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Sample Track 1:
"East Hapsburg Waltz" from Isle of Klezbos
Sample Track 2:
"Der Leiermann" from Judith Berkson
Sample Track 3:
"Line and Breath B through Chorale" from Ben Goldberg
Sample Track 4:
"At Dusk: D" from Basya Schechter
Sample Track 5:
"Excerpts" from Michael Winograd
Sample Track 6:
"Metamorphisis" from Bustan Quartet
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27th Annual Jewish Music Festival (SF Bay Area) Radical and Sacred:
27th Jewish Music Festival Showcases Original Music and Fertile Connections

There’s a place where Baghdad and Warsaw, Jerusalem and Berkeley merge. Where Civil Rights-era poetry speaks Yiddish, where tangled conflicts resolve on ‘oud strings and fiddle bows, and where justice rocks the mic.

It’s the Jewish Music Festival (March 1-25, 2012), now in its 27th year as a preeminent platform for artists transforming, unpacking, and creating Jewish music with engaging passion and skill. This edition of the Festival focuses on the sacred musings and interconnected traditions inspiring contemporary songsmiths and composers around the world.

“Everyone’s playing with everyone nowadays,” reflects Festival Director Eleanor Shapiro. “There’s a constant reshaping. Musicians are finding a transformative power of connection between all genres and making stunning new music from it. This year’s Festival, in particular, is showcasing original compositions, inspired from genres ranging jazz, to hip hop, roots and Western and Eastern classical traditions.”

This year’s lineup features both under-acknowledged icons (avant jazz and klezmer innovator Ben Goldberg on March 4; Israel’s world music pioneers Bustan Quartet on March 22) and fresh voices (the West Coast debut of rising star clarinetist Micheal Winograd and indie-inflected classically trained vocalist Judith Berkson on March 3; outspoken Israeli hip-hop heavyweights Hadag Nahash on March 1). It starts off with a pre-festival splash thanks to the freewheeling Isle of Klezbos (Feb 11) and concludes with a day of uplifting, exploratory music at the sparkling, newly restored architectural jewel Congregation Sherith Israel (Holy Harmony mini-festival; March 25).

Please visit for the complete schedule, ticket prices, and sales. Discounts for seniors, students, JCC members, and groups of ten or more. For more information, please call 510-848-0237 x119. Tickets go on sale Tuesday, January 16. Box Office: 866-558-4253 or

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“We’re seeing a lot of collaboration not only across ethnic lines, between the cultures of Eastern Europe and the Middle East and North Africa, but also across secular and sacred lines,” Shapiro notes. “Many of our Festival artists are informed by cantorial traditions or ancient religious melodies and poetry, while creating music that is very contemporary.”

Witness the collaboration between Grammy-winning Klezmatics veteran Frank London and Iraqi Jewish oud (Middle Eastern forerunner of the lute) and violin master Yair Dalal (Babel/Ashkenaz. March 25) that explores both nigunim (Eastern European liturgical melodies) and piyutim (a similar body of ancient textual and melodic traditions from the Middle East and North Africa). Six Points Fellow Judith Berkson, with a sound that echoes both her rigorous classical training and an ethereal indie-friendly vibe, draws on her family’s cantorial heritage as she crafts her dark, intriguing pieces.

Some of the connections with the sacred demonstrate the evolution and flexibility of Jewish culture and philosophy, its lively ability to shape modern life. Basya Schechter (Pharaoh’s Daughter; March 25 as part of Holy Harmony) felt this vibrancy in the impactful Yiddish poetry of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who often marched in support of civil rights beside Martin Luther King and whose mystic, poetic words touch on humanity’s complex connection to the divine.

“Before sleep, for months, I would read the poetry over and over. When the words became familiar and took on a life energy of their own, I felt I could play with melody around them and turn them into music,” Schechter recalls. “Like Heschel, I'm drawn to the ineffable through language, music, silence, paradox, and sacredness through practice and ritual.”

Composer and clarinetist Ben Goldberg found a similar path to inspiration, following the words and thought of revered contemporary poet Allen Grossman to create his new composition, “Orphic Machine,” premiering at this year’s Festival. Known for finding the golden mean between cutting-edge jazz and klezmer soul, Goldberg and his ensemble further unite the improvisatory spirit of avant-garde music and age-old “impulse toward song” Grossman explores. Goldberg’s collaborators include top New York and Bay Area musicians like Jeff Parker, Carla Kihlstedt, and Myra Melford, artists who also play with Tin Hat, Tortoise, the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Xiu Xiu, who bring traditional, classical, jazz, and indie rock elements to the table.

From the Middle East, the Festival is presenting the Bustan Quartet, an Israeli/Palestinian group of four virtuosic performers who first came together with the Bustan Avraham Ensemble, which, broke ground by crafting world music based on Israel’s many cultural traditions. The word “bustan,” meaning “garden” in both Hebrew and Arabic, reflects the group’s fascination with what binds their two worlds and many musical passions.

“The band, through mastery and innovative synthesis of music from the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas, revolutionized the world music scene in Israel in the early 1990s and brought a fresh voice from Israel to the world stage,” notes UC Berkeley ethnomusicologist Benjamin Brinner.

Hadag Nahash uses hip hop as a jumping-off point for a full-on jolt of Israeli power pop, rock, and electro-folk. One of the country’s hottest bands, the group is known for its loud and brash social critique and its politically charged calls for peace and justice. Along with turntables and samples, a full electric band backs Hadag Nahash’s notoriously bold frontman, packing dance floors while raising eyebrows and demanding change.

The Festival, in fostering the burgeoning web of connections across the Jewish musical world, has become an important space for original music that transcends all boundaries. It’s not about classics and covers; it’s about the revived and radical sounds by young, highly skilled composers like Michael Winograd, who came to klezmer via avant-garde jazz, or by multimedia artists like Emmanuel Witzthum, an artist-in-residence at UC Berkeley who through multimedia installations weaves sonic and visual art to change how we see a city like Jerusalem. (March 15; Magnes Collection, Berkeley)

“All of these musicians have such expertise in their own worlds, and when they come together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We seek out creative artists who are absolutely compelling for music-lovers of a wide spectrum of genres,” Shapiro explains. “The Festival is all about introducing the Bay Area to sounds people will hear nowhere else. “

Sponsored by: the Anisman / Sherman Family, Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund (JCEF-SF), East Bay Community Foundation, Gaia Fund, Guzik Foundation, Israel Center of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, Koret Foundation, Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, Dr. Marvin and Ilene Weinreb Philanthropic Fund (Jewish Community Foundation of the Greater East Bay), UC Berkeley – Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.

The Jewish Music Festival is a fiscally-sponsored project of the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay