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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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Jewish Music Week has something for everyone

Tags: Arts
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David Buchbinder

Jewish Music Week, as a festival, may still be a toddler – it was founded only in 2011 – but it’s been growing over the years, along with its audiences. Last year, every seat in some venues was filled a half-hour before the concerts started. 

Judy Jacobs, the festival’s managing director, said that “people who attended were pleased with the variety of musical styles and with the quality of the performances and friends bring friends.” 

Jewish Music Week (JMW), running this year from May 18 to 25, includes related films and lectures in its celebration of Jewish music. Morning and afternoon events are free and most evening presentations are ticketed. 

The Kids from Brooklyn: The songs of Carole King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka and Barry Manilow, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, is one of the week’s highlights. To be held at 7:30 p.m. on May 21, it features Cantor Simon Spiro, the Manhat-tones, the Brill Building Orchestra and the a cappella group Cadence.

Spiro, who is Beth Tzedec Congregation’s senior cantor, has been called the “British Jazz Singer” for balancing dual careers in both cantorial and popular music. He’s had hit singles on the Israeli and British pop charts. For tickets, visit www.tocentre.com. 

Another JMW highlight is the Canadian debut of a contemporary Israeli group, The Vanunu Ethno Jazz Ensemble, at 8 p.m. on May 20 at the Lula Lounge. The ensemble fuses classic Jewish nigunim with ethnic Middle Eastern and jazz styles. Their sound is modern yet rooted in tradition. Led by Eli Vanunu on saxophone, the band features three other hot Israel jazz players: Dor Heled (piano), Igor Kogan (double bass) and Uri Seelig (drums). 

A tribute to the late Arieh (Arik) Einstein, at 7:30 p.m. on May 22 at the Monarch Tavern, features Israeli-born jazz singer Ori Dagan. The tribute should attract some Israeli audience members. Einstein was a pioneer of Israeli rock music and is widely regarded as the greatest and most influential Israeli singer and musician of all time. 

David Buchbinder, a musician who works in the worlds of jazz, klezmer, world music and Arabic fusion, has put together Toronto’s Real Klezmer Supergroup  – the top klezmer players in Canada – for JMW. The group performs at 7 p.m. on May 18 at the Rex Jazz and Blues Bar. Accessibility is a keyword for JMW.

“Not everyone has the financial means to buy tickets and not everyone can get around town,” said Aliza Spiro, the week’s artistic director.

The festival comes to the audience, offering free daytime presentations, including a morning film and lecture series, live performances at lunchtime and a 2 to 3 p.m “afternoon tunes” series.  Venues are located almost from the foot of downtown Toronto to Thornhill. Events are being held at Toronto City Hall’s Nathan Phillips Square, the Prosserman and Miles Nadal Jewish community centres, seniors centres, a library, a hospital and at several synagogues. 

A highlight of unticketed JMW events is Vocals for Victoria. A Victoria Day music marathon from noon to 4 p.m. on May 19 at Nathan Phillips Square, it features some “phenomenal local ensembles,” Spiro said. They include a Jewish barbershop quartet, a Jewish all-female jazz quartet and a vocal chamber choir.

Another unticketed event, a community Melavah Malka with the Toronto Council of Hazzanim, to be held at 10:15 p.m on May 24 at Holy Blossom Temple, features eight cantors. Spiro, a singer-songwriter, hosts a free event, the Jewish Music Comedy Hour, at 2 p.m. on May 23 at the Jazz Bistro. She will be joined by local cabaret performers singing funny Jewish songs.   

Another worthwhile event is renowned Moroccan singer Aaron Bensoussan and Friends, Monday, May 19, 7:30 p.m. at Pride of Israel Synagogue.

JMW encourages children to take an interest in Jewish music through its annual art contest. The contest “helps kids get connected with Jewish music and the arts in general,” Spiro said. Winners are picked by prominent members of the art community. 

Jacobs added that “we’re not just encouraging creativity. We’re developing Jewish personalities.” Jacobs, whose background is in education, recalled that one young artist at last year’s Meet the Artists reception was “very introverted” going in.

“The confidence this girl gained at the event was remarkable” she said.  In previous years, the contest, which has been renamed the Bogoroch Art Contest in honour of a JMW donor, had been restricted to students from grades 1 to 12. But this year, seniors were eligible to participate, too. 

You can meet this year’s winners and view their works at a reception from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on May 25 at Gallery MNJCC at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. For more information about JMW, visit www.jewishmusicweek.com.  

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