The CDs have been piling up on my desk in recent weeks. Happily, there are some real gems here, so clearing the desk is a pleasure. Hopefully, this will encourage you to grab some for yourself before the leaves turn. But get comfortable, because this will go on until the proverbial frost is on the proverbial pumpkin. Or the snow is on the chanukiyah.
Choral Music of Congregation Shearith Israel (self-distributed)
Recently one of the great American newspapers carried a long guide to recent recordings of world music in its arts pages. The article was thoughtful, intelligent and, for the most part, a splendid introduction to the field, covering everything from sub-Saharan Africa to Celtic music.
There was only one striking omission: the author didn’t discuss a single recording of Jewish music of any kind.
Long before hip-hop turned sampling into an art form, before “postmodernism” became a label slapped on anyone whose music borrowed eclectically from other cultures and traditions, Jewish music was evolving through a process of accretion, taking scales from this neighbor, rhythms from that one, harmonies from yet another, making a virtue of the necessities of the diaspora.
That process has continued to this moment as contemporary Jewish musicians unblushingly put the hyphens in klez-jazz.
It was not, perhaps, the most fortuitous timing. The coincidence of Muhammad “Abu” Abbas, the Palestinian who engineered the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, being captured by American troops in Baghdad in mid-April and the debut of a new film version of John Adams’ opera about the hijacking, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” is not the sort of publicity-grabbing confluence of events that a major arts organization like Lincoln Center usually seeks.
Yonatan Zilberman may have been a bit hesitant when he began thinking about directing his first film, the documentary “Watermarks.” After all, his academic background at MIT was in physics and business. He was executive producing another documentary when he first learned of the amazing story of the Hakoah Vienna sports club and its assemblage of world-class Jewish athletes, but he wasn’t — strictly speaking — a filmmaker.
His friend and soon-to-be-co-producer, Yonatan Israel, however, never had any doubts.
There were a thousand women, and they were on their feet, swaying to a klezmer beat. The place was the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, the most successful of the many all-women’s music events that are held all summer across the United States. Isle of Klezbos was playing on the “night stage,” the primo venue at the festival, “the culmination of the whole event,” says Eve Sicular, the band’s leader and drummer. “ People told me later about how this was unlike any experience they had there.
Turn on your television and run the dial. If you have cable, you will find Fox 5, FX, Fox Sports World, Fox News Channel, Fox Movies, Turner Classic Movies, Turner Broadcasting System, the Turner-owned CNN, f/CNN and CNN/SI. One of three daily newspapers in New York is owned by the same company that owns the Fox networks and the Fox movie studio.
All of the magazines published by AOL/TimeWarner, the Warner Brothers studio, and TimeWarner cable, the local carrier for all those TV channels, are owned by a single corporation, which also owns the various Turner networks.
Charles Rosen’s story begins like that of a typical son of Jewish immigrants. His mother and father came to the States as children, “my father from Moscow, my mother from near Odessa, a place that’s now part of Romania,” he says. He remembers that his maternal grandmother didn’t speak any English, “only Yiddish when I was around. She kept kosher and she wouldn’t eat with us except a hard-boiled egg.”
Martin Heidegger once said that a biography of Aristotle should be simple, saying “He was born. He thought. He died.” The rest, the German philosopher said, was merely anecdote.
Jacques Derrida says that he doesn’t agree with Heidegger’s position, although he can see the point of it. The famed French thinker, the father of deconstruction, admits there is more to his own life than that, even if he is unwilling to fill in a lot of the blanks.
Tim Blake Nelson is hardly the first person to have his life changed by reading the works of Primo Levi. The profound moral probity, intellectual integrity and artistic brilliance of Levi’s writings about his survival of Auschwitz have stirred anyone who has encountered his work. But Nelson is uniquely positioned to extend to Levi’s influence beyond his own life to that of others.