The Winter Jewish Music Concert in Miami returns Saturday night for its seventh year displaying the diverse talents of Jewish singers and instrumentalists from across the country.
The program consists of a full-length concert of the most innovative Jewish music around the world. Performers are coming from Michigan, New York, California and Washington, D.C.
“The concert is significant because it has a rippling effect across the country. This concert is known and highly regarded by sacred and secular Jewish instrumentalists and composers,” said Alan Mason, music director since 1991 at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, where the program will be held inside the 1928 Moorish-Gothic-style Bertha Abess Sanctuary.
The Winter Jewish Music Concert began as a tribute to Mason and has continued ever since. He is a leading accompanist who’s made many contributions to the world of Jewish music. In 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013, Mason played piano for more than 5,000 people during Shabbat services at the Union for Reform Judaism’s national biennial convention. He recently retired as associate music professor at Barry University in Miami Shores, where he taught since 1996.
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Mason said when the concert began, it focused on one music genre. As the years progressed, so did the lineup.
Now Mason says he picks the “best of the best” who can perform a broad range of Jewish music to please different concertgoers. The program has expanded to include musical styles such as Yiddish, Israeli, cantorial, classical, jazz, pop, folk, hip-hop and beat-box music by nearly 90 different composers. The most-performed compositions are by Cantors Meir Finkelstein and Sol Zim, and the late songwriter/musician Naomi Shemer.
People of all kinds will enjoy the concert because of all the genres of music being catered to, Mason said. This year’s program features world-famous cantor and operatic tenor Alberto Mizrahi; African-American Jewish opera-turned-Yiddish singer Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell; and contemporary Jewish singer/songwriter Peri Smilow.
The concert includes other African-American performers, as well as Jewish converts. Audience members and performers who aren’t born Jewish are drawn to the music for its unique expressiveness and spiritual power. It’s the universal and global sounds and harmonies that appeals to all cultures, Mason said.
The concert has cultural impact because it is preserving historic that is seldom heard with new and innovative music, he said.
Performer Russell, from Oakland, CA, said he first performed at the Winter Jewish Music Concert in 2013. The audience’s response was inspiring, he said.
“It was a truly wonderful experience,” Russell said. “The audience was warm and enthusiastic, the venue was beautiful, and the experience of working with such an accomplished accompanist as Dr. Mason was unparalleled.”
Russell, 35, said the concert has a huge impact on people, that it does an impressive job of bringing a talented, international cadre of performers to represent through music the vibrant diversity of Jewish people.
“Look at me. I’m a Californian, African-American former opera singer who decided to devote himself to music of a Jewish opera singer from the Ukraine who was born at the end of the 19th century,” said Russell. “It all may seem rather highly unlikely, but it’s ultimately a testament to the power and beauty of Jewish music.”
Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste, originally from the Bronx, NY , is of Haitian descent and moved to Miami in 1989. She and Mason have been friends for years. After he learned she wanted to convert to Judaism, Mason helped cultivate her interest in her singing.
Performing in the concert is “an excellent way for me to learn about the various facets of Jewish music,” said Jean-Baptiste. “I’m looking forward to singing with so many talented and dedicated musicians.”
Jean-Baptiste, 35, said it is important to show how Jewish culture has been a large part of the South Florida diaspora, and to introduce the music to people who are not familiar with Jewish music.
“Plus,” she said, “it’s a fun and joy-filled evening for any and all.”
If you go
▪ Where: Temple Israel of Greater Miami, 137 NE 19th St., Miami
▪ When: 8 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday
▪ Price: General admission $18; preferred seating $100
▪ Tickets available at concert website, www.jewishconcert.org
▪ Information: info@Jewishconcert.org