Musical Program Tells the Story of Two Jewish Pianists in Nazi Germany

Two Pianos: Playing for Life uses music, live readings and narration to depict the story of two female pianists, who played for all-Jewish audiences after the Nazis had banned Jewish musicians from German public performances. The program premieres on June 9 in Philadelphia at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch of the Settlement Music School.

Romanian-born Anna Burstein and Polish-born Halina Neuman met in Germany in 1926 at the Leipzig Conservatory. Seven years later, by the spring of 1933, Hitler’s new regime was moving to exclude Jews from German life. Doors to orchestras with Jewish conductors were padlocked. Jewish performers and professors were attacked in the press and interrupted by uniformed thugs shouting, “Schweine Jude!” Their concerts and lectures were cancelled “to ensure public safety.” Then, new laws began excluding Jews from government employment, including over 50 city orchestras. Within two years, Jews were legally barred from nearly all aspects of German economic, political and social life.

Anna Burstein’s 1936 Leipzig Jüdischer Kulturbund card. Levin Family Collection. Reprinted with permission.

The Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Culture Association) was formed by dismissed Jewish artists, enabling them to continue performing before segregated all-Jewish audiences. It was approved by the Nazis in July 1933, and branches quickly spread from Berlin to over 60 German cities, including Leipzig. Anna Burstein and Halina Neuman played two-piano concerts with the Leipzig Jüdischer Kulturbund under the Third Reich.

Concert photo of Anna Burstein, c. 1942. Levin/Hoffman Collection. Reprinted with permission.

Years later, in 1938, Burstein came to Philadelphia. She was among the exiles who fled the Third Reich to ultimately enrich their new American home with their talent. For 15 years, she performed at local venues, receiving strong reviews. In 1945, she joined Settlement’s piano faculty, where she taught for nearly four decades.

Halina Neuman. The Hoffman Family Collection. Reprinted with permission.

Neuman did not arrive in this country until 1951, after surviving the Warsaw Ghetto, the Polish Home Army uprising, labor and DP camps and post-war refugee stops. Finally, she followed her daughter to the United States, and three months later, gave her first American concert. She retired as a piano professor at Rutgers University.

The live readings in “Two Pianos” are based on first-person interviews with Burstein and Neuman, conducted 40 years ago by Burstein’s daughter and son-in-law, Nora Jean and Michael Levin. The couple spent decades researching, organizing and recapturing the family’s story in full context. Co-producers of “Two Pianos,” the Levins also narrate part of the performance with Neuman’s grandson, Dr. Kenneth Hoffman. Neuman’s grandsons contributed material to the program, as well as to the exhibit set up next to the recital hall, which includes some of the women’s original documents and memorabilia.

The music for the one-hour program will be performed by the acclaimed Russian-born, Wisconsin-based Four Hands piano duo Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro. Having met at Israel’s Jerusalem Conservatory, Varshavski and Shapiro went on to win numerous competitions and have now been playing together for two decades. Showcased on two grand pianos, they will perform excerpts from works played by Burstein and Neuman under and after the Nazis, including selections from Arensky, Brahms, Toch and Chopin. With their artist-in-exile stories echoing those of the characters they portray, Varshavski and Shapiro will also perform live readings based on the first-person interviews of Burstein and Neuman.

“Two Pianos” is being presented by The Jüdische Kulturbund Project, which seeks to keep the legacy of the Kulturbund alive through educational programs and performances like this one. The Project connects examples of Jewish artists living under Nazi rule with artists facing oppression around the world today.

“We are so excited to bring this story to life,” said Gail Prensky, creator, executive producer and project director of The Jüdische Kulturbund Project. “Music sustained these women and fueled their will, not just to survive during the darkest hours of Nazi Germany, but to thrive.”


“Two Pianos: Playing for Life” will premiere at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 9, in Presser Hall at the Settlement Music School’s Mary Louise Curtis Branch, 416 Queen Street, Philadelphia. A discussion, as well as a reception to meet the performers, will follow the program. Admission is free, but reservations are required because seating is limited. For more information, contact co-producer Michael Levin at [email protected] or at 202-828-3212.

Did Bibi Call Overweight Israeli Eurovision Winner a Cow?

Netanyahu’s second tweet.

When overweight singer Netta Barzilai became the first Israeli to win the Eurovision contest in 20 years, Twitter users were shocked to read that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had tweeted, “[Netta], you’re a cow!”

How did that happen? Netta is known for finishing her performances with the words, “Kappara aleichem!” (“Atonement for you all!”). When Natanyahu said “kappara alaich!” (“atonement for you!”), Microsoft Translator read kappara as keparah – “like a cow.” However, the translation was still wrong, as keparah alaich means “like a cow on you.”

Absurdly, after Netta was declared winner, the prime minister tweeted, “Netta, at kappara amitit,” using kappara as an adjective, which could be correctly read in Hebrew as “Netta, you’re like a real cow!”

However, Netta never seemed to question Netanyahu’s intentions, as the two met shortly after her return to Israel and performed Netta’s “chicken dance” together:

Microsoft has seemingly fixed Translator since the incident, as the word kappara is now translated as “sweetheart” when used as an adjective.

Held annually since 1956 with 63 countries participating over the years, the Eurovision is watched by about 200 million people worldwide each year. As Israel won the contest, it will host the Eurovision next year. Participating 41 times since 1973, it was Israel’s fourth win overall, after the wins in 1978, 1979 (in which the contest was held in Jerusalem for the same reason) and 1998.

Netta’s song, “Toy,” carried a feminist message, was sang almost entirely in English (The only Hebrew line was “Ani lo booba” – “I’m not a doll.”) and used internationally famous names such as Wonder Woman and Pikachu:

KlezFest: A Celebration of Klezmer at Or Hadash

Please join us for a lively celebration of Klezmer music, featuring world-renowned Klezmer musicians the Strauss/Warschauer Duo and longtime Philadelphia favorites the Ken Ulansey Klezmer Ensemble. Opening for these two great acts will be Or Hadash’s own New Klezmaniax! Our evening will begin at 7:30 pm with a short Havdallah service and will feature a wide variety of Klezmer favorites. For more than 25 years, Deborah Strauss and Cantor Jeff Warschauer have been at the forefront of the international klezmer and Yiddish music scene. They are renowned worldwide for their depth of experience and knowledge, and for their innovative performances and workshops.  Penn Council for the Arts winner Ken Ulansey leads a versatile Klezmer ensemble that flavors its broad Klezmer repertoire with lively world-music nuances. In addition to all this delightful music, we’ll be serving complimentary wine and hard cider, courtesy of Stone & Key Cellars; and yummy desserts will be available for purchase. Admission is $35. For tickets, please go to www.orhadash.com or the direct link, www.goo.gl/PBW4uK .  Tickets also will be available at the door. For information, contact Lori Rubin, [email protected] . Come get your Klez on!!!

Six Israeli Freedom Songs for Passover

Passover is a great time to listen to songs on the subjects of slavery and freedom. With all due respect to George Michael’s “Freedom” and Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go,” Israeli music is filled with beautiful songs on these subjects and should not be ignored.

If you do not understand Hebrew, fear not: This article includes six of the best Israeli freedom songs, translated into English as accurately as the differences between the two languages allow.

[Read more…]

Leonard Bernstein Exhibit Inspires at NMAJH

At the press preview for the “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music” exhibit at NMAJH. From left to right: Ivy Weingram, Alexander Bernstein, Nina Bernstein, and CEO and Gwen Goodman Director of NMAJH Ivy Barsky. Photo credit: Bonnie Squires

Maybe you thought you knew a lot about Leonard Bernstein — or maybe just the Broadway show or film “West Side Story.”

But you will learn a lot more about the legendary Jewish-American composer’s history and accomplishments after a visit to “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music,” the  latest exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH).

Ivy Weingram, is the curator — or more appropriately, conductor — of the impressive exhibit, which is in tribute to Bernstein’s hundredth anniversary. Worldwide, countless events have taken place, and will continue to occur throughout 2018, to celebrate the deceased music icon. Philadelphia has already had its fair share of events honoring Bernstein, including “Lenny’s Revolution,” a concert conducted by Bernstein’s protégée, David Charles Abell, and the Philly POPS orchestra.

[Read more…]

Lenny’s Revolution: A Centennial Bernstein Celebration With David Charles Abell

By now you must have seen all the ads announcing Lenny’s Revolution: A Centennial Bernstein Celebration, with David Charles Abell and The Philly POPS. Maestro Abell, the principal guest conductor of the 65-piece Philly POPS orchestra, is flying back from London for the Leonard Bernstein celebration concerts, which will be held on February 2 – 4 at the Kimmel Center.

I was able to interview Mr. Abell (pronounced “uh-BELL”) by phone while he was in London. During our conversation, he shared his Philadelphia roots with me, and mentioned that he still has relatives who live in Chestnut Hill. [Read more…]

ROCK IN THE RED ZONE: DOCUMENTARY AND DISCUSSION

ROCK IN THE RED ZONE is an intimate portrayal of life on the edge in the war-torn city of Sderot. Once known for its prolific rock scene that revolutionized Israeli music, for thirteen years the town has been the target of ongoing rocket fire from the Gaza strip. Through the personal lives and music of Sderot’s diverse musicians, and the personal narrative of the filmmaker, who ends up calling the town home, the film chronicles the town’s trauma and reveals its enduring spirit.

Nashirah Presents Inspired Classic and New Masterpieces of Jewish Repretoire

Join us for our 15th Anniversary Season Concert! Nashirah: The Jewish Chorale of Greater Philadelphia will present a program of classic and new Jewish melodies from around the world, exploring a wide variety of cultures and styles.

$18 General Admission / FREE for Students (bring your student ID)

Julia Zavadsky, Artistic Director
Soyeon Ki, Accompanist
Steven Hoffman, Conducting Apprentice

This concert is produced by Steven Hoffman.

For tickets go to the Eventbrite page. Tickets will also be sold at the door.

Grahame Lesh: Growing Up Grateful Dead

Join Grahame Lesh, son of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, for an acoustic performance filled with stories of growing up around the Grateful Dead and about how music promoter Bill Graham impacted his life.

The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) is co-hosting this event with the Ardmore Music Hall, where Grahame Lesh will perform in the evening. The purpose of this event is to highlight NMAJH’s current exhibition, “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution.” After escaping Nazi Germany as a child, Graham immigrated to the United States and grew up to become one of the most influential concert promoters in history, playing a pivotal role in the careers of iconic artists, including the Grateful Dead.

Tickets are $10 each, but are free for NMAJH and Ardmore Music Hall members. Tickets also include access to the “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” exhibition.

Grahame Lesh’s appearance at the museum is a sneak preview; he will be performing again at 8 p.m. that evening at the Ardmore Music Hall with the John Kadlecik Band and Midnight North. Click here for information and concert tickets.

Jewish Heritage Festival

Congregation Hesed Shel Emet in Pottstown, PA presents its 2nd Annual Jewish Heritage Festival – Sunday, May 22, 2016 from 11 am – 5 pm.  The Festival features kosher favorites such as brisket, corned beef, hot dogs, knishes etc.  We also offer dairy favorites such as kugel, lox and bagels, and blintzes.

Admission and parking are free. Enjoy entertainment for kids by Music Monkey Jungle, and for all ages – back by popular demand – Klezmer with Class.  Rabbi Ira Flax will offer Torah Talks and Jack Wolf will present a history of the Jewish Community of Pottstown.

Vendors and crafters will also be on site, as well as a robust basket raffle, and lots of goodies to take home from our bake sale.