Rivka Golani has suddenly gone quiet. The viola virtuoso was describing how her parents fled Eastern Europe to escape antisemitism and find a better life in pre-1948 Palestine.
Golani is now regarded as one of the finest musicians in the world, an accomplished soloist who has had 65 concertos written for her. But asked to comment on how proud her parents must have been of achievements, she falls silent. Over the telephone it is hard to tell whether she is simply lost for words or choked with emotion.
When Ellie Greenwich, the co-writer of 1960s hits like Leader of the Pack and Da Doo Ron Ron died recently, the subtext of many of the obituaries was: where have all the classic female songwriters gone? As though to answer that question, here comes Leslie Mendelson, hailed by Jac Holzman, the legendary record label owner, as a new take on the all-time greats.
For many music lovers, Michael Feinstein is the greatest performer of the Great American Songbook singing today. For the past 25 years, his acclaimed recordings have preserved and refreshed that well-loved catalogue of numbers written between the 1920s and the 1960s. His New York club is probably the classiest attraction on the city’s cabaret circuit and next year he will return to Broadway with his own show. But before that Broadway date, the five-times Grammy-nominated artist and his piano arrive at the slightly less showbiz destination of… Radlett.
Critics might have initially dismissed him as a novelty act, but five years after Chasidic pop star Matisyahu emerged on the scene, he has proved he is not just grabbing attention because of his peyot and black hat.
Popular with the music press, he has picked up thousands of devoted fans across the world, making huge sales and regularly topping the Billboard charts in the United States. This success cannot be just because he does not conform with the usual swaggering rock and reggae stars that normally grace the stage and MTV screen.
When Leonard Cohen drew back from the stage slightly at the end of his marathon three-and-a-half-hour set in Ramat Gan, and recited the Birkat Cohanim — the blessing of the priests — complete with outstretched arms of benediction, there was a collective sigh from the enraptured crowd.
It was a sign that Israel’s often battered sense of itself still had a moral basis. Here, after all, was one of our own, come back in triumph.
With 140 million records sold, Barbra Streisand is the world’s most popular Jewish entertainer. She is also arguably the most popular entertainer among the world’s Jews. For a generation of a certain age she is unquestionably the last word in class and sophistication, and she has endured because she has continued to release music of quality and distinction without pandering to trends. Anyone expecting an album of high-tech R&B should probably alight here.
Klezmer band Oi Va Voi have a strikingly different lead singer. She is the child of immigrants to Britain, although Bridgette Amofah’s parents are from Ghana rather than Lithuania, and she was brought up as a good Catholic girl.
What do you get when you combine the celebrated classical clarinettist Emma Johnson with the serried ranks of Klezfest Jewish music practitioners? Air on a K-String might be one answer. Yet the truth, as revealed at the Jazz Café last Wednesday night, was considerably more dynamic, surprising and downright funky.
It is astonishing when you think about it. The world’s most significant living composer — we can argue about this later — gets his first Prom at the age of 72. Consider who he has worked with — Ravi Shankar, David Bowie, Yo-Yo Ma, Paul Simon, Robert Wilson, Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese. Just because the greatest film directors in the world queue up to work with him does not diminish Philip Glass’s classical credentials — it is a testament to the greatness of his music that all the greats want him to score their films.