I went down to the University of Chicago last month to hear Racheli Galay introduce a packed room to the work of Joachim Stutschewsky. Born into a well-known Ukrainian Klezmer family in 1891, Stutschewsky managed to stay one step ahead of disaster for decades, performing in Leipzig, Jena, Zurich, and Vienna before making aliyah in 1938. By the time he died in 1982, Stutschewsky was widely recognized as one of Israel’s preeminent classical musicians.
In her presentation, “The Voice of the Jewish Cello,” Galay traced the evolution of Stutschewsky’s compositional style, pausing frequently to play examples on her cello (accompanied by pianist Ilya Levinson). In addition to three pieces from Hassidic Suite (an artistic rendering of the music of his youth), they also played selections from Six Israeli Melodies, and a beautiful rendering of Hannah Senesh’s beloved poem Eli, Eli. (“My God, my God! Make it last forever…”)
When I contacted her, Galay explained that Stutschewsky is best known in Israel today as one of the founders of “the Mediterranean Style,” a synthesis between Oriental melodies and Western compositional techniques.
“Jewish European composers who arrived in Palestine during the 1930’s were fascinated by the melodies they heard in the Sephardic communities (from Yemen, Morocco, Persia) and from the Bedouin and Arab communities,” Galay told me. “From that special moment in history, a new sonority and musical style was created. ‘The Mediterranean Style’ reflects the composers’ feeling of rebirth, freedom and independence, and their excitement from the new landscapes, languages, and traditions they encountered. This mixture of old and new, East and West, gave birth to ‘the Mediterranean Style’ in Israeli music.”
You can hear most of the pieces Galay and Levinson played on the CD In Hassidic Mood (distributed by Beth Hatefutsoth Records in Tel Aviv, and available from Amazon and other sources). Galay’s next local performance will April 25, at a benefit concert for the Association of Reform Zionists of America. For details, call (847) 239-6974 or visit www.arza.org.
At the Siskel
The Gene Siskel Film Center is hosting the local premiere of Prisoner of Her Past, a new documentary based on Chicago Tribune reporter Howard Reich’s book The First and Final Nightmare of Sonia Reich: A Son’s Memoir. Reich grew up in Skokie knowing his mother Sonia was a Holocaust survivor, but she suppressed her memories and never revealed any of her experiences. As she aged, however, her behavior became increasingly erratic, leading doctors to diagnose her condition as late-onset Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In the film, Reich travels to Poland and Ukraine in search of information, and he attempts to reunite Sonia with people from her past, but her pain cannot be assuaged. This is difficult material, so kudos to Kartemquin Films for chronicling the Reich family’s journey with an unflinching eye.
Numerous screenings of Prisoner of Her Past are planned between April 9 and April 15, and Reich will appear in person at all screenings along with additional special guests. On Sunday April 11, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a special panel discussion will follow the 3:00 pm screening moderated by Chicago Tribune editor Gerry Kern. To order tickets for specific screenings in advance, visit www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Meanwhile, back in Anatevka…
The Marriott Lincolnshire opened their new production of Fiddler on the Roof on Feb 24. I have now seen over two dozen performances of Fiddler in my life, but this was the first time I’d ever seen Fiddler “in the round.”
“The great thing about working in round is the ability to create a world that’s a lot more intimate,” director David Bell told me. “Members of the audience…get the benefit of actually seeing the story up close and personal.”
Sitting in row eight, seeing all the other eyes around me watching too, I felt like we had all been magically transformed into Anatevkans. And because the number of people on stage at any one time is relatively small, the female characters are all more vividly individuated than in any prior production. Rebecca Finnegan, playing “Yente the Matchmaker,” has an especially large physical presence. “Yente’s the dealmaker, the only woman in Anatevka who can move freely between men and women as an equal,” Finnegan told me. “Yente’s no clown; she’s deadly serious.” And Finnegan’s performance is a revelation!
The Marriott’s Fiddler runs through April 25. To purchase tickets, call (847) 634-0200 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.
Jan Lisa Huttner (Tziviah Bat Yisroel v’ Hudah) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to: tzivi (at) msn (dot) com