New York - 'Chazanim' Take Center Stage In Today’s WSJ Article
New York - Five familiar faces in the Jewish music world are in the spotlight today as a Wall Street Journal article highlights an upcoming free concert of contemporary Chasidic music to be held June 16th in Central Park.
Singers Avraham Fried and Lipa Schmeltzer will be joined by a trio of chazanim, Joseph Malovany, Yanky Lemmer and Netanel Hershtik, at the concert, which will be part of KulturefestNYC, a festival celebrating Jewish performing arts.
WSJ columnist Ralph Gardner noted that only one member of the quintet, Malovany, looked even remotely like his vision of a cantor.
“Mr. Schmeltzer, at least his wacky eyewear - not to mention his yarmulke decorated with colorful M&M’s - was positively arresting,” wrote Gardner, who noted that Hershtik looked every bit like the combat paramedic he once was with the Israeli army.
The interview was clearly a learning experience for Gardner, who received a crash course in chazanus from the group.
“I look at the cantorate as a religious calling,” said Malovany, who serves as the chazan at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and also teaches liturgical music at Yeshiva University. “I’m a religious man and I’m here as a cantor not necessarily to entertain but to express the feelings of the worshippers, to interpret the prayers, so the prayers become more meaningful to the congregation.”
“Words are the pen of the heart,” observed Fried. “Melody is the pen of the soul. All of us here are in the soul business.
Hershtik, son of the well known Israeli chazan Naftali Hershtik, told Gardner that his father tried to dissuade him from following in his footsteps.
“He always told me I need a profession. Singing you do for fun,” said Hershtik, who has a degree in law.
Hershtik explained that as a chazan, he is preserving on a tradition that is centuries old.
“That music carries with it the Jewish life of hundreds of years,” said Hershtik. “The calling is there and I take it very seriously and think there’s a calling to take the old and renew it.”
Each of the five performers was chosen for their distinct music style and Schmeltzer attempted to explain those different genres to Gardner, using himself and Lemmer as examples.
“It’s like Pavarotti and Michael Jackson,” said Schmeltzer. “For Yanky to perform with me it’s like Pavarotti and Christina Aguilera.”
Gardner seemed impressed both by the respect the five men had for each other and the absence of roadies, stretch limousines and other typical trappings of stardom.
It was just as the interview was concluding that Gardner got a taste of the talent that has propelled each of the five chazanim to their elite status in the Jewish music world.
“I was chatting with Mr. Hershtik and preparing to leave when we heard the sounds of song in the sanctuary,” wrote Gardner. “On the bema, the podium where services are led, cantors Malovany, Fried and Lemmer had started to harmonize, with Schmeltzer providing the rhythm section by clapping along.”
Gardner noted that Hershtik seemed driven almost as if by an invisible force to join the group, who were singing Ba’avur Dovid.
“This wasn’t just a rehearsal,” wrote Gardner. “They’d just spontaneously started singing together for the sheer pleasure of it. And they sounded great.”
The concert, titled Yiddish Soul: A Concert of Cantorial and Chassidic Music, is being billed by Kulturefest, a project of The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, as both a celebration of the Yiddish language and culture and will feature a broad range of Jewish music.
“Our concert is part of a weeklong festival with many other performances spanning the entire spectrum of Jewish culture,” Lemmer told VIN News. “This particular concert represents the more heimishe part of Jewish music. It brings music from the omud and the concert stage to the masses.”
Despite the less than ideal acoustics of any outdoor venue, Lemmer is excited to perform in the upcoming event.
“The collaboration between Kulturefest and Folksbiene is just wonderful as is the miraculous camaraderie between the artists,” said Lemmer. “We’re really having a good time gearing up for this and I’m sure we’ll have an even better time on stage!”
Schmeltzer noted the importance of preserving the strong Yiddish heritage that has unified Jews worldwide for so many years.
“As a Yiddish lyricist and poet, this show touches me more than any other because it brings up memories of our golden culture lost in the Holocaust,” said Schmeltzer, who frequently sings Yiddish songs with Holocaust survivors as part of a music therapy program. . “We didn’t only lose the six million, we lost their Yiddish culture almost in entirety ... The Folksbiene Theatre is doing amazing things by holding on to our old Jewish heritage.”
Hershtik described the opportunity to appear on stage with the luminaries of Jewish music as an incredible experience.
“Fried is a giant, and it is always an honor and a privilege to sing with him,” said Hershtik. “He has a one of a kind sweetness of expression that no one else has. My colleague Yanky Lemmer is a beautiful person and that love is evident in his music. Lipa? He is the messenger for a generation that wants a little bit of a better life for themselves and Yossi Malovany is the master of nusach, the cantor of all cantors.”
But while music may be the medium for this event, according to Hershtik the star of the show is something entirely different.
“This concert isn’t about celebrating me or Fried,” said Hershtik. “It is celebrating Yiddish as a language. Who would ever believe that someone still pays attention to that and believes in the Yiddish language? This is about widening the circles so that others can join in the celebration of the Yiddish language.”
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