Be afraid, be very afraid
You’re not afraid of ghosts … are you?
How about monsters?
Well, if you are, try to get over it in time for this year’s Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival, which has just announced its 2011 season. This year’s theme: “Fables and Legends.”
Indeed, the entire music series isn’t about Jewish ghost stories; one retells the biblical story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, but there’s plenty of intrigue, jealousy, rivalry and other human emotions in that tale.
All three programs in the series, which runs from June 2 to 13, have commonalities, though. “They’re familiar stories with iconic characters,” said festival director Aron Zelkowicz.
Each performance uses music, film and drama to retell a classic of Jewish literature and legend.
• “The Golem” — a film screening with live music accompaniment, Thursday, June 2, 7:30 p.m., at the Katz Performing Arts Center, Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, 5738 Darlington Road.
“The Golem,” which is widely considered to be the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” is based in the legend of the 16th century rabbi of Prague, who animates a clay giant to protect his people. But this hero may really be a monster.
JFilm and the Music Festival will collaborate to screen the classic silent film “The Golem: How He Came Into the World” (Germany, 1920, 86 minutes). Betty Olivero’s score will be performed live as backdrop to director Paul Wegener’s images and set pieces, screened in color-tinted black and white with English intertitles.
• “Jacob and Rachel” incidental music to the 1928 Hebrew play, Monday, June 6, 7:30 p.m., Levy Hall, Rodef Shalom Congregation.
The performance is based on the familiar biblical love triangle of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, which was dramatized in a 1928 play. The play and a musical suite, including Yiddish songs and Middle-Eastern tinged instrumental works round out the program.
• “The Dybbuk” incidental music to the play by S. Ansky, Sunday, June 12 7:30 p.m., Temple Emanuel of South Hills, 1250 Bower Hill Road; Monday, June 13, 7:30 p.m. Levy Hall, Rodef Shalom Congregation.
“The Dybbuk” is about a pious young man who resorts to radical mysticism to be with the woman he loves, even to the point of possessing her soul. The surreal quality of the classic Yiddish play “The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds” is perfectly captured in Joel Engel’s Chasidic melodies. Members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will perform this work and other instrumental chamber music by Rosowsky, Engel and Golijov. Excerpts of the 1912 play will be performed as a dramatic reading in English translation.
“I’ve had in mind to do this theme for a while,” Zelkowicz said. Since the music festival is a “cross-over festival,” as he describes it, “the idea of telling stories through music is an idea that helps cross over the festival.”
Not all of Zelkowicz’ plans for this festival came to fruition. He had hoped to bring the punk rock band Golem to Pittsburgh for the performance of the same name. That didn’t work out.
“That was the plan but the lead singer is expecting a baby that very day [of the performance], June 2,” Zelkowicz said, “so that became impossible.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)