurevich, and, also in movies. Because this is a small country, if you are willing to work, you can do various musical activities…. I had a lot of people to learn from, and really great, great artists.”
He said Israel is different than the United States or Canada with regard to the concept of celebrity. In Israel, he said, “We grew up very simply, and I go every day to swim. It’s not that I live in a protected house and I have bodyguards. It’s not this type of culture in Israel, first of all, but still there are people in Israel who might use their publicity for power or this kind of thing, but my character, I feel that I’m a musician, it’s the music and not me…. I feel that I have what to say in my music, but I never speak about myself; nobody knows about my wife, about my children, my private life. I’m really not into doing something with it, and it’s many years like this, but, I must confess, that I’m also not required by people or by journalists to speak about my personal life. Really, people accept me as I am.”
Rechter almost didn’t become a musician. When he was about to go into the army, at age 18, his father had what was probably the biggest architecture firm in Israel at the time. Even though his parents separated when Rechter was very young and he didn’t live with his father, he said it was a big decision as to whether to follow in his father’s footsteps. But, also, he said, music came easily to him.
“You know, I was just sitting at the piano and I composed, everything flowed, so I thought maybe life should be more difficult, and I should go to places that are more requiring of effort,” he said. “And this feeling I had, I was sure I was going to be an architect, but, in the army, I played in a military group of the artillery … and, when I finished the army, I thought to go to study architecture but then I got a telephone call from the members of what was going to be Kaveret group (Poogy group), and they called me for an audition. I heard the music and I fell in love. In the end, it came out to be [that I became] pianist of this group and a member of this group that changed … my career…. I have a brother who continues my father’s legacy.”
As to music and the projects he takes on, Rechter said there are a couple of factors he considers, notably the seriousness of the request and whether he has something to contribute musically. He gave the example of the Israeli Opera, who asked him to create a work for them, which will play again next year. He based the opera, Schitz, on the play by Levin.
“To write an opera,” he said, “it’s a year of 12-hours-a-day work; it’s really very [intensive]. It was an 80-minute opera, symphonic – I made all the arrangements and orchestration and I worked with the singers; it’s a huge work. It takes one year to do it, so, the first condition is that I know the project is serious.
“I have to find the right text,” he added, “because I really connect it to lyrics, to text, and I feel I have something to say in this. It’s a process. So, I start to improvise on this and I see if I have something to say musically. And, when I feel it’s all connected, I start to work on it. For example, the other [opera] … it was by David Grossman. Itamar Pogesh Arnav, it’s called, Itamar Meets a Rabbit. It’s a for-children opera, we made it with the Israeli Philharmonic. Of course, David Grossman, I knew he’s a very interesting man and I can find a way to connect with him, to communicate.”
Rechter said it is hard to define “Israeli music.” From the state’s inception through the 1970s, he said, “before the great internet and … we became one global ‘forum’ … [Israel] developed its own voice, which was, I would say, influenced by Russian music, from the immigrants that came, and also by music from the east, from Sinai, from Jordan, from all our neighbours. I think I grew up with influences of this spirit – sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn’t like it. It depends on the people; for example, there was Sasha Argov, who was a very famous composer, and I really liked his music, which was very rich harmonically. Today, I think, after this explosion of communication, I don’t think it’s different from other places.”
That said, Rechter singled out some Israeli jazz performers, like Avishai Cohen, who is now based in New York, and others. “So, there is something here,” he said. “I think that living under pressure all the time [has something to do with it] … your life, all the time, is in danger because you don’t know when the next missile will fall in Tel Aviv. In my life, it has happened already two or three times…. Last week, there was one missile or two that fell near Tel Aviv. So, our life is, all the time, not protected, in a way. I believe it influences in a positive way our art, because we make art – all the Israeli artists – like you must survive. It gives us some very different energy than Europe, that used to be very calm.” He said, “The good artists that are serious become very known in the world [outside of] Israel.”
Music is important, said Rechter, “because it, especially in this time, I think that music should be a messenger. It has a task, and the task is to bring people back to real feeling, to themselves, to touch their souls, their energy, their spirit. Music is a force of nature, something that comes out of real creativity, at its best. Sometimes, I go to a concert and I cry from the music, it touches me so deeply. And that’s what I want to make. I don’t want to be somebody who’s going there to make lots of money; it doesn’t interest me. I want to touch people and, when it happens, for me, it’s the best prize.”
Rechter is coming to Vancouver with a band, “all of them Israeli, who live in New York” – singer Tammy Scheffer, saxophonist and player of multiple woodwinds Eitan Goffman, guitarist Shahar Mintz, bassist Uri Kleinman and drummer Shay Wetzler. “I sent them all the notes and the recordings of what I plan to play in Vancouver,” he said. “They’ll practise and we’ll meet at the beginning of May for two rehearsals n Manhattan.”
The audience at the Chan Centre can expect some of their favourites, said Rechter.
“I started to write songs when I was like 14, because of the Beatles,” he said. “I fell in love with the Beatles…. The first songs [of mine] were written in this age. I think the most famous song was – there is a song called ‘Dma’ot Shel Mal’achim,’ ‘Angels’ Tears.’ It became a song of memorial, and I wrote it in high school … with my friend who was sitting near me, his name is Danny Minster, he wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music. I tell this to you because I will sing it in Vancouver at the Yom Hazikaron memorial.”
Rechter will perform just the one song at the memorial May 7, 7:30 p.m., at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. On Yom Ha’atzmaut, May 8, 7:30 p.m., at the Chan Centre, he will perform more than 20.
Presented by Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Yom Ha’atzmaut is supported by 46 community partners, with the Jewish Independent as the media sponsor and Georgian Court Hotel as the hotel sponsor. For the first time, there will be a party after the concert, though there is limited space available and only guests who attend the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration may purchase tickets to the party. Visit jewishvancouver.com/yh2019.