With an upbeat Broadway bounce, the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus brought together French and Yiddish tunes on Upper Broadway last Sunday.
”From Paris to Peretz: A Musical Tour,” presented by the JPPC under the animated baton of Binyumen Schaechter, was a multi-layered Yiddish odyssey spanning the European continent and Israel. Symphony Space was filled as Yiddish lovers, friends and speakers of all ages crowded its auditorium.
Beginning with Yiddish versions of well-known French songs including lively presentations of “Sur le pont d’Avignon,” the “Cancan” and the “Marseilleise,” the program continued with popular Yiddish songs. Each number represented the places where Yiddish flourished such as Warsaw and Vilnius, former centers of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Schaechter’s ongoing historical narration framed each piece as he described the origin of every song.
The audience was encouraged to sing along to a new arrangement of “Beltz.” Schaechter’s talented daughters, Temma and Reyna, (Di Shekhter-tekhter) offered a soaring rendition of “Romania.” Temma was vocally sparkling as she sang the lullaby “Ketsele Shtil!” with her father accompanying her on the piano. The magnificent soloists Judith Bro Pinhasik, Arele Viswanath, Ben Cohen, Gella Solomon-Puertas, BethAnn Freed, as well as Cantor Joel Caplan, joined the chorus throughout the program.
Moving musical renditions of the work of I.L. Peretz, the father of Yiddish literature, were a featured part of this lyrical, cultural and historical voyage. Layers of emotion were embedded even in the simplest of lyrics. The concluding piece was based on a Peretz poem, “Ale mentshn zaynen brider (All People are Brothers) and was set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” The resounding refrain of this world premiere, “all people are brothers” was a fitting finale to this international itinerary presented with enthusiasm and joyful energy.
When random audience members were asked why they chose to attend, so many answered simply” Bubbe-loshen” or “Mama-loshen,” remembering beloved family members who spoke Yiddish. A secular young American mother replied that Yiddish is the language she speaks to her children. She wanted her girls to hear the language of their daily transactions in a musical format.
The cleverly designed JPPC illustrated journal with its bilingual lyrics, synopses, maps and photos provided a special souvenir. Bravo to Binyumen Schaechter and his passionate Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus for creating a musical “mechayeh” of an afternoon on the Upper Westside.
Judy Geller-Marlowe writes educational materials for English language learners.