A night of diverse Jewish music 

By Sergio Carmona

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

JANUARY 27, 2015 

The recent seventh annual Winter Jewish Music Concert at Temple Israel of Greater Miami was a sensational and delightful one that featured performers from around the country performing a wide range of Jewish music from

Yiddish, Ladino, Israeli, and Sephardic to cantorial, classical, jazz, pop and folk.

"As is the case every year, the singers bring their own favorite selection to the stage. This year, more than any, the singers brought a high degree of drama and several vocal compositions that are milestones in the sacred Jewish music liturgy," said Alan Mason, the program director.

Mason also served as pianist as he accompanied the performers on stage and had great chemistry with them. The singers did bring a high degree of drama and gave powerful, passionate and energetic performances as they engaged and entertained the 700 people in attendance. Among the notable performers included world-famous cantor and operatic tenor Alberto Mizrahi, who truly captivated the audience with his powerful and engaging performances. One splendid and beautiful moment was Mizrahi's performance of "Adio, Querida" with Susana Behar Levy, a singer in Miami. Behar Levy was also sensational performing traditional Sephardic music alongside guitarist Jose Luis Rodriguez. Both the singer and guitarist complemented each other well. Sharon Clark, a Jazz singer from Washington, D.C., was one of the program's most charming performers with her performances of "Shalom, Shalom Medly" and "Go Down Moses." Other notable performances from the concert include those from Yiddish singer Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell, contemporary Jewish singer/songwriter Peri Smilow, who immediately followed up Mizrahi's performance with a great one of her own, Tizmoret, Queens College Hillel's student a capella group, the local Second Avenue Jewish Chorale, which comprised of 30 singers from diverse social, religious and age backgrounds, and the award-winning Duo Sonidos.

Adam Levin, classical guitarist for Duo Sonidos, said performing in the concert was a "wonderful experience."

"I think first and foremost it starts with the programming in which Dr. Alan Mason did an incredible job," Levin noted. "He was able to sort of define contemporary and historic Judaism through music perfectly. It was back to back to back beautiful music, both song and instrumental music, and I felt it was choreographed in such a way that you really felt the presence of not only the history of Judaism but also the support of the Jewish community."

Levin added "These performers put their heart and soul into it and it really showed in the performance and the reaction in the crowd. There was an energy that was unmatched by any performance that I've been at in recent times."

The performers mentioned were just some of the ones that contributed to making this annual concert a successful one. Information on the concert can be found at jewishconcert.org. Next year's concert is already scheduled for Jan. 9, 2016. 

Diverse Winter Jewish Music Concert to be performed at Temple Israel in Miami

By Teriya Ogden

The Miami Herald

January 5, 2015

The Winter Jewish Music Concert in Miami returns Saturday night for its seventh year displaying the diverse talents of Jewish singers and instrumentalists from across the country.

The program consists of a full-length concert of the most innovative Jewish music around the world. Performers are coming from Michigan, New York, California and Washington, D.C.

“The concert is significant because it has a rippling effect across the country. This concert is known and highly regarded by sacred and secular Jewish instrumentalists and composers,” said Alan Mason, music director since 1991 at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, where the program will be held inside the 1928 Moorish-Gothic-style Bertha Abess Sanctuary.

The Winter Jewish Music Concert began as a tribute to Mason and has continued ever since. He is a leading accompanist who’s made many contributions to the world of Jewish music. In 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013, Mason played piano for more than 5,000 people during Shabbat services at the Union for Reform Judaism’s national biennial convention. He recently retired as associate music professor at Barry University in Miami Shores, where he taught since 1996.

Mason said when the concert began, it focused on one music genre. As the years progressed, so did the lineup.

Now Mason says he picks the “best of the best” who can perform a broad range of Jewish music to please different concertgoers. The program has expanded to include musical styles such as Yiddish, Israeli, cantorial, classical, jazz, pop, folk, hip-hop and beat-box music by nearly 90 different composers. The most-performed compositions are by Cantors Meir Finkelstein and Sol Zim, and the late songwriter/musician Naomi Shemer.

People of all kinds will enjoy the concert because of all the genres of music being catered to, Mason said. This year’s program features world-famous cantor and operatic tenor Alberto Mizrahi; African-American Jewish opera-turned-Yiddish singer Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell; and contemporary Jewish singer/songwriter Peri Smilow.

The concert includes other African-American performers, as well as Jewish converts. Audience members and performers who aren’t born Jewish are drawn to the music for its unique expressiveness and spiritual power. It’s the universal and global sounds and harmonies that appeals to all cultures, Mason said.

The concert has cultural impact because it is preserving historic that is seldom heard with new and innovative music, he said.

Performer Russell, from Oakland, CA, said he first performed at the Winter Jewish Music Concert in 2013. The audience’s response was inspiring, he said.

“It was a truly wonderful experience,” Russell said. “The audience was warm and enthusiastic, the venue was beautiful, and the experience of working with such an accomplished accompanist as Dr. Mason was unparalleled.”

Russell, 35, said the concert has a huge impact on people, that it does an impressive job of bringing a talented, international cadre of performers to represent through music the vibrant diversity of Jewish people.

“Look at me. I’m a Californian, African-American former opera singer who decided to devote himself to music of a Jewish opera singer from the Ukraine who was born at the end of the 19th century,” said Russell. “It all may seem rather highly unlikely, but it’s ultimately a testament to the power and beauty of Jewish music.”

Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste, originally from the Bronx, NY , is of Haitian descent and moved to Miami in 1989. She and Mason have been friends for years. After he learned she wanted to convert to Judaism, Mason helped cultivate her interest in her singing.

Performing in the concert is “an excellent way for me to learn about the various facets of Jewish music,” said Jean-Baptiste. “I’m looking forward to singing with so many talented and dedicated musicians.”

Jean-Baptiste, 35, said it is important to show how Jewish culture has been a large part of the South Florida diaspora, and to introduce the music to people who are not familiar with Jewish music.

“Plus,” she said, “it’s a fun and joy-filled evening for any and all.”

A Night of Diverse Jewish Music

By Sergio Carmona

Jewish Journal

December 23, 2014

Cantors and soloists throughout South Florida synagogues collaborated for a concert to celebrate Alan Mason's 18 years as Temple Israel of Greater Miami's music director six years ago. This concert drew a capacity-audience of more than 700 people and its success inspired Mason to make it an annual one.

This year's version of the Winter Jewish Music Concert, which is always a sell-out, takes place at 8 p.m. on Jan. 10 at Temple Israel's Bertha Abess Sanctuary, 137 N.E. 19 St. in Miami. This seventh annual concert features musical artists from around the country performing a wide range of Jewish music from Yiddish, Ladino, Israeli and Sephardic to cantorial, classical, jazz, pop and folk. Mason, the program director and pianist who will accompany the performers on stage, said this year's line-up may be the most varied yet.

"Almost all of the singers on this year's program have not been heard on this program before and a few of them are not even known for their work in Jewish music," Mason said. "They're kind of stretching their comfort zone and stretching their familiarity to perform Jewish music.”

Mason mentioned that the singers "opened their hearts up exclusively, examined the texts and became very familiar with the nature of Jewish music.”

Mason mentioned two components that are most critical to the program's success and evolution.

"The first component is the quality of execution and the quality of delivery," Mason said. "The program requires of the singers the highest level of vocal self expression on the stage."

Mason added that the concert has evolved through its continuity, stability and consistently.

"Its consistency and excellence in programming has allowed it to evolve year after year," Mason added.

Mason also mentioned the second most significant component, which is the discernment of the audience.

"We consistently attract a capacity audience of intelligent listeners to Jewish music," he said.

The variety of performers on this year's program includes world-famous cantor and operatic tenor Alberto Mizrahi, African-American Jewish opera-turned-Yiddish singer Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell and contemporary Jewish singer/songwriter Peri Smilow. The concert also features ensembles including the award-winning Duo Sonidos, Tizmoret, Queens College Hillel's student a capella group, and local Second Avenue Jewish Chorale, comprised of 30 singers from diverse social, religious and age backgrounds.

Mizrahi is honored to perform with his dear friend Mason.

"I've been blessed to have him as my accompanist in many concerts," Mizrahi said. "I do travel quite a bit around the United States and Europe and he's been with me in many of these concerts, so to come to his home and do this is going to be a special privilege and a lot of fun."

Cantor Benjamin Tisser of B'nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton said it's a tremendous honor to perform in this concert for the first time.

"I've been following this concert for the past few years and I've seen this program has become more and more impressive," Tisser said.

Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste, a Miami-based Haitian diva opera singer who will perform Jewish music for the first time in this concert, is happy to do this concert.

"There are a lot of singers on the program of different denominations of Judaism and different styles within Jewish music — some of it secular, some of it sacred," she said.

Tickets are $18 for general admission and $100 for preferred seating. Mason recommends purchasing tickets immediately as the concert sells out quickly. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit JewishConcert.org or call 1-800-838-3006. The concert will also stream live online at the concert's website.