The Piccolo Spoleto series “A World of Jewish Culture” started in 1998, the same year as the 50th anniversary of Israel’s independence. Fifteen years later, Israel as a nation may have reached retirement age, but “A World of Jewish Culture” wants to get younger.
Martin Perlmutter, director of the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program at the College of Charleston, stressed the need for the series to attract new demographics. Along those lines, organizers made a conscious effort this year to move its newest component, the Feature Film Series, in a contemporary direction and establish an overarching theme.
“A World of Jewish Culture” scrapped the three originally slated films only a few weeks ago and installed new selections under the theme “Generations of Jewish Music.”
“The earlier films were good,” Perlmutter said, “but not a series.”
The current screenings, running June 2-4, are “A Cantor’s Tale” (2005), “The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground” (2010) and “Punk Jews” (2012). Mark Swick, the program’s community liaison, said the films depict Jewish music and culture in the 20th and 21st centuries, from the documentation of tradition in “A Cantor’s Tale” to a confrontation against social stereotypes in “Punk Jews.”
Perlmutter said he hoped these films would attract younger patrons.
The goal of “A World of Jewish Culture,” which will also feature a performance by the Jewish Choral Society and a Jewish “coffeehouse” at Saffron Bakery & Cafe, is to reach a broad audience.
Along those lines, Yuriy Bekker, violinist and concertmaster at the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, will perform “contemporary yet accessible” pieces on Sunday, his fifth performance with the series since 2007.
He said he skipped this venue the previous two years partially due to his busy schedule but also to allow for greater variety in talent. Enid Idelsohn, an administrator at the Jewish Studies Program, cited Bekker’s popularity in Charleston when discussing his return.
“It’s almost silly not to ask him to do it,” Idelsohn said.
Bekker, along with colleagues Andrew Armstrong on piano and Charles Messersmith on clarinet, will play four modern works by what he calls “some prolific and fine composers who are Jewish.” The pieces include Srul Irving Glick’s “Klezmer’s Wedding” and “Suite From West Side Story,” which Brazilian composer Raimundo Penaforte arranged.
The latter piece proved the most challenging for Bekker, he said. Penaforte’s arrangement required him to practice hours on end over a period of several weeks.
Americans’ familiarity with “West Side Story” contrasts with the traditional folk song “Klezmer’s Wedding.” “I’ll be doing my Jewish fiddling in this piece,” Bekker said.
The other two works are Darius Mihaud’s “Suite for Clarinet, Piano and Violin” and Aaron Copland’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano.”
The Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program presents A World of Jewish Culture with the assistance of sponsorship, Piccolo Spoleto and a committee that shares the same name as the event.
Zach Marschall is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.
Editor’s Note: Micah Fitzerman-Blue will not be able to attend any of the screenings. Someone will read commentary he has provided for each film. Also, the scheduled time for “A Cantor’s Tale” is 10 a.m. Sun.