The biennial Ashkenaz Festival kicks off on Aug. 28 in Toronto with Yiddish Glory, a stage show based on rare songs and poetry from the Holocaust era that was recently discovered in a Kiev archive. It features Toronto jazz singer Sophie Milman, Russia’s Psoy Korolenko and Trio Loyko.
Over 250 international artists will gather at various locations around Toronto for the 12th rendition of the festival, which celebrates live music, theatre, art and culture.
This year, the festival is shining the spotlight on prominent female performers, innovators and musicians.
“Women have always been central to creating and maintaining Jewish cultural and musical traditions,” says artistic director Eric Stein. “We are proud to make the vibrant and powerful work of female artists a focal point of this year’s festival.”
Salomé: Woman of Valor (Sept. 2) is a total art experience from the creative minds of Grammy-winner Frank London and Canadian poet Adeena Karasick. Their take on the biblical tale combines poetry, music, theatre, film and dance, and recasts Salomé as a revolutionary matriarch.
Violinist Lara St. John makes her Ashkenaz debut on Sept. 3. The show is based around her album, Shiksa, and features the classical virtuoso making light of her non-Jewish heritage, while demonstrating the ways in which great Jewish music intersects multiple cultural traditions.
While Ashkenaz is an international affair, there are many Canadian acts, including Montreal’s Socalled, Juno nominee Briga and Halifax folk musician Ben Caplan. Known as much for his distinctive beard as his growly voice, Caplan has only recently crossed over into the Jewish music realm, following his acclaimed starring role in the Hannah Moscovitch play, Old Stock, for which he composed the klezmer-tinged songs that he’ll be performing.
In If It Be Your Will: An All Canadian Tribute to Leonard Cohen (Aug. 30), Cohen’s writing is reinterpreted, with particular attention paid to the Jewish themes in his works. Featured artists include Kevin Breit, Lori Cullen, Aviva Chernick and The Barrel Boys.
Ashkenaz’s free evening mainstage concerts at Harbourfront Centre on Labour Day weekend are often the highlight of the festival. On Saturday, Sept. 1, the festival focuses on its roots in eastern European Jewish culture, with a double bill of cutting-edge 21st century Yiddish music.
Singer and actress Eleanor Reissa will sing new Yiddish songs with Frank London and his Klezmer Brass All-Stars. They will be followed by the North American premiere of the Australian band YID!
Two Israeli world music groups will headline the free Sept. 2 mainstage event. Ethiopian-Israeli reggae-roots-rocker Gili Yalo will make his North American debut, followed by A-WA, a trio of Yemenite-Israeli sisters who had the first ever Arabic-language No. 1 hit on the Israeli music charts with Habib Galbi.
Also, renowned theatre actor Avi Hoffman returns with two different shows.
Ashkenaz’s focus on Poland will emphasize the deep and intertwined cultural legacies of Poles and Jews and will include Warsaw-based singer Olga Avigail Mieleszczuk presenting a program of interwar Polish cabaret and tango music composed by Jewish musicians, Columbia University professor Agi Legutko lecturing on “Women, Gender and Sexuality in Yiddish Literature” and a presentation from Kajetan Prochyra, the music director of Warsaw’s POLIN Museum.
Full schedule of events and locations: ashkenaz.ca.