Vienna comes to town

The Waltz, Csardas and Klezmer Melodies Festival begins next week Fancy a bit of Viennese culture?

Judith Weinmann-Stern  (photo credit: JOSEF POLLEROS)
Judith Weinmann-Stern
(photo credit: JOSEF POLLEROS)
We’re talking aural, visual, spiritual and edible nourishment here, and there’s no need to go to the trouble of packing and getting on a plane. All the aforementioned sensorial delights will be on hand in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – primarily the latter – February 7 to 13 at the Waltz, Csardas and Klezmer Melodies Festival, taking place under the auspices of Austrian Culture Days in Tel Aviv.
Vienna-based Judith Weinmann-Stern admits to having something of an ulterior motive for initiating the annual event. She says she was looking to evoke a curative blast from the past for the surviving members of her parents’ generation.
“I established the project in 2013 to bring ex-Austrians – all those who escaped from Austria starting 80 years ago – the culture, mainly music because music is always such a positive thing, bringing back positive memories from the time when they were growing up. It is the music they heard at home, from their parents, on the radio, whatever there was then. This was my objective, to bring back to them pleasant memories from a time when they were still protected by their parents,” she explains.
As a Viennese, Weinmann-Stern is aware of the breadth of cultural strands that ran through the epicenter of the Austro- Hungarian Empire, and that is reflected in variegated fare on offer across the six concerts she has lined up. The festival opener will take place in Jerusalem on February 7 (5 p.m.) at the Beit Moses senior citizens’ home on Derech Beit Lehem. The first evening’s entertainment, which goes by the name Schön Ist So Ein Ringelspiel, will feature the music of Jewish Viennese cabaret music composer Hermann Leopoldi whose oeuvre includes the show’s eponymous number.
Leopoldi’s songs would probably have been heard by pre-WW II radio listeners. After getting out of the Buchenwald concentration camp and making it to the US, following payment of a sizable ransom by his first wife, he resumed his career in New York before returning to Vienna after the war. Patrons of the Jerusalem show will be able to avail themselves of suitable sustenance at a Viennese coffeehouse.
The bulk of the festival activities take place at The Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv on consecutive days February 9 to 13 and embrace a broad cultural and music hinterland. The Tel Aviv kick-starter features works by Jewish Hungarian operetta composer Emmerich Kalman, Jewish Viennese operetta, theater and film score composer Oscar Straus (no relative of the celebrated musical Strauss family) and early 20th-century Viennese operetta score writer Leo Fall. The performing cast includes soprano Ethel Merhaut, tenor Franz Gurtelschmied and Hungarian-born instrumentalistcomposer Bela Koreny. A Viennese coffeehouse will offer members of the audience a selection of Viennese-style edibles after the concert.
Koreny will be action again on February 11, in tandem with actress Andrea Eckert, for Mein Mann Will Mich Verlassen (My Husband Wants to Leave Me) program of bittersweet comic numbers by the likes of German film score composer Friedrich Hollander, Czech-Austrian composer Ralph Benatzky and 19th-century Russian-born Jewish poet, playwright, stage director and actor Avrom Goldfaden.
Viennese cantor and singer Roman Grinberg will also be in the thick of the festival action, and in illustrious company, when he joins forces with Austrian Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg on February 12 for the Kum Aher Du Filosof show.
Eisenberg was a frequent onstage colleague of late iconic singer-songwriter Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
Together with Grinberg and Moldovan clarinetist Sasha Danilov, the pair will take the audience along for a magical musical tour into deepest hassidism.
The festival will end in grand style on February 13 when Grinberg teams up with Danilov, vocalist Bettina Krenosz, trumpeter Wolfgang Dorer and The Tel Aviv School of Arts Orchestra, under conductor Danny Donner, for the Oh Du Mein Osterreich program of “music from Austria, the shtetl and the big city” with arrangements by Shay Moaz. Leopoldi will enjoy another salute, this time with a rendition of his song “The Little Café Down the Street.”
“I just wanted to do this event once in 2013, and it has grown,” says Weinmann-Stern, adding that her target audience is wide and ongoing. “This is also for the second generation, the children of Viennese Jews, some who know German and others who don’t know a single word in German.”
Weinmann-Stern has become absorbed in the life stories of Viennese-born Israelis.
“I come to speak to them, and then their children suddenly begin to get interested too,” she notes.
That interest has also spread a little further.
“There are 30 non-Jewish people coming from Vienna for the concerts here,” she says. “Some of them will come to Israel for the first time. They want to meet these [Viennese-born] people. It is absolutely amazing,” she says.
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