‘Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews’ comes back to Northeast Ohio for second stint
By Carlo Wolff
Part of Nell Snaidas’ family is from Uruguay. She’s part Jewish, too. So it makes sense to Snaidas, a soprano for the acclaimed baroque revival group Apollo’s Fire, that Sephardic song appeals to her.
Snaidas and Jeannette Sorrell, Apollo’s Fire artistic director, put together “Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews” over the past three-plus years and are bringing it to the Cleveland area for its second run Feb. 4-7.
One of these concerts will be the first public performance at the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel on the Case Western Reserve University campus in Cleveland. Others will be staged in Akron, Cleveland Heights and Berea. The run coincides with the release of a recording of “Sephardic Journey,” which will be available at the shows.
In recent telephone interviews, Snaidas and Sorrell explained their commitment to this unusual and rarely presented musical canon. Snaidas spoke from Kona, Hawaii, where she’s part of a musical group providing live accompaniment to classic silent films. Sorrell spoke from the Apollo’s Fire office in Cleveland Heights.
When Snaidas studied with the famed diction coach, Nico Castel, at the Mannes School of Music in New York City, she discovered he was a Sephardic Jew steeped in the tradition of Ladino song, a form that, she said, “felt like home to me.” She began to research it by bringing it up in conversation, discovering a rich tradition of folk song and art song.
She also worked with the Gerard Edery Ensemble for some 15 years, touring the world “singing Sephardic music with the drummer I brought into Apollo’s Fire,” Rex Benincasa. Edery is a contemporary composer of Sephardic song and, like Snaidas, a classically trained singer. Along with the Bosnian native Flory Jagoda, Edery is one of the foremost exponents of Sephardic song.
Snaidas and Sorrell began to develop “Sephardic Journey” in 2012.
“Whenever I have a chance to program music myself, I program that,” Snaidas said of the Sephardic canon. It offers people “a new face of Jewish music,” a Latin face distinct from the dominant European, Yiddish tradition.
“It’s a beautiful experience to sing Sephardic music for a group of Ashkenazi Jews who had no idea. I love to bring that out into the world,” Snaidas said.
According to Sorrell, who founded Apollo’s Fire in 1992, “even when we’re playing straight baroque music by Bach or Vivaldi, I give it some sort of thematic program.”
Developing a program of Sephardic song was a natural for Apollo’s Fire, she said, “particularly since two of my dear friends and colleagues” – Snaidas and Jeffrey Strauss, a baritone of cantorial power — “could bring such a deep understanding of Sephardic and Jewish music.”
Sorrell is particularly excited about playing at the new performing arts center at CWRU, inaugurated on Sept. 27 with an invitation-only Violins of Hope concert.
The landmark has “the important amenities of a concert hall but it also has the character of a historic synagogue,” Sorrell said, making it “a perfect setting for this program.”
“Sephardic Journey” is divided into sets including O Jerusalem!, Love and Romance and The Temple. It will blend secular and liturgical strains and be both moving and entertaining, Sorrell suggested. It ends with Feasting and Celebration, a set that includes a recipe for making burmuelos. These Sephardic doughnuts, made with jam and honey, will be available at the Afterglow parties. CV
WHAT: “Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews”
WHERE AND WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4, Fairlawn Lutheran Church, 3415 W. Market St., Akron; 8 p.m. Feb. 5, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2747 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Heights; 8 p.m. Feb. 6, Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel, Case Western Reserve University, 1855 Ansel Road, Cleveland; 4 p.m. Feb. 7, Baldwin Wallace University Gamble Auditorium, 96 Front St., Berea. “Afterglow parties” Feb. 5 and 7; pre-concert talks with Dr. Daniel Shoskes, lutenist, an hour before each show.
Apollo’s Fire Artistic Director Jeannette Sorrell and three Apollo’s Fire members will discuss creation of this program in a free, half-hour event at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood at 10:45 a.m. Jan. 30. The address is 26000 Shaker Blvd.
TICKETS & INFO: 216-320-0012 or apollosfire.org
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on January 21, 2016.
Lead image: The Apollo’s Fire Sephardic Troupe | PHOTO / Gary Adams