Tonight’s concert at the Center for Jewish History marks the American debut of Berlin-based singer Sveta Kundish, who has been celebrated in Europe and Israel as one of the great new Yiddish voices. The concert features a virtuosic group of musicians: Patrick Farrell, Benjy Fox-Rosen, and Michael Winograd, who have been performing as the Yiddish Art Trio, along with Deborah Strauss and Joshua Waletzky.
Yet just as exciting as who is performing is what is being performed: an incredible body of new work, songs composed by the musicians themselves. The songs are all in Yiddish and show an engagement with the language that is both literary and visceral; some of the lyrics are Yiddish poems, from poets like Shike Driz, Avrom Sutzkever, and Rivka Basman Ben-Hayim, and some are original compositions, from as long ago as 5753 and as far away as Brooklyn. The concert is the result, in Joshua Waletzky’s words, of several “fruits ripening at the same time.”
Waletzky is talking about some very specific timing—Kundish’s arrival in New York, Fox-Rosen’s return after a year abroad—but he could also be talking about how, over the thirty-odd years that separate him in age from the younger musicians he’ll be performing with tonight, a rich and growing community of people who are deeply engaged with Yiddish music has set root. They are taking their musical training, their Yiddish literacy, and their connection to traditional music, and moving beyond reviving a repertoire to creating new songs about our lives now.
“I have to say,” Waletzky told me, “it’s been a real thrill for me because I’ve been writing new Yiddish music for a very long time, and the growth of this community of wonderful musicians who have mastered Yiddish music… az me lebt, derlebt men, if you live long enough…”