by Dan Dickinson
Early in the proceedings at the Fifth Annual Winter Jewish Music Concert, I circled a couple of names who I wanted to highlight in this review, as a way of filtering out some of the performers. But as the night went on, I realized that strategy wasn’t going to work. Alan Mason, the organizer of the concert, had managed to pack the two-hour show with 20 artists, almost all of them vocalists, and at least half were outstanding, with the remainder still good.
Mason’s goal is to attract an audience simply by presenting Jewish music “performed at the highest level,” and the packed sanctuary at Temple Israel of Greater Miami — which seats about 700 — testified that his strategy works.
The program included some eclectic touches, such as a magic show with belly dance, beat-boxed chants, and acoustic guitar folk songs, but by far the bulk of the artists were pure vocalists. Most of them are cantors at South Florida synagogues.
Mason explained that he lets the performers sing whatever they want, and the result serves as a sort of talent showcase of excellent singing.
The songs embraced a wide range of styles. Most were sung in Hebrew. There were contemporary settings of prayers such “B’rosh Hashana,” “Yismechu,” and “V’Shamru,” and a jazz-inflected “V’ahavta.” There was an art song from the Yiddish cabaret tradition by composer Moshe Milner. There was a Hebrew rendition of the “On My Own,” an aria from Les Miserables (“Levadi”). There was Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen. There was Bagels ‘n Box, a witty mash-up of hip-hop beats with cantorial chants. Accompaniment on most songs was ably provided by Alan Mason on piano and Brian Potts on subtle percussion. The audience often joined in on the chorus, and under the sand-colored arches and carved-wood chandeliers of the sanctuary, the whole event offered an inviting, celebratory air.
For this reviewer, having spent very little time in synagogues and with zero understanding of Hebrew or Yiddish, a special pleasure was simply dissecting the different vocal styles. The range was considerable. The rough-edged vigor of baritone Erik Contzius was followed immediately by the clear, understated soprano of Shira Silverman Nafshi. The clean cantillation of Aviva Bass preceded the robust vibrato of Michelle Auslander Cohen. I had my own favorites, but the largest ovation (until the closing number) went to tenor David Aaron Katz’s impassioned performance of “V’lirusholayim Ircho,” by New York composer Abraham Ellstein.
A two-hour parade of talent runs the risk of getting exhausting, but with such high quality and well-organized staging, it never felt that way. Alejandra Czarny’s moving performance of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” that closed the concert brought all the onstage talent together to sing the chorus, and as the crowd rose to their feet and joined in the singing, I couldn’t help but think that a follow up concert was in order with a bit more collaboration between the singers: a few vocal trios or small choirs, or even a small orchestra for accompaniment. I suspect that the logistics of organizing a concert like this are already complicated enough, but it’s a good sign when you leave a concert with this many performers thinking of ways to expand it.
The Knight Arts blog, January 17, 2013
Winter Jewish Music Concert: Not solely a classical concert, this event organized by Alan Mason of Temple Israel of Greater
Miami will take place for the fifth time this Saturday night in the temple’s Bertha Abbess Sanctuary.
It’s an expansive evening of Jewish music and performers, running the gamut from classical to jazz and rap, Ladino and Israeli folk music, and includes works by a wide range of Jewish composers, many of them unfortunately little-known to non-Jewish audiences.
The concert is sold out again this year, according to concert organizers, but this year there are other opportunities for interested concertgoers other than being there in person. The 8 p.m. concert will be broadcast live on Jewish Life TV, which is carried on Comcast channel 239 in South Florida and Atlantic Broadband channel 167 in Miami Beach, as well as on DirectTV Channel 366.
It also will be streamed live via the station’s website at www.jltv.tv. The concert’s website at www.jewishconcert.orghas a video of brief highlights from last year’s concert, and even in these short snippets there’s a strong feeling of celebration and diversity of expression, as you can see here: www.jewishconcert.org/2012-video.
January 9, 2013
Dear The Mums,
Remember when you went to the URJ Biennial in Orlando in 1999 and how, when you told one of your friends it was your first trip to Florida, she asked, “Are you sure you’re really Jewish?!”
I was reminded of that exchange recently because Alan Mason, one of my friends, is, for the fifth time in as many years, directing what has become an incredibly popular and nationally known Jewish music concert in Miami. Alan’s the program director of the Winter Jewish Music Concert, an annual event that began four years ago as a tribute to him on his 18th anniversary as the director of music at Temple Israel of Greater Miami.
Since then, it has grown exponentially in size and popularity. This year’s Winter Jewish Music Concert will be held on Saturday, January 19 at 8 p.m. in the Bertha Abess Sanctuary at Temple Israel. That night, more than 25 singers (cantors, cantorial soloists and musicians) will, accompanied by Alan on the piano, come together from throughout South Florida and beyond to perform a lively mix of tap-your-foot, sing-along Jewish music, including liturgical, pop, jazz, folk, Israeli, Yiddish, Ladino, cantorial, beat box, magic and illusion, as well as other styles. A capacity crowd of more than 700 will, as in the past, pack the sanctuary, while countless others will watch the first-ever live broadcast of the concert on Jewish Life TV.
Although I’ve never made it to Miami for the concert (or for any other reason, in fact), I’ve seen video clips from previous concerts and I can tell you that you and I would love a pair of seats in the sanctuary.
In an ideal world, we’d take a mid-winter, leave-it-all-behind mother-daughter jaunt to Miami to fill those seats. Of course, this isn’t an ideal world and the best I can do this year is tune in to Jewish Life TV next Saturday night to watch and listen virtually. I’m not sure what kind of electronics set-up you’ve got in your yeshivah shel mal'ah (or, come to think of it, if, given where you are, you even need video equipment to see and hear the concert!), but I hope you, too, will tune in—in whatever way works best—to hear the music and feel the enthusiasm. You will love it! If you need more information, there’s lots of it here on the concert’s website.
As always, I miss you lots and wish you were here. Enjoy the music, The Mums.
By Sergio Carmona
Florida Jewish Journal, January 4, 2013
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 four 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 takes place at 8 p.m. on Jan. 19 at Temple Israel's Bertha Abess Sanctuary, 137 N.E. 19 St. in Miami. The program will feature approximately 25 musical artists, including singers and Mason, the program's director, as the pianist accompanying them, who will perform Jewish-inspired music that's not limited to the synagogue. They will perform a diverse range of music such as Ladino, Israeli, folk, Yiddish, pop, classical, hazzanut, jazz, rap and tango and beat box.
The concert is becoming a nationally known one and for the first time this year, will broadcast live nationwide on Jewish Life TV.
"This [live national television broadcast] is going to increase the global visibility of the program and there is a kind of exciting adrenaline and nervous energy among the performers knowing that the viewing audience has just been increased tremendously," Mason said.
Mason added, "Our intent at this point is to continue to build the live audience, 700 plus people, who enjoy the evening sitting at the sanctuary and our goal at this point is to maintain that audience density and impress upon people that it's a very diverse program and a very fun, enjoyable evening."
Susan Shane Linder, a guitarist from Congregation B'nai Israel in Boca Raton who will perform at the concert for the fourth time, said the event is "an amazing and inspiring atmosphere."
Natalie Young of Ramat Shalom Congregation in Plantation, another concert veteran, added "It's incredible to get to perform with friends and colleagues and it's great to hear the wealth of Jewish music elsewhere."
First-time performer Aviva Bass, a cantorial soloist from Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs, said, "I'm honored and excited to perform in one of the largest and most respected Jewish music concerts in the country."
The concert also features Israeli performer Dafna, who said it's a tremendous honor to perform at the concert. "The array of talented performers reflects the vibrancy and diversity of South Florida and its overall community," she added.
Members of the beat-box duo Bagels 'n Box, Jon Murstein and Jay Stone, both issued a joint email response regarding their excitement to being invited to perform in the concert. "We're very humbled to have been selected to share the stage with such an elite group of vocalists and musicians," they noted. "We're ecstatic for what promises to be an unforgettable evening of Jewish music."
Tickets are $18 for general admission. The event this year includes a pre-concert food reception from 6-8 p.m. catered by Gigi and admission for both the concert and reception is $36. Mason recommends purchasing tickets immediately and to get to your seat on time because the concert will start immediately at 8 p.m. due to the live television broadcast. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.jewishconcert.org or call 1-800-838-3006. The broadcast will also stream live at http://www.jltv.tv.
By Sergio Carmona
Florida Jewish Journal
This year's version of the annual Winter Jewish Music Concert at Temple Israel of Greater Miami was the program's best in its four years of existence.
The concert, which recently took place and featured 27 musical artists, including local cantors and program director Alan Mason accompanying them, seems to get better every year. Mason's direction of this sensational spectacle was equaled by the chemistry he shared with the performers as he accompanied them while playing the piano. The singers all gave powerful performances while providing the highest level of music execution possible through a variety diverse range of music such as Ladino, Israeli, folk, Yiddish, pop, classical, hazzanut, jazz, rap and tango.
The concert's vibrant tone and upbeat atmosphere was set during the singers opening processional performance of "Ki va Moed." The audience was then treated to the performers putting forth their best efforts through renditions of Jewish-inspired music that provided a spiritual and lively presence in the room. Mason's piano playing flowed very well with the singers' performance. A highlight from the concert included Martin Bookspan, former host of the PBS series "Live from Liberty Center," serving as special guest host.
Highlights from the cantors' performances included Zachary Mondrow of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach providing a powerful performance of "V'Lirusholayim Ircho," Lisa Segal of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach giving a beautiful rendition of "I Sing I Pray," Geniene Miller of Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus in North Miami Beach singing "A Piece of the Sky," Michelle Auslander Cohen of Temple Beth Am in Margate and Temple Beth El of Boca Raton providing a nice rending of "Sim Shalom," Emily Arnoff Teck of Temple Beth El of Boca Raton rapping to "We Can Rise," Rachelle Nelson of Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest singing "Mirror to My Soul" that brought a spiritual presence to the room, Benjamin Matis of Shleter Rock Jewish Center in New Yrk providing "Hatei Elokai," Luis Cattan of Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus in North Miami Beach performing "Ilu Finu," and Cesar Beliniski of Temple Beth Torah-Tamarac Jewish Center singing "Amen" that proved to be a fitting closure to the solo performances. These are just a few of the brilliant performances that the singers gave. The concert ended in a joyful celebration of all the performers that should entice guests to return next year.
Those who missed this year's concert can always catch it next year. This annual concert is one that should be seen at least once and the music appeals to people of all backgrounds. The date for next year's concert is already set for Jan. 19, 2013 at 8 p.m. at Temple Israel of Greater Miami
Listen to the WLRN/Miami Herald report on the concert: