Press

Evgeny Kissin: On a Mission to Celebrate Yiddish Music and Poetry

  • getclassical

When Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post’s longtime political columnist and co-founder of the evening’s host organisation, Pro Musica Hebraica, introduced Evgeny Kissin at his recent Washington concert in co-production with the Kennedy Center, it was clear from the start that this evening would turn out to be very special.  Photo Credit: Margot Schulman “Tonight’s performance carries particular poignancy because on Dec. 7, 2013, in a dramatic defiance of attempts to isolate and ostracize Israeli artists and musicians, Mr. Kissin took Israeli citizenship as a show of unshakable personal solidarity. Tonight will be his first concert in the United States as an Israeli,” Krauthammer said referring to the native Russian pianist with a British passport. But beyond his political stance, it was Kissin’s program choices that convinced his audience of the pianist’s deep commitment to his Jewish roots. Both in terms of music and words, Kissin provided a fascinating introduction to a heritage whose riches are not always widely known. Of course, this is what Pro Musica Hebraica is all about. Started by Krauthammer and his wife Robyn, it is the organization’s mission to explore the historic and geographic diversity of Jewish cultural heritage through a range of programs presenting lost and neglected masterpieces of Jewish classical music.Continue Reading »

The sounds of music

  • From Under the Fig Tree

The other evening, I — along with 1,999 others — crowded the concert hall at the Kennedy Center to hear the internationally renowned pianist, Evgeny Kissin, perform. Some members of the audience were drawn by the opportunity to see Kissin in person. Others were drawn by the program, which featured a number of works not usually part of his repertoire: sonatas and rhapsodies by Alexander Abramovich Krein, Mikhail Milner and Alexander Moiseveich Veprik, Russian Jewish composers of the interwar years whose compositions are known only to the cognoscenti. And still others came out that chilly wintry night warmed by the prospect of seeing and hearing one of the world’s leading musicians not play, but speak — and in Yiddish, no less.Continue Reading »

Overwhelmed and Awed at the Kennedy Center

  • Commentary

Jews of European origin tend to think of their roots in the “old country”—if they think of them at all—with nostalgia for a sweet bygone era of people speaking in cutesy Yiddish, wandering around a picturesquely poverty-stricken farming village the way the characters do in Fiddler in the Roof, eating various smoked meats. In fact, the world of 19th-century and 20th-century Jewry in Europe was an extraordinarily complicated, jangly, emotionally fraught, tragic, and soon-to-be-tragic-on-an-unimaginable-scale place and moment in time. This was a historical moment during which a beleaguered, tormented, bedraggled people with no social capital but their connection to an ancient peoplehood and faith made their mark on the world in an almost unimaginably bold cultural ferment.Continue Reading »

Evgeny Kissin and the Yiddish Word

  • Ionarts

A recital by Evgeny Kissin is an unmissable event in my calendar. We have covered every one of his performances presented by Washington Performing Arts Society, generally every other year, last in 2013 and going back to 2007 and 2005. Nothing prepared me, however, for the sensation offered by his latest performance, a concert of solo piano music by Jewish composers, presented by the series Pro Musica Hebraica and the Kennedy Center in the Concert Hall on Monday night. In a noble and out-sized gesture, Kissin took public note of his recent embrace of Israeli citizenship by having this program be his first concert in the United States since that decision became official. In between performances of this mostly obscure music, Kissin made the unprecedented choice of reciting some of his favorite Yiddish poetry.Continue Reading »

Evgeny Kissin plays forgotten composers and declaims poetry in stunning performance

  • The Washington Post

One of the points of attending a live performance is to watch artists express themselves. Yet the concert hall experience has become codified in traditions that affect everything from how we dress to what we see on stage. Many artists have challenged these traditions, and to them, we tend to assign labels such as “experimental” or “avant-garde.” But it almost never happens that a superstar gets up in his established context and does something completely different, without intending any challenge to the status quo at all, but simply to express something that is in his heart. Evgeny Kissin, the pianist, did this — breathtakingly — at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Monday night. Continue Reading »

A moving evening of music and poetry

  • DC Metro Theater Arts

Pro Musica Hebraica ended its seventh season in the packed Kennedy Center Concert Hall with a moving evening of music and poetry, both rendered exquisite by pianist and lover of Yiddish poetry, Evgeny Kissin. Of note is the collaboration with The Kennedy Center with this presentation in the packed Concert. Kissin did not “perform” or “recite” — each note and word seemed to come directly from his soul. There was not a page-turner or cheat sheet in sight. The pieces selected by Kissin were drawn from the Jewish cultural renaissance in eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century prior to the institution of Stalin’s pogroms. Pro Musica Hebraica has, as one of its goals, the presentation of works seldom heard, especially in the United States. In fact, except for the ‘Piano Sonata, Op. 40” by Ernest Bloch, none of the evening’s four piano pieces had ever been given in concert performance in the United States and rarely anywhere since 1935.Continue Reading »

The Apollo Ensemble performs Jewish musical gems

  • The Washington Examiner

Pro Musica Hebraica welcomes back the Apollo Ensemble for an evening of rare Jewish classical music from Amsterdam's Ets-Chaim Library. Since their highly praised American debut in 2009, the musicians have been in great demand internationally for their performances of Jewish baroque music on period instruments. As required, the ensemble can expand from the core chamber group to a full orchestra. Violinist David Rabinovich, a member of both TAE and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, talked about the discovery of several works in the library and their reconstruction by Ton Koopman, founder of the ABO. "We look forward to playing at the Kennedy Center again," he said. "It's an amazing venue and the response of the audience was wonderful. They loved several works we played at that time by the Italian composer [Salamon] Rossi, so we will play two sonatas that he wrote for the court about 1622, possibly for a wedding ceremony. They are performed by two violins, cello and harpsichord, a very popular combination at that time. He was one of the founders of the baroque genre and his work is a transition between the late Italian Renaissance and early baroque. Although he was Jewish, he changed his name, as many did at that time." Continue Reading »

Not Dead Yet: The Remarkable Renaissance of Cantorial Music

  • Jewish Ideas Daily

Standing at the foot of the crowded, steep staircase outside the old Eldridge Street shul (now the “Museum at Eldridge Street”) on a Sunday afternoon earlier this month, I heard someone call out, “Nu, Professor Nadler?”  Looking up, I recognized the familiar grimace of an ancient, ardently secular sage, one of the few such surviving consumers of Yiddishkeit in all its iterations, whom I had last seen 20 years before in the grand old Reading Room of the YIVO Institute, then located in the Vanderbilt Mansion on East 86th Street.  I responded in strict adherence to the one-upmanship that regulates Yiddish conversation: “Nu, nu!”  The old man cautiously made his way down one more step, firmly gripping his walker, then pronounced, “Nu? Loy almen hazones!” Hazzanut is no widower.  His aphorism was a Yiddish adaptation of the words of comfort issued by the prophet Jeremiah 2500 years ago to the exiles in Babylonia: “Lo alman Yisrael,” Israel has not been widowed by God.  It was perfect for the occasion: the magnificent cantorial concert we had both just experienced, in which other comforting prophecies of Jeremiah (“If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither . . .”) were artfully chanted by Cantor Netanel Hershtik, accompanied by the choir from his shul, the Hampton Synagogue, along with the superb Amernet String Quartet and the gifted cantorial pianist Alan Mason. Continue Reading »

The Sound of Classical Jewish Music Preserved

  • Hadassah Magazine

In initiating an annual series of Hanukkah-time performances this December, Pro Musica Hebraica will be breaking new ground. This is the first time the nonprofit organization—dedicated to bringing Jewish classical music, much of it lost, forgotten, or rarely performed, to the concert stage--is offering programs outside Washington, D.C., home base of founders Robyn and Charles Krauthammer.Continue Reading »

A superstar cantor opens Pro Musica Hebraica with strength and agility

  • The Washington Post

In cantorial circles, Netanel Hershtik is a superstar. Cantor of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., and with 13 generations of cantors in his family behind him, the art of Middle Eastern microtonal ornamentation is in his blood. He and his synagogue’s 12-voice male choir, assisted by the Amernet String Quartet and pianist Alan Mason, offered an evening of “Cantorial Masterpieces” as the first of this season’s Pro Musica Hebraica concerts (chaired by The Post’s Charles Krauthammer) in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Thursday, and they even had the large and appreciative audience joining in on the “May the Holy Temple Be Rebuilt” encore.Continue Reading »

Netanel Hershtik’s ‘Mission’

  • The Jewish Week

When he talks about Jewish music, Netanel Hershtik uses a word that one doesn’t usually hear from a musician preparing for an upcoming concert: mission. . Given that he is a 14th-generation cantor — no, that is not a typo; his family can trace its history of hazanut back that far — the idea of singing Jewish music as a “mission” may not seem incongruous, but the intensity with which he speaks of it informs you instantly that Hershtik is not merely paying lip service. He firmly believes in it. His impassioned and immensely skilled singing, which will get a much-deserved showcase at the Museum at Eldridge Street on Dec. 2, further proves his point. “Standing in that synagogue [at Eldridge Street], it’s a mission for me,” Hershtik said in a telephone interview last week. “I have a job to do in this world, to bring [classical hazanut] to the world. I don’t know if there is a music in the world that has more ancient roots.” Doing so in a concert venue is, he admits, a slightly different experience than he faces as cantor for the Hampton Synagogue. “For me to stand in front of an audience is a challenge,” the 34-year-old Hershtik said. “The most natural place for me is the amud [prayer leader’s desk]. I was raised singing in synagogue and this is the way I’m used to doing it, facing the ark, with my eyes closed. I don’t look at the people [praying] but I’m aware of them. Everyone is thinking the same thought and I’m trying to evoke that emotion for everyone. I’m not performing, I’m praying.” Continue Reading »

A Famed Political Pundit’s Musical Side: An Interview with Charles Krauthammer

  • The Jewish Press

The Jewish Press: What led you to found Pro Musica Hebraica? Krauthammer: About eight years ago, my wife and I decided there was an area of Jewish culture that had been fairly widely neglected, and that was the presentation of great Jewish music in a classical setting. We wanted to do something to bring it out to the world. Is the classical music Pro Musica Hebraica presents really Jewish music or just music that happens to have been composed by Jews? The idea is to bring Jewish experience, feeling, and history – “Jewish soul,” if you like – as expressed through classical music. So it doesn’t matter who the author is. One of our concerts a few years ago was baroque Jewish music from 17th- and 18th-century Italy and Holland. It included the famous Sephardic Jewish composer Salamone Rossi, but it also had a selection by a Jesuit priest who was a philo-Semite and who set Psalms to baroque music. He was so much of a Hebraist that he actually wrote the music from right to left when he was transcribing it. So we don’t care about the origin of the composer although, of course, most of the music is by Jews self-consciously reflecting their own heritage, past, and memories. Continue Reading »

A new century, a revolution in music

  • The Washington Post

Cataclysmic times, it’s often said, produce great art. Take the early 20th century, when a Europe ripped apart by war and social upheaval suddenly found 19th century Romanticism irrelevant — and began giving birth to the revolutionary, exhilarating and world-changing movement known as Modernism. That transition was the focus of an intriguing concert titled “Between Two Worlds: Jewish Voices in Modern European Music” on Sunday night at the Terrace Theater, where the Ariel String Quartet teamed up with pianist Orion Weiss for the music of composers from Arnold Schoenberg to the brilliant but little-known Erwin Schulhoff — all profoundly shaped by the trauma of their times. Continue Reading »

More from Anne Midgette: Hamelin "offered a refreshingly intriguing program"

  • The Washington Post

A couple of really strong concerts this week. Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin played a refreshingly eclectic recital at the Terrace Theater on Monday night. Mark-Andre Hamelin, who seems to have become one of my favorite pianists, offered a refreshingly intriguing program of Chopin and Alkan for Pro Musica Hebraica on Monday night. Continue Reading »

Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin played an intimate and engaging concert

  • The Washington Post

Virtuoso pianists tend to be divided into two groups: those of supreme technical ability and those with a profound aptitude for expression. These two groups are often treated as if they were mutually exclusive, and critics are fond of exclaiming when a member of one group shows himself able to travel into the terrain of the other. The Canadian pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin is a prime example of this kind of crossover artist. His technical facility is breathtaking: The piano quivers and trembles under his thunderous assault. But his sensitivity is also superb. In a recital of the music of Chopin and Charles-Valentin Alkan that was never less than engaging, he linked two composers — one familiar, one not — by underlining their similarities, not to say their operatic sides. Aching melodies and long arcing lines, constantly emerging before sinking again into clouds of bristling notes. Continue Reading »

Chopin and Alkan: Parisian friends and fellow composers

  • The Washington Examiner

Marc-Andre Hamelin, one of the world's most honored pianists, will delve into the creativity of Frederic Chopin and Charles-Valentin Alkan, the two greatest piano virtuosos and composers of 19th century France. The occasion is Pro Musica Hebraica's program focusing on the composers' remarkable accomplishments and friendship. Despite being outsiders in their community, Chopin a Pole and Alkan a Jew, they thrived in the world of music centered in Paris. "Chopin's music never disappeared but has been part of our culture since his time," Hamelin said. "Alkan, however, slipped into obscurity until he was rediscovered by two people during the 1950s and 1960s. Ronald Smith of the U.K. wrote several books about him and established the Alkan Society. In this country, pianist Raymond Lewenthal was regarded as an eccentric for his concert attire and programs of unfamiliar piano pieces, among them works by Alkan. Nevertheless, both men drew attention to music that had disappeared from the repertoire, and together they kick-started renewed interest that came into full flower in the 1980s. Continue Reading »

Spring preview — Classical: Concert highlights for 2012

  • The Washington Post

Secret tip: Marc-Andre Hamelin’s last recital in Washington was one of my favorite concerts in 2011. He returns this spring for an intriguing recital exploring the music of France’s two most successful 19th-century pianist-composers, Chopin and Alkan, and the reason why one is remembered and the other is virtually forgotten. Presented by Pro Musica Hebraica in the Kennedy Center’s diminutive Terrace Theater, the event is almost sure to sell out. April 2 at 7:30 p.m.Continue Reading »

Pianist Jascha Nemtsov plays folk-influenced music by Jewish composers

  • The Washington Post

While Schoenberg and his like-minded musical thinkers were deconstructing tonality in the 1920s and ’30s, other composers (Kodaly and Bartok, to name just two) were rediscovering and reveling in the folk music of their respective homelands — and Bartok had feet in both worlds. On Thursday — under the sponsorship of Charles Krauthammer’s organization, the Pro Musica Hebraica — pianist Jascha Nemtsov, joined by cellist Julian Arp, violinist Frank Reinecke and clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, offered a well-researched program of folk-influenced music by little-known Jewish composers of that inter-war period at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. Continue Reading »

Pro Musica Hebraica: Vivid delight and distress

  • The Washington Post

Czech composer Karel Berman survived internments at Auschwitz, Dachau and Theresienstadt, as well as a bout of typhoid and a Nazi death march, before restarting his life and enjoying a half-century of composing and singing leading roles for the Prague National Theatre Opera. But to hear the richly sung and vividly characterized performance that bass Robert Pomakov and pianist Dianne Werner gave Berman's spiky, often playful, Czech-language song-cycle, "Poupata" ("Birds"), at a Pro Musica Hebraica-sponsored recital at the Terrace Theater on Thursday, it's hard to imagine such a life-affirming score was written during the darkest days of the composer's imprisonment. Continue Reading »

Pro Musica Hebraica presents the Biava Quartet

  • The Washington Post

In the three years since its founding, Pro Musica Hebraica, an organization dedicated to bringing neglected Jewish music to the concert hall, has produced two concerts a year of uncommon interest. Thursday’s program, in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, featured the Biava Quartet and the music they played, all French and most of it from the first half of the 20th century, offered a mix of French instrumental color and Jewish earthiness in proportions that varied from piece to piece but that served each composer well. Continue Reading »

Pro Musica Hebraica "highlight[s] an overlooked aspect of Jewish culture"

  • The Wall Street Journal

Charles Krauthammer's office in Washington does not lack for artifacts. He obviously cherishes the snapshot of himself with a laughing Ronald Reagan and the board where he plays chess with Natan Sharansky. But the room's centerpiece is the sepia photograph of a serious-looking man in a fur hat. He was a chief rabbi of Krakow—and Mr. Krauthammer's great-great-grandfather. Mr. Krauthammer is not a believer, but the affinity across the generations is strong. "I consider myself a Shinto Jew," he tells me. "I engage in ancestor worship." Continue Reading »

Apollo Ensemble's riffs bring out fun in violinist's sonatas

  • The Washington Post

In many ways, Salamone Rossi's life bridged two worlds. A Jewish composer who lived in Mantua at the turn of the 18th century, he wrote music for the synagogue that was comfortably in the idiom of high Renaissance church music and secular pieces that were unmistakably Baroque. (The great musicologist Gustave Reese has noted that in his sacred motets the music ran as usual from left to right, but the Hebrew text under them ran from right to left -- undoubtedly a challenge for the singers). Continue Reading »

Preserver of Jewish music

  • The Jerusalem Post

Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist who quit a job as the chief resident in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1970s to find work sharing his views with a global audience (his op-eds are carried in The Jerusalem Post among other publications), does not want to talk about himself or his political opinions. Instead, the 59-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner wants to discuss the music program he and his wife recently started to try to revive and preserve Jewish music that has been lost to the masses. "Pro Musica Hebraica," as it's called, just finished its first season to critical acclaim, and Krauthammer is looking to raise awareness about the project as it gears up for its second year. Continue Reading »

The Biava Quartet at the Kennedy Center

  • The Washington Post

Shostakovich's music opened the Pro Musica Hebraica-sponsored recital by the Biava Quartet at the Terrace Theater on Thursday. It was his Fourth String Quartet, infused with Russian-Jewish folk music and a notably gentler score than some of his other, anguished works in that form. The other four composers on the program, however, were names few listeners today would know. Continue Reading »

Pro Musica Hebraica, The Biava Quartet

  • All Arts Review

In a city bracing for seemingly inevitable cultural cut-backs, suspensions and extinctions, the audacity of sustaining the emergence of an entirely new musical organization must be applauded. The Baltimore Opera Company has moved into liquidation, and Washington's Master Chorale plans to suspend operations. But Charles Krauthammer and his wife Robyn Krauthammer have boldly created Pro Musica Hebraica to perform and "recover" Jewish classical music. Continue Reading »

Pro Musica Hebraica performs 'lost' Jewish works

  • The Baltimore Sun

For all of its celebrated universality, the language of music speaks with many different accents. A century ago, a group of Russian composers set out to explore one such accent by forming the Society for Jewish Folk Music in St. Petersburg, with the encouragement of such luminaries as Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Continue Reading »

Reviving virtually unknown Jewish music is couple's labor of love

  • Pulse

Some would say that Robyn and Charles Krauthammer do too much, but that's clearly not the Chevy Chase couple's perspective. "We have made it a point in life to do things we really love... Work done in that spirit is not burdensome. It's actually enjoyable," explains Robyn Krauthammer on behalf of the duo that has found time amid impressive and non-musical professional careers to create Pro Musica Hebraica (PMH), an organization that brings lost and rarely performed works of Jewish art music to contemporary audiences. Continue Reading »

New Life for Lost Jewish Music

  • Moment Magazine

It was Robyn Krauthammer who came up with the idea for what was to become Pro Musica Hebraica - a project to revive forgotten Jewish classical music from a century ago. A lawyer turned painter and sculptor, Robyn converted to Judaism before her marriage to Charles Krauthammer, the influential conservative columnist. "She is more Jewish than I am," Charles says, smiling at his wife. "She has a real love and feeling for it." Continue Reading »

ARC, Peering Into the Shadows

  • The Washington Post

In 1941, a Polish musical genius fled his country for the hills of Uzbekistan. There in Tashkent, Mieczyslaw (or Moisey) Weinberg began churning out the first of his 22 symphonies and 17 string quartets. Given that Weinberg never fared well with the Stalinists, few pieces received significant premieres. "What was performed," he would later say of his music, "was performed due to a performer's express desire." Continue Reading »

Breathing New Life Into Lost Jewish Music

  • The Washington Post

Pro Musica Hebraica, a concert series dedicated to exploring lost Jewish music, had a successful inaugural concert on Thursday evening at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Jewish music can mean a lot of things, and the program smartly centered on a group of self-defined Jewish composers from 1908 St. Petersburg. Youthful Juilliard School ensembles and violin luminary Itzhak Perlman gave wonderfully prepared and vibrant performances of each score, most of which have likely not been heard in more than half a century. Continue Reading »

All Arts Review

  • All Arts Review

Pro Musica Hebraica presented the ARC Ensemble (Artists of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Canada) in a unique evening of 20th century Jewish Soviet music. The event, chaired by Charles Kauthhammer, was an opportunity to hear rare pieces performed perfectly by an outstanding ensemble of chamber musicians. Continue Reading »

Charles and Robyn Krauthammer Announce PRO MUSICA HEBRAICA A Non-Profit Organization Dedicated to Presenting Jewish Music

  • James Conlon Named Artistic Advisor
    Inaugural Concert Celebration Features Musicians of the Julliard School and Itzhak Perlman
    Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 7:30pm
    Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

(Washington, DC) -- Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer and his wife, artist Robyn Krauthammer, announced today the establishment of Pro Musica Hebraica, a new non-profit organization dedicated to presenting and exploring the wide-range and tradition of Jewish music. The inaugural concert will be presented at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Thursday, April 10 at 7:30pm, featuring musicians of the Julliard School and guest soloist Itzhak Perlman and his long-time musical collaborator, pianist Rohan De Silva. Continue Reading »