(AMHERST, Mass.) – The fourth annual Yidstock: The Festival of New Yiddish Music opens on Thursday, July 16, 2015, at the Yiddish Book Center with an already sold-out concert by the Grammy Award-winning Klezmatics, and runs through Sunday, July 19, when members of all the ensembles featured throughout the festival will form a unique, one-time only superstar outfit, the Yidstock Allstars, in a special program called “More Songs About Shtetls and Food,” with musical direction by Frank London and featuring Socalled, Lorin Sklamberg, Merlin and Polina Shepherd from the UK, and special guest members of the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
This year’s festival boasts an expanded menu of workshops, lectures, discussions, and informal talks, and will feature many opportunities for the audience to interact with the musicians in residence, as well as for the festival musicians to interact with each other off and onstage, promising many musical surprises, some planned and some improvised, throughout the long weekend.
Other highlights of the festival include concert appearances by the Yiddish Art Trio, a supergroup of top stars of the new generation of klezmer musicians — clarinetist Michael Winograd, double-bassist and singer Benjy Fox-Rosen, and accordionist Patrick Farrell, who expand on their deep roots in klezmer and Yiddish music to explore new forms — performing on Friday, July 17, at 5pm.
Innovative pianist, composer, producer, rapper and all-around musical visionary Socalled (a.k.a. Josh Dolgin), the Montreal-based musician whose cutting-edge music crosses cultures and musical styles and mixes old and new sounds, headlines on Saturday, July 18, at 8pm with a concert featuring his band plus special guests.
The fun, funky Klezperanto, led by the Pioneer Valley’s own Ilene Stahl, the longtime lead clarinetist of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, and including other members of the KCB and additional musical talent from the Boston area, performs on Sunday, July 19, at noon.
The international ensemble Sklamberg & the Shepherds, featuring Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics, clarinetist Merlin Shepherd, and composer, singer, and choir leader Polina Shepherd, make their New England debut on Sunday, July 19, at 3pm, with their blend of traditional and newly composed Yiddish and Russian songs with klezmer and southern Mediterranean music. In addition to coaching a whole generation of younger klezmer clarinetists over the past two decades, Merlin Shepherd, from Wales by way of Brighton, England, almost singlehandedly invented the early-music movement in klezmer, re-creating the sounds of 19th century ensembles, while also making new music that betrays his background in jazz, classical, rock and funk. With his Russian-born wife, Polina Shepherd, the two were recently called “the Led Zeppelin of klezmer” by the national Jewish newsweekly, The Forward, after their triumphant appearance at Joe’s Pub as part of the National Yiddish Theatre’s Kulturfest.
The festival also includes a full schedule of talks, instrumental workshops by Brian Bender, and dance workshops led by Steve Weintraub, widely acknowledged as the world’s greatest teacher and instigator of Yiddish folk dance. Weintraub will be accompanied this year by accordionist Lauren Brody, one of the essential musicians of the original klezmer revival of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Speakers at the festival include Klezmer Conservatory Band founder and leader Hankus Netsky, author of the just-published “Klezmer: Music and Community in Twentieth-Century Jewish Philadelphia”; Aaron Lansky, founder of the Yiddish Book Center, and Seth Rogovoy, author of “The Essential Klezmer” and the artistic director of Yidstock.
The festival kicks off on Thursday afternoon, July 16, with back-to-back multimedia presentations by filmmaker Erik Anjou and food historian Laura Silver. Anjou is the director of documentaries including “A Cantor’s Tale,” “The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground,” and most recently, “Deli Man,” and his films often use scores by members of the Klezmatics.
Award-winning journalist Laura Silver is the author of “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food,” the definitive biography of everybody’s favorite stuffed hunk of dough. In her multimedia presentation, Silver shares stories of entrepreneurship, survival, and major deliciousness, and details her seven-year, three-continent quest for the story behind the pastry and her discovery of her own family roots in the Polish town of … Knyszyn. A Q&A and book-signing follow the talk.
In addition, Lorin Sklamberg will make a presentation about the music archives at YIVO, where he works by day; Polina Shepherd will discuss the state of Yiddish music in the former Soviet Union; and Socalled will recount his adventures dragging Yiddish music kicking and screaming into the age of hip-hop in a talk that is already sold out.
Pioneer Valley multi-instrumentalist and music educator Brian Bender will lead klezmer instrumental workshops for youth and adults on Saturday, and the Book Center’s own Asya Vaisman Schulman will lead a song workshop on Sunday morning, which is already sold out.
There are still a few spots left in Steve Weintraub’s dance workshops that take place on Friday and Saturday afternoons, and on Saturday at 4pm, Seth Rogovoy will moderate a panel featuring several of the Yidstock musicians that will attempt to answer the oft-asked question, “How Did We Get Here and Where Are We Going?”