YIVO Yiddish Folksong Festival Returns with Continuing Evolution: Yiddish Folksong Today

The festival features a who's-who of contemporary Yiddish folksong artists including Eléonore Biezunski, Carol Freeman, Sarah Gordon, Janet Leuchter, and more.

By: Mar. 31, 2022
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This May, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is hosting Continuing Evolution: Yiddish Folksong Today, a music festival featuring four concerts which cross stylistic boundaries between classical music and folk performance. The festival features the premiere of more than twelve newly commissioned classical works alongside a wealth of lesser-known compositions from YIVO's archival collections, and performances by over thirty musical artists.

Over the past two years, YIVO has commissioned and premiered works based on Yiddish folksong from a slew of esteemed composers: Martin Bresnick, Marti Epstein, Aaron Kernis, Judith Shatin, Derek David, David Ludwig, Anthony Russel, Daniel Schlosberg, Uri Schreter, Dan Shore, and Alex Weiser. These works all premiered in online performances during the pandemic and are available for viewing on YIVO's YouTube channel. This festival features the in-person premiere of all these works as well as four brand-new premieres from composers Annie Gosfield, Lainie Fefferman, Anat Spiegel, and Paul Alan Levi.


The festival features a who's-who of contemporary Yiddish folksong artists including Eléonore Biezunski, Carol Freeman, Sarah Gordon, Janet Leuchter, Gerald Marcus, Sarah Myerson, Ethel Raim, Zachary Scholl, Miryem-Khaye Seigel, Ilya Shneyveys, Lorin Sklamberg, Joshua Waletzky, and Eléonore Weill.


The festival's four concerts take place in-person and will be livestreamed on Zoom. The festival also includes a panel discussing the recently completed YIVO Folksong Project: East European Jewish Folksong in its Social Context which features project director Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin, singer and composer Joshua Waletzky, and YIVO Sound Archivist Eléonore Biezunski.

The festival highlights creative work drawing from YIVO's archival and library collections. Composer and Director of YIVO's Public Programs Alex Weiser reflects,

"If Jewish continuity is a golden chain, YIVO's collections are the mine from which we can extract the gold to create the latest link. Inviting artists to engage with YIVO's collections in their work offers us valuable perspective on the meaning and relevance of the Jewish past for our culture today."

Among the commissioned composers and performers are Grammy award winners, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, Guggenheim fellows, and an NEA National Heritage Fellow. Five of the composers have studied Yiddish at YIVO. Derek David, alumnus of YIVO's Uriel Weinreich Summer Program in Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture, described the songs he reimagined in his commissioned work saying,

"Within these recordings, I hear myself, deeply and personally reflected. Above all, I hear them uniquely in a way that Bach and Mozart can't offer me: I hear these universal emotions as distinctly Yiddish. As a composer, I've never encountered something that spoke to me so directly, so honestly, and so uniquely."

The first concert will take place on Monday, May 9, 2022 at 7:00pm ET at YIVO in the Center for Jewish History building (15 West 16th Street, New York, NY). This concert features music by Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Joel Engel, Alexander Veprik, and Aaron Copland, alongside the premiere of new works by Martin Bresnick, Annie Gosfield, Paul Alan Levi, and Alex Weiser. Performances will be by cellist Julian Schwarz, pianist Marika Bournaki, clarinetist Moran Katz, violinists Yevgeny Kutik and Adelya Nartadjieva, and violist Colin Brookes. This evening also features performances by Joshua Waletzky and Eléonore Weill.

The second concert will take place on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 at 7:00pm ET at YIVO. This concert features music by Stefan Wolpe, Lazare Saminsky, and Joseph Achron, alongside the premiere of new works by Marti Epstein, Aaron Kernis, Anthony Russell/Uri Schreter, Judith Shatin, and Anat Spiegel. Performances will be by members of the Bard Graduate Vocal Arts Program: sopranos Abagael Cheng, Maria Giovanetti, Francesca Lionetta, and Montana Smith, bass-baritone Michael Aoun, and pianists Bat-Erdene Batbileg, Neilson Chen, and Gwyyon Sin. This evening also features performances by Carol Freeman and Zachary Scholl.

The third concert will take place on Sunday, May 22, 2022 at 4:00pm ET at the Jalopy Theatre (315 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, NY). This concert, a collaboration with The Neighborhood: An Urban Center for Jewish Life, features a showcase of contemporary artists engaged with Yiddish folksong performing material collected as a part of YIVO's 1973-1975 Folksong Project: East European Jewish Folksong in its Social Context (YIVO Folksong Project). Performing artists include Eléonore Biezunski, Carol Freeman, Sarah Gordon, Janet Leuchter, Jerry Marcus, Sarah Myerson, Ethel Raim, Miryem-Khaye Seigel, Ilya Shneyveys, Lorin Sklamberg, Josh Waletzky, and Eléonore Weill.

The panel discussion will take place Monday, May 23, 2022 at 1:00pm ET on Zoom. This panel will discuss the recently completed YIVO Folksong Project, which digitized the 2,000 Yiddish folk songs and oral histories collected by YIVO from 1973-1975. The panel will feature project director Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin, singer and composer Joshua Waletzky, and YIVO Sound Archivist Eléonore Biezunski for a discussion of the project, including examples of material from the project, and a demonstration of how to access this material.

The final concert will take place on Thursday, May 26, 2022 at 7:00pm ET at YIVO. This concert features music by Frederic Rzweski alongside the premiere of new works by Derek David, Lainie Fefferman, David Ludwig, Daniel Schlosberg, and Dan Shore. Performances will include current and former students of the Bard Graduate Vocal Arts Program: sopranos Jardena Gertler-Jaffe and Samanta Martin, mezzo-soprano Megan Jones, tenor Max Jansen, pianist Sung-Soo Cho, Violinist Blanche Darr, Clarinetist Collin Lewis, and special guest pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough. This evening also features performances by Eléonore Biezunski, Zhenya Lopatnik, and Sarah Myerson.

Program: Concert

When: Monday, May 9, 2022 at 7:00pm ET

Where: In Person at YIVO in the Center for Jewish History building (15 West 16th Street, New York, NY) and livestreamed on Zoom

Reservations: yivo.org/FolksongFestival1

Cost: Admission: $15, YIVO members & students: $10 | Free on Zoom

Program: Concert

When: Wednesday, May 18, 2022 at 7:00pm ET

Where: In Person at YIVO in the Center for Jewish History building (15 West 16th Street, New York, NY) and livestreamed on Zoom

Reservations: yivo.org/FolksongFestival2
Cost: Admission: $15, YIVO members & students: $10 | Free on Zoom

Program: Concert

When: Sunday, May 22, 2022 at 4:00pm ET

Where: In Person at the Jalopy Theatre (315 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, NY) and livestreamed on Zoom




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