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August 17, 2022 2:10 pm

Ashkenaz Festival Celebrating Jewish Culture Returns In-Person to Canada

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Skyline of Toronto, Canada. Photo Credit: Aaron Davis, Wikimedia Commons, June 2020.

The 13th Ashkenaz Festival, one of North America’s largest celebrations of Jewish music, arts and culture, will return to Toronto in-person in late August for the first time since 2018.

The biennial event is scheduled for Aug. 30-Sept. 5, with roughly 50 events taking place at the Harbourfront Centre and in venues across the city.

Since 1995, the festival has remained one of the most prestigious showcases of Jewish music and culture in the world. The event is mostly free to the public and presents diverse music highlighting the Jewish experience from Canada and around the globe, including Yiddish opera, Klezmer funk, Ethiopian-Israeli jazz, Jewish bluegrass, Judeo-Persian soul, Sephardic/Ladino folk, Roma and Ukrainian-Jewish music. The festival has expanded over the years to feature not only the traditions of eastern Europe, but also Sephardic, Mizrachi and Israeli culture.

Though largely focused on music, the festival also includes dance, theatre, film, literature and talk, visual arts, and kids and family programs.

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The headlining event at this year’s festival is the North American premiere of Henekh Kon’s “Bas-Sheve,” the first Yiddish opera to be performed in Canada. The work is about the biblical story of King David’s infatuation with Bathsheba and first premiered in Warsaw, Poland in 1924. It was forgotten about until it was reconstructed in 2019 by German musicologist Dr. Diana Matut, American composer Joshua Horowitz and Canadian author Michael Wex. The festival will include three performances of the opera, featuring conductor Neal Stulberg and the UCLA Philharmonia.

The festival will also feature a program highlighting old and new Jewish folk music from Ukraine, as well as the North American premiere of “Di Letste Nakht Baym Yitesh” (“The Last Night at Cabaret Yitesh”), written by New York Times best-selling author Michael Wex. The performance, presented in Yiddish with English supertitles, mixes “cabaret songs from the ’30s, original comedy sketches, Yiddish adaptations of international hits and vaudeville classics.”

Since its first event, the Ashkenaz Festival has showcased artists from over 25 countries and six continents.

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