When one usually thinks of the annual Washington Jewish Music Festival—or any festival for that matter—one pictures concerts; guitars, pianos, vocals, etc. But to spruce things up a bit (and partially due to scheduling complications) I decided to attend the airing of two episodes of Culture Heroes. A really intriguing series!
The first episode centered around Zubin Mehta,the Bombay-born, Vienna-trained Zorastrian who came to the Israeli Philharmonic when a spot opened up in the ’60s. The documentary was very off-the-cuff; director Ori Sivan was obviously recording with a handheld, frequently segued into sports and things of more interest to him, and was as much a subject of the film himself as Mehta was—particularly regarding his grandmother, who was the Philharmonic’s first harpist from the ’30s to the ’60s. He had a cute sense of humor, though, and sent the audience chuckling.
The second documentary, featuring folk singer Chava Alberstein,was what drew me to this event. Back in late high school, when I was grasping for a connection to Israel and my Jewish heritage, I happened upon a CD of hers in the world music section at Borders. Not only is she reviving Yiddish (:D) but her melodies are soothing and her lyrics are mellow and Earthy. In the documentary, she disdained the Israeli bent towards over-sentimalization, which I took to mean the country’s stereotype about being a place where emotions—among other things—run on high. Although these songs were definitely moving, they ran more on the chill side of things. Director Sivan Arbel largely stayed out of this film—Alberstein gave her little choice, since as other audience members quipped, the singer rarely shut up. 😛 But I was also drawn to the fact that in every moment of Alberstein’s recorded life, she seemed two steps away from a song…effortlessly sitting down to strum a tune or hum a melody to grandkids.
The Jewish Music Festival concludes this Sunday with a family concert at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, but there are still plenty more concerts on the horizon! The “Culture Heroes” viewing was co-sponsored with The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Find my coverage of the last two years here and here.