Classical music: The Jerusalem Quartet brings Yiddish cabaret to Vancouver

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The famous string quartet, accompanied by the Israeli soprano Hila Baggio, to explore the rich musical era of continental Europe between the two world wars

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The Vancouver Recital Society presents The Jerusalem Quartet with soprano Hila Baggio

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When: Saturday May 7, 7:30 p.m.

Or: Temple Sholom, 7190 Oak St.

Tickets, more info: vanrecital.com


Over the past few weeks, live classical music has gone from very slow to full steam ahead, and we can anticipate a full slate of performances before the season shifts into summer mode in mid-June.

Much of what is available reflects a return-to-normal strategy and, Vancouver being Vancouver, that is fundamentally a good thing. But for a handful of organizations, “normal” really means extraordinary.

Last week, we previewed an exceptional event from Early Music Vancouver, a music program associated with when the Louvre was the residence of French royalty. Then, on May 6, the Vancouver Recital Society welcomes the Jerusalem Quartet again.

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Nothing unusual about that: the string quartet has been performing there on a semi-regular basis since 2001. But there are three exceptional aspects to this program: The quartet will present a guest artist, the Israeli soprano Hila Baggio; will perform at a new VRS venue, Temple Sholom; and will present a program inspired by Yiddish cabaret music from the rich and sometimes contradictory musical scenes of interwar Warsaw, Prague and Vienna, built around five cabaret-inspired songs by contemporary composer Leonid Arkadievich Desyatnikov

The quartet started developing this idea a few years ago, and a CD has already been released to great acclaim. Although the Jerusalem is currently touring North America, Vancouver is the only place that can hear the cabaret project live.

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How was this exceptional program born? In an unusually detailed statement of intent, the quartet describes digging through the vast archives of the National Library of Israel, choosing songs with the help of the music library’s director, Gila Flam.

The Jerusalem Quartet, performing May 7 at Temple Sholom on Oak Street.
The Jerusalem Quartet, performing May 7 at Temple Sholom on Oak Street. Photo by Felix Broede

“We then approached Desyatnikov, whose work we have followed for many years, and were delighted when he agreed to take these songs and turn them into a new composition for singer and string quartet,” a statement read. of the group.

Born in the (now infamously familiar) Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in 1955, Desyatnikov achieved outrageous success with his 2005 opera The Children of Rosenthal. He described cabaret as “the culture of cheap chic, and at the same time – in its best forms – a cheeky, talented culture full of self-mockery and latent desperation”. He added a note of personal grace: “Yiddish was the secret language of my Soviet parents; they used it when discussing something that was not intended for children’s ears.

The opening of the program is a Prague work from the 1920s by Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942). “The five pieces are a string quartet performance of an evening at a cabaret, a kind of suite of 1920s dances including a wobbly waltz, tango and tarantella,” is how the quartet describes the work. “We chose this piece to show how the cabaret genre has infiltrated ‘serious’ music as one finds a running or a jig in Bach’s suites, or the Minuet in Schubert’s.”

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The evening ends with Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s second string quartet, written in 1934. Korngold was a Viennese prodigy whose opera Die Tote Stadt became a mega-hit in the 1920s, when the composer had little nearly the same age as the century. After reinventing himself in 1930s Los Angeles, he created some of the most flamboyant film scores of Golden Age Hollywood. Alas, by then his concert music was considered outdated and the wicked joke “More corn than gold” made the rounds.

But just like Mahler before him, it seems Korngold’s time has come. His swashbuckling violin concerto has become a Vancouver favourite; there remains a substantial catalog of works yet to be sampled here.

Why this work for this project? “We chose this play because it represents the spread of Jewish culture in the American film industry. Korngold was an important member of this community.

  1. The main mission of the Ensemble Correspondances, which performs on May 6 at the Chan Center for the Performing Arts, is to present entirely French programs from the first half of the 17th century.

    Classical Music: Palatial Pleasures Fit for a (French) King Come to Vancouver

  2. Eugene Opera rehearses HMS Pinafore at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.  The Vancouver Opera is about to stage the operetta.

    HMS Pinafore has taken a bit of refitting for a 21st century presentation

  3. We’ve got Vancouver’s classical music scene covered here


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