It was a privelege to be asked to co-produce three concerts in suppoprt of Beit Polska in October 2016, with my friend and colleague Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak. With participation by Cantor David Wisnia, a fine singer, raconteur and Auschwitz survivor; Wisnia’s grandson, the singer/songwriter/keyboardist Avi Wisnia; Beit Polska prayer leaders Iza Rivka Foremniak and Menachem Mirsky; local cantors Mike Stein and Paul Buch; backed up by UCLA student jazz musicians and Neal Brostoff, concerts were presented at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, Temple Beth Israel, Pomona, and Temple Aliyah, Woodland Hills. Songs in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish, including original work by Menachem Mirsky, delighted audeinces at all three venues.
I am looking forward to producing similar concerts next year at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in early February, and at other venues tba.
Memoir of January 2016 Visit to Poland
My earliest interest in Jewish Poland dates back to around 2000, when I learned of the trips that my colleagues from Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, Ca (where I was, at that time, music director), were making, in order to assist the aspiring lay prayer leaders at Beit Warszawa. Fast forwarding to 2015, and spurred/inspired by Hazzan Mike Stein and Cantor Mindy Harris, I decided that I would also like to visit Poland (where I had never been), with the goal of arranging concerts of classical Jewish music (chamber music and art songs), as that is my career and academic niche. Further, my plan was to present these concerts with Polish professional and student musicians. My role would be to give Jewish music lectures and to also do some performances as pianist. I told Severyn Ashkenazy that I would “sweeten the deal” by also carrying on some of the work that Mike Stein and Mindy Harris had begun.
In January, 2016, I made the trip to Poland – mid-winter, but not terribly cold, with lots of ice on the ground. My home base was Beit Warszawa, where I ate most of my meals and slept comfortably. Shortly before my departure from Los Asngeles, one of the BW prayer leaders, Iza Rivka Foremniak asked me if I would give a violin-piano recital with a fine Polish violinist and Jew-by-choice, Marcin Król. I agreed, although there was very little time to prepare. However, I knew most of the repertoire that Marcin was interested in performing, so this last-minute request was not overly-stressful. Our performance was at an Erev Shabbat service on my last night in Poland – February 5, 2016.
During my Warsaw mini-residency, I helped teach cantorial music to the eager shatzim, accompanied Friday night and Shabbat morning services, and was honored with a Shabbat morning aliyah and leading the congregation in Kiddush on a Friday night. Additionally, I sat in on the Step-by-Step conversion class and also a Torah study discussion. These are experiences that will be permanently etched in my memory. After my return to Los Angeles, I offered further assistance to the shatzim by “engraving” music that they were studying, using computer music software. This task was made far easier because of the excellent Siddur Beit Polin, where I found all of the Hebrew liturgical texts that I needed already transliterated into Polish.
At the breathtaking POLIN Museum, I met twice with the music curator, Katejan Prochyra, to discuss my goal of presenting concerts there. We agreed, in principle, that this will happen but, even after subsequent conversations, we have not set any dates. Hopefully, we’ll come to a concrete understanding for concerts sometime in 2018.
I also traveled to Krakow for two days, experiencing snow for my first time, outside of snow resorts, as there is no “residential snow” in Southern California, where I’ve lived my entire life! In Krakow, I met with Marek Szlezer, the pianist from the excellent cello-piano duo, the Cracow Duo. The duo performs internationally and has made a sub-specialization in performances of Polish-Jewish classical music. They will be in the U.S. during October-November 2017 for a multi-city concert tour, and will participate in my concert of Polish-Jewish music at the fine Boston Court series on the evening of October 28 in Pasadena.