Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017...11:11 am
MacPhail concert spotlights Jewish music
By DORIS RUBENSTEIN
The MacPhail Center for Music has been a cornerstone of Twin Cities cultural life in one form/name or another since 1907. Generations of area residents have studied violin, piano, voice and other forms of musical expression under the tutelage of some of the best professionals who have graced local concert stages.
However, considering Minneapolis’ long history of anti-Semitism, it wasn’t particularly known as a magnet for Jewish musicians.
Things have changed.
MacPhail Spotlight Series Artistic Director Mischa Santora has created a concert that puts MacPhail faculty members (some of whom are Jewish) in the spotlight and focuses on music that intertwines both Jewish music and a part of Europe with a strong Jewish history. From the Balkans to the Holy Land brings it all together 8 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at MacPhail’s Antonello Concert Hall.
Santora invites the public to “witness the power and passion of Eastern European and Jewish folk music. This eclectic concert will showcase the virtuosity of Paul Schoenfeld’s Klezmer-inspired trio, the transcendent ‘Fantasy on a Yiddish Song’ by David Evan Thomas, old Ukrainian folk tunes passed on through generations, and the beloved Hungarian Dances by Brahms.” Anyone with a drop of Yiddishkeit in them will recognize that “Yiddish Song” as “Oyfn Pripetshik,” a Yiddish standard.
The Balkan states, including Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, parts of Hungary and the countries of the former Yugoslavia, were home to large communities of Jews for centuries before World War II. One need only listen to Smetana’s “The Danube” and hear unmistakable strains of “HaTikvah” woven through it to know how intimately connected Jewish culture in the Balkans was with the secular society.
Composer Paul Schoenfeld, a native Detroiter (from the same very Jewish neighborhood as this reporter) now on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, resided in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul in the 1980s and attended Adath Israel synagogue while here. Schoenfeld describes himself as “reclusive and a wanderer by nature … and an avid student of mathematics and the Talmud.” These qualities come alive in “Trio for clarinet, violin and piano.”
According to Juilliard’s Joel Sachs, “[Schoenfeld] is among those all-too-rare composers whose work combines exuberance and seriousness, familiarity and originality, lightness and depth. His work is inspired by the whole range of musical experience, popular styles both American and foreign, vernacular and folk traditions, and the ‘normal’ historical traditions of cultivated music making, often treated with sly twists.”
St. Paul native and MacPhail faculty member Marc Levine will take the violin part in performing Schoenfeld’s composition.
“Paul Schonfeld takes a style or genre like klezmer, and combines it with a contemporary classical sound. He combines those styles in a way that tips his hat to all those songs and ethnic styles and makes them serious music,” Levine observes.
Levine started studying violin long before his Bar Mitzva at the Temple of Aaron or his graduation from Sibley High School. Just as in the shtetl boys started studying their aleph-beis at the age of three, so did Levine begin his violin studies at day care! He left the Twin Cities to obtain degrees from Indiana University (where he performed with a klezmer band) and SUNY-Stony Brook, but the lure of his Minnesota home was strong, fortunately for us. His contributions to the musical life of the Twin Cities beyond MacPhail are substantial: On baroque violin, Levine performs with his chamber ensemble, Flying Forms. He regularly appears as leader or section member with the Bach Society of Minnesota, Consortium Carissimi, and the Lyra Baroque Orchestra. On modern violin, he performs chamber music from all eras on various series and with groups including the Lowertown Piano Trio (founding member), Minnesota Bach Ensemble, and Minneapolis Music Company.
Even with these credentials, Levine finds Schoenfeld’s composition challenging. He admits, “For me, the challenge in this piece is that it’s a technically difficult piece. But it’s satisfying to do it well. The challenge is making such technical music and making it sound klezmer and let that style come through.”
Other artists performing in the concert will include Twin Cities favorite Peter Ostroushko, playing mandolin and singing a traditional Ukrainian folk song; as well as clarinetist Sarah Porwoll-Lee, soprano Andrea Leap and nationally-known pianists Irina and Julia Elkina. All are part of the MacPhail faculty.
(American Jewish World, 3.24.17)