What is Jewish music? Judging from the lineup for the 38th annual Jewish Music Festival, it’s a culture without borders or one definitive style.
The 10-day festival, opening Saturday in Berkeley, presents jazz, folk, classical and contemporary works from around the world.
While Poland is the focus of the 2013 festival, True Life Trio, performing Sunday, is one among many acts with a lineup that represents a thousand years of Jewish life and a legacy that is truly global.
The trio — Leslie Bonnett, Briget Boyle and Juliana Graffagna — formed from the ranks of Kitka, a women’s vocal ensemble, and sings music “connecting Bulgaria to the bayou of Louisiana.” The band’s set list includes folk tunes from Poland, Macedonia, Albania, South Africa, Ukraine, Mexico, Poland, Italy and Georgia.
On the same program, the Real Vocal String Quartet — violinists Irene Sazer and Alisa Rose, violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry — offers a broad repertoire, embracing West Africa, Brazil and rural America.
Festival director Eleanor Shapiro says the focus on Poland and Eastern Europe highlights Jewish history and particularly reflects roots of many Jewish-Americans, including her own, in Poland and Ukraine.
“The murder of more than 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population in the Holocaust ruptured that continuity within living memory. Music offers a compelling and universal gateway into Polish Jewish history,” Shapiro says.
Opening-night salutes the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, soon to open in Warsaw. “A massive undertaking, the museum brings to light Jewish life in Poland over the course of a millennium,” Shapiro adds.
The festival also marks the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising with the world premiere of a piece for voice, piano, cello and clarinet by David Garner.
Crushed a month after it began April 19, 1943, the uprising, Shapiro says, was the “largest and symbolically most important Jewish uprising in World War II, and the first urban revolt in German-occupied Europe.”
Garner’s composition, called “Vilna Poems” — to be performed by soprano Lisa Delan, pianist Kristin Pankonin, cellist Matt Haimovitz and clarinetist David Krakauer — refers to an uprising of about 50,000 members of Lithuania’s large Jewish population, which followed events in Warsaw, where the ghetto held more than 400,000.
Another festival highlight is an appearance by stage and screen veteran Theodore Bikel, who made his debut at Carnegie Hall 57 years ago. On March 7, he joins Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco and Shura Lipovsky, a noted Yiddish singer from Amsterdam, in a program covering Yiddish and Bosnian-Sephardic cultures.