What to do tonight: 'Music at Rodef Shalom' will be featuring selections and artists from the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival
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Those attending tonight's presentation of "Music At Rodef Shalom," will be treated to the old and the new. There will be traditional tunes that go back generations as well as the world premiere of a piece by Pittsburgh composer David Stock.
"First and foremost, these are pieces of music that deserve to be heard on the concert stage, regardless of whether it's for Jewish audiences or Christian audiences or secular audiences," said cellist Aron Zelkowicz. "They're very skillfully written by a group of composers who are sort of on the margin."
Mr. Zelkowicz, 38, was born in Canada and studied music at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. He moved to Pittsburgh and in 2002 founded the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival.
"I was aware of a genre in classical music of works inspired by Jewish thematic sources and there were enough of these works -- both chamber music and orchestral music -- that could comprise an entire festival," he explained. "It's been going 10 years' strong and it's ever-expanding."
It's a project that is dear to him, so much so that he continued to run it while living in New York for three years.
"I've been doing the festival short and long distance. It's kind of complicated," said Mr. Zelkowicz, who is now living Downtown and working with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. "We get to present repertoire to the public that they'd be completely unaware of otherwise. It's beautiful music, it's cultural, and it relates to our history."
There is a lot of overlap between the annual festival and the music series at Rodef Shalom Congregation, which presents a number of concerts each year. Tonight's event features music selections and artists from the festival.
The performers will be Mr. Zelkowicz, pianist Rodrigo Ojeda, cellists David Premo, Mikhail Istomin and Michael Lipman, and violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
"The program is a mixture of Jewish classical chamber music and klezmer tunes," Mr. Zelkowicz said. "The first half is, for the most part, meditative works in the romantic tradition by Russian composers Joseph Achron, Alexandre Krein and Ernest Bloch.
OK, I have to admit that the word "klezmer" threw me. I didn't know the term. But when I listened to a few selections, I quickly recognized the sound. Our friends at Wikipedia define it as "a musical tradition of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe ... the genre originally consisted largely of dance tunes and instrumental display pieces for weddings and other celebrations. In the United States the genre evolved considerably as Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived between 1880 and 1924."
Mr. Zelkowicz said tonight's show will mark the first appearance of Mr. Bendix-Balgley in the Rodef Shalom music series.
"Noah has a history of performing this repertoire of Jewish classical works. In addition, he has played klezmer music and toured with bands," said Mr. Zelkowicz, who has known and worked with Mr. Bendix-Balgley for years. "We had met before he even got the job of concertmaster. It was sort of a predestined match, you could say."
As far as the concert is concerned, you don't have to worry about whether the music is part of your personal heritage. In fact, Mr. Zelkowicz said, part of the mission of the series, as well as the festival, is to grow the audience and ensure the survival and appreciation of the music.
"Our audiences are primarily Jewish audiences, though we are committed to presenting music as a public arts festival," he said. "And we receive coverage as an arts organization and funding from secular foundations.
"We are a public performing arts organization, though naturally there is a primary interest from Jewish audiences. I'd say just over half of the people who come out are senior citizens. We're working on that. For example, in the spring we're doing an opera, and we're working with an organization of younger people to get them to be involved. We're one of many young upstart arts organizations in Pittsburgh that's finding its audience and adding to the diversity of culture."
Still, don't forget where you'll be tonight.
"The performance will be the in main sanctuary, a house of worship, so the audience should dress accordingly," Mr. Zelkowicz said. "But the event is a button-down affair. That means there won't be a lot of ceremony. We won't be wearing ties. There are no tickets.
"I come from a classical music background, so I never think of classical chamber music as being particularly formal. I just show up and I get to hear my friends. And I hope audiences feel the same way."
The free concert begins 8 p.m. at Rodef Shalom Congregation, 4905 Fifth Ave., where Oakland and Shadyside come together.
First Published December 17, 2012 3:45 pm