The concert series currently playing out at the Music Center of Strathmore is celebrating global music and divergent cultures.
“The thematic thread through Strathmore’s 2017-2018 season is ‘Windows,’ concerts in which international artists share the sonic riches of their heritage and homeland,” said Joi Brown, vice president of programming. “This is our effort to showcase music that reflects different perspectives, places, cultures, and eras.”
However, the Nov. 7 concert highlights the musical diversity within one culture alone.
It pairs Israeli singer Yasmin Levy, who performs primarily in Ladino – Judeo-Spanish language – with the Klezmatics, an ensemble that sings classical klezmer music from Eastern Europe.
“I started to sing songs in Ladino, then modern, Spanish and flamenco and moved to Turkish and Persian songs and Brazilian tango,” said the Jerusalem-born Levy.
Levy brought a different wrinkle to the Ladino songs she had heard growing up. “To me they seemed gentle and old,” she said. “But I felt they were passionate songs, even though they were 500 years old.”
Nominated for numerous British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) awards, Levy calls herself “not a nice singer, too much for people. But other people can cry when I sing.”
The Klezmatics, who are performing with Levy for the first time, side with those who are moved by her singing.
“What a gorgeous voice,” said Klezmatics band member Frank London.
Music has always precious to the Israeli singer and her family. “I grew up listening to great voices, such as opera star Luciano Pavarotti, but I created my own sound.”
Levy is also proud that her father, a cantor, was the person who convinced Sephardic Israeli singer/actor Yehoram Gaon, one of the country’s most popular performers, to sing in Ladino.
Although Ladino is most strongly tied to Sephardic culture, she learned firsthand when performing in Israeli clubs of its wide appeal. “When I sang in Ladino, everyone loved it,” she said. “The language is so beautiful.”
Despite the differences between Ladino and klezmer, and the cultures that generated them, Levy sees co-performing with the Klezmatics as natural and overdue.
“I like to collaborate with people singing different kinds of music,” she said. “But we come from the same place and the same rhythms.”
For their part, London of the Klezmatics said: “We and Yasmin Levy are soulmates, both embracing tradition (in her case. Sephardic-Ladino music, Yiddish-klezmer in ours) and moving it into the future. It is an honor to have the opportunity to collaborate with her, to bring these two rich Jewish musical and linguistic traditions together.”
The Klezmatics, often called a “Jewish roots band,” are Grammy winners. Since emerging on the Jewish music scene from New York City’s East Village in 1986, they have received credit for reviving a form of traditional Jewish music and changing the face of contemporary Yiddish culture. Fans and critics have stated that the ensemble and helped change the face of contemporary Yiddish culture.
They have performed in more than 20 countries and released 11 albums to date. In addition to their joint appearance with Yasmin Levy, the Klezmatics have collaborated with artists such as violinist Itzhak Perlman, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, and Israeli singing icon Chava Alberstein.
Both Yiddish and Ladino are amalgam languages, drawing from many different sources.
In addition to musical and literary roots, Levy sees another parallel between klezmer and Ladino.
“After the Jews were forced to leave Spain, they suffered a lot, but their music helped them survive all their difficulties, she said. “In the same way, I believe Yiddish did the same thing for Eastern European Jewry, who suffered the Holocaust.”
Much of music, including flamenco, “comes from pain,” Levy added.
The Yasmin Levy and Klezmatics concert takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. in the Music Center at Strathmore, at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda. For tickets, call 301-581-5100. For more information, visit: www.strathmore.org.