A wide variety of styles and periods of Jewish music will be in the spotlight at the 19th Washington Jewish Music Festival (WJMF), which runs Nov. 2 to 12. Four of the festival’s six venues are in Montgomery County: The Music Center at Strathmore and AMP Powered by Strathmore in North Bethesda, and Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center and AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring; the remainder of the events take place in the District, where the festival’s organizer, the Edlavitch DCJCC (EDCJCC), is situated.
The expansion to Montgomery started with Strathmore. “While initially hosted at the EDCJCC or surrounding D.C. venues, our 12th WJMF Opening Night was held at the Music Center at Strathmore with a performance by Mandy Patinkin,” explained Alexis Rodriguez, the festival’s outreach and communications manager. “Since then, the festival has continued to expand into Montgomery County.”
Why add Montgomery? “Montgomery County events help us grow our reach, attract new audiences and expand the types of events showcased by the festival. Presenting at world-class venues … adds to the diverse experience that is the WJMF and helps fulfill our mission of engaging people throughout the greater D.C. community in cross-cultural dialogue,” Rodriguez explained.
Festival Director Ilya Tovbis assembled the lineup, Rodriguez said, “with the intention of showcasing a global diaspora of Jewish sounds. We showcase a diversity of projects spanning diverse genres that are either influenced by or fused with traditional Jewish sounds, as well as showcasing the work of Jewish composers.”
Tovbis said this year’s performers offer “a very exciting alchemy… bring(ing) together some of the most prestigious, original and boundary-pushing artists from around the world working in the Jewish space, and encourag(ing) them to experiment in the nation’s capital…The Jewish sound being celebrated at this year’s festival is as eclectic, multicultural and global as the Jewish diaspora itself.”
The first event for Montgomery County is the festival’s centerpiece evening, featuring “Hours of Freedom: The Story of the Terezin Composers” on Saturday, Nov. 4, at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center. Four singers, a violinist and a pianist will perform music written by 15 composers in a concentration camp during the Holocaust; the program also includes a narrator and video.
Nearly all the composers died in the camps, said Gail Wein, President of Classical Music Communications, which brought the Defiant Requiem Foundation (DRF) production to the festival. DRF “commemorates the artistic endeavors of the prisoners of the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp.” In fact, she added, “the organization’s signature event, ‘Defiant Requiem,’ is a performance of the Requiem by Verdi, with film clips and narration that tells the story of those brave men and women who performed that work 16 times while interred at Terezin.”
“‘Hours of Freedom’ also showcases the artistic activity at Terezin, (but) in a more intimate and personal way,” said Wein. “It was clear that this would be an ideal program for the WJMF, especially since this performance will be the Washington area premiere.”
Next up in the county are Ladino (an archaic form of Spanish with strong ties to Sephardic Jewish culture) singer Yasmin Levy and Grammy-winning klezmer singers and instrumentalists The Klezmatics at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7, at The Music Center at Strathmore.
“We actually made the decision to present (these groups) a bit earlier in the year on our own,” said Joi Brown, vice president of programming at Strathmore. “The presentation is part of Strathmore’s ongoing commitment to provide platforms for music and narratives from around the world and helps represent the valuable diversity in our own community.”
The double bill, she noted, “provides us with very different perspectives on the migration of Jewish music through both European and Latino paths.”
“Since we’re in close contact with many other arts presenters in the region, it came to our attention quickly that the show fell during the timeframe of the WJMF. We were able to connect and both teams decided a partnership to include this performance in the festival was a natural fit and would help to shine a spotlight not only on the music on our stage, but on all the amazing artists the festival is bringing to the area.”
Another Strathmore venue, AMP Powered by Strathmore, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, will feature mandolinist-clarinetist-composer Andy Statman in a two-set show featuring both his Andy Statman Trio and Andy’s Ramble Bluegrass Quartet. He has described his music as “a spontaneous American-roots form of very personal, prayerful Hasidic music by way of avant-garde jazz.”
Back at the Music Center at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, will be the Levine Music presentation of “Taking Leonard Downtown: Getting Funky with the Maestro,” described as a traditional jazz organ combo performing Leonard Bernstein’s music that preserves the musical integrity of his work and mixes in funk, gospel, go-go, boogaloo, soul and jazz.” The program is part of the 2017 Levine Presents performance series with the theme, “Infinite Variety: The Iconic Influence of Leonard Bernstein,” celebrating the 150th centennial of the Jewish composer-conductor’s birth. “The DCJCC wanted to include it under the umbrella of their Jewish music festival, so they suggested co-presenting it,” noted Lois Narvey, Levine’s director of programs, events and partnerships. Another Levine program, “Music Over the Wall: Quartet for the End of Time,” commemorating Olivier Messiaen’s work of faith born amid war, famine and genocide, will take place at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6 in the EDCJCC.
Finally, the 1920 silent film, “Humoresque,” will be screened, along with live musical accompaniment by pianist and composer Gabriel Thibaudeau, at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov.12 at the AFI Silver Theatre. “The film is part of our extensive upcoming Silent Cinema Showcase,” said AFI’s Abigail Algar. “We work closely with the Edlavitch DCJCC on the WJMF, for which we host a number of film screenings each year. With ‘Humoresque,’ we saw an opportunity to expand our collaboration further.” The film tells the story of a Jewish concert violinist in the World War I era.
Single tickets, ranging from $8 to $35, and passes, $70, $40 for 30 years and younger, to the 19th Washington Jewish Music Festival are available for purchase at www.WJMF.org. Montgomery County venues are: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, and AMP Powered by Strathmore, 11810 Grand Park Ave, both in North Bethesda; and Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center, 7995 Georgia Ave., and AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road, both in Silver Spring.