Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Songs from Afar go Straight to the Heart

The evening began with a beautifully sung prayer led by Cantor Mark Stanton, director of music at Beth Emeth. Last year, a large portion of the building was renovated, and we were seated in the new sanctuary, surrounded by mosaic and stained-glass windows.

Born in Casablanca, Morocco, Gerard Edery found himself in Great Neck, New York, by way of Paris. After singing over thirty leading operatic roles, Edery revisited the songs that resonated so deeply with him. He told me he had left his guitar untouched for many years. His guitar playing is fluid, with a stunning, versatile technique and clear tone. His ability to play a complicated passage while singing is notable.

His band, while staying within the structures of the songs, improvised skillfully. Performing with him were two fabulous musicians, Meg Okura (violin and erhu) and Sean Kupisz on a six-stringed bass. Edery promised to give the audience a trip around the world -- and he delivered -- with songs from Morocco, Ireland, France, Turkey, Spain, and other far-away places.

The Sephardic tradition is one that traveled to countries now known as Turkey, Morocco, Greece, and the Balkans as the Jews were cast out of Spain and Portugal in the 15th Century. Passed down over the years, these songs have taken on some of the qualities of their “final” destinations, but have held firmly to their origins.

Retaining themes of chivalry and poetic love from the Middle Ages, the music speaks loudly and clearly. Each song is like a precious time capsule. In the Moroccan song, Ojos Asesinos, he sings of lost love, “assassin eyes”, that he yearns to see again though friends tell him his wish is crazy. In Margot Labourez Les Vignes (Jacques Arcadelt, Flemmish, 16th Century), Margot curses men who call her ugly. Tres Hermanicas tells of a young woman, pregnant out of wedlock, who is banished by her father to a stone castle with no windows or doors. Though some selections were not Sephardic, they were rich with history and emotion.


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