Keeping Jewish Music Alive in Berlin by Josh Jacobson
DEC. 2013 – I was recently invited to teach two classes at the annual Louis Lewandowski Festival, of which I am now a board member. Zamir was a featured participant in the inaugural festival in 2011, which was very exciting, but this year’s festival was no let-down.
“… the organizers of the festival go out of their way to promote Jewish culture, and to preserve the music of the pre-war period.”
First of all, Berlin is a beautiful city, and this time of year the streets are decorated with all kinds of lights and temporary booths for artisans selling their crafts.
Second, the (non-Jewish) organizers of the festival go out of their way to promote Jewish culture, and to preserve the music of the pre-war period. There were about 200 singers here representing Jewish choirs from Germany, Switzerland, England and Israel. We were all put up at a lovely hotel, given comfortable buses for touring and traveling to and from concerts, fed ample kosher catered buffets with unlimited beer and wine, and feted in a post-concert party in the revolving restaurant atop Berlin’s television tower (the “Needle”—Europe’s tallest structure).
Third, the impressive concerts. Saturday night each choir performed in different venues. Ronda and I went to Hoffnungskirche zu Panow to hear the Belsize Synagogue choir, a professional ensemble from London conducted by Ben Wolf (who also conduct’s London’s Zemel choir) and the Leipzig Synagogue Choir (ironically a non-Jewish volunteer chorus that doesn’t perform in the synagogue), under the direction of their new conductor, Ludwig Böhme. Both choirs were truly first-rate. On Sunday afternoon all seven choirs performed at the Rykestrasse synagogue, a beautifully restored temple. At the beginning and end of the concert, all 200 singers performed together under the direction of the festival’s music director, Regina Yantien. This year the festival honored, in addition to Lewandowski, composers who were persecuted by the Nazis, and especially those who emigrated to Israel. (On Sunday morning I taught two classes: “Paul Ben Haim—from Munich to Tel Aviv,” and “Martin Rosenberg and the Jewish Death Song.”)
Next year’s festival, December 18-21, 2014 will focus on German composers who emigrated to the USA (as well as Lewandowski, of course), and the organizers have invited the Zamir Chorale of Boston to represent the United States.