The San Diego Jewish Arts Festival turns 20 this month with a diverse program that both celebrates its past and pushes the series in new directions.
Festival curator Todd Salovey said this year’s festival — which opens Tuesday and runs through June 18 — brings back popular performers from the past, but it also offers the most North County shows in its history, as well as some new artists and a world premiere.
“We want to continue to present exciting works for our loyal audience, but we also are trying to target younger audiences and bring in people who haven’t been to the festival before,” said Salovey, who is associate artistic director at San Diego Repertory Theatre, which produces the festival.
Here’s a festival overview:
The Figueroa Family and Its Jewish Roots: A Journey Through Music
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, at Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. $18. (619) 544-1000
Using music, photographs and personal stories, violinist/conductor Guillermo Figueroa and his sister, pianist Ivonne Figueroa, explain their surprise discovery of their Puerto Rican family’s Jewish heritage and its influence on their lives. It is being produced in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League’s “Celebrate” festival on the Jewish experience in Spanish-speaking countries. Figueroa is the former music director of New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and now music director for Colorado’s Music in the Mountains festival. “He’s a very gifted violin player,” Salovey said, “and it’s fascinating story of how they traced their hidden Jewish roots that they’d only heard sketches about when they were younger.”
Alexander Gourevitch and Freilachs
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at Oceanside Museum of Art, 704 Pier View Way, Oceanside. $5. (760) 435-3720.
The first of six North County festival performances — and the first-ever at the Oceanside Museum — marks the return of the popular clarinetist. Raised in the Soviet Union, where klezmer was suppressed, he is now one of the world’s leading interpreters of klezmer, which is Jewish dance and celebration music. “He plays with such virtuosity and with his entire body,” Salovey said. “You feel every emotion just by the way he makes the notes cry.”
Elizabeth Schwartz: “Rumania, Rumania”
6:30 p.m. May 29 at Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas. Free. (760) 753-7376.
The klezmer vocalist will perform Yiddish standards, show tunes and Jewish music from her family’s native Romania, accompanied by bassist/guitarist Gunnar Biggs. “She’s a real crowd favorite,” Salovey said.
7:30 p.m. May 30 at Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. $18. (619) 544-1000. Also, 7:30 p.m. June 11 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987D Lomas Santa Fe, Solana Beach. $18. (760) 436-0654
San Diego Rep’s artist in residence Herbert Siguenza premieres his latest solo play about the late “Abbie” Hoffman, the political activist who led the Yippies movement in the ’60s. Hoffman will play multiple characters, including John Lennon, in this play in development. “What struck Herb is that Abbie was a really patriotic American who cared deeply about changing the country for the better,” Salovey said. “We’re looking at what that sort of passion toward political change would look like now.”
Klezmer Summit North County
2 p.m. June 2, Avo Playhouse, 303 Main St., Vista. $5. (760) 724-2110
The third annual North County concert will star Argentina’s Gustavo Bulgach with his band Klezmer Juice and the Jewish Tango Club, featuring South American-inflected klezmer music and dance. The San Diego Jewish Men’s Choir will perform music from its debut album.
Klezmer Summit: “Jews in Jazz”
7:30 p.m. June 3 at Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. $18. (619) 544-1000.
The 12th annual concert, led by fest vet Yale Strom and Hot Pstromi, this year features 94-year-old American cellist Fred Katz. “In the 1950s, Fred was responsible for introducing the cello as a jazz instrument,” Salovey said. “We’ll look at how Jewish culture influenced the jazz of the 1940s and will explore traditional Hasidic songs in a jazz idiom.”
“Women of Valor”
7:30 p.m. June 4 at Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. $18. (619) 544-1000. Also, 6:30 p.m. June 5 at Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas. Free. (760) 753-7376.
“Each year, my daughter Leah (Salovey) and Ali Viterbi and I create portraits of six women from the San Diego Jewish community. We look at how the strong choices they’ve made in their lives came from their sense of connection with being Jewish.” This year’s honorees are Leslie Caspi, Shir Hebron, Audrey Jacobs, Jennie Starr and the late Marla Bennett.
“Chagall — A New Theatrical Musical with Dance”
7 p.m. June 9 at La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive. Free (limited seating). (619) 544-1000.
This festival-commissioned dance theater piece premiered three years ago as a work in progress. Now complete, it features choreography by John Malashock, music by Yale Strom and writing/direction by Tom Dugdale. It tells the story, though music and dance, of the life, art and loves of Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall. “This is a very personal piece for us,” Salovey said. “Yale (Strom) has been with us since the beginning and John (Malashock) was a major part of expanding the festival and encouraging us to commission new work 18 years ago. It was a huge success and that is when the festival found its voice.”
7:30 p.m. June 17 at Temple Solel, 3575 Manchester Ave., Cardiff. Free. (760) 436-0654, ext. 254. Also, 7:30 p.m. June 18 at Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. $12-$18. (619) 544-1000.
Salovey’s favorite Jewish rock band, Soulfarm, performs two different concerts. In Cardiff, singer Noah Solomon Chase and guitarist C. Lanzbom will perform an acoustic set. In San Diego, the entire band will perform a full concert of music described by Salovey as a mix of rock, Latin, Hebrew and Celtic folk that “connects the taste of the Jewish soul with the rock ’n’ roll idiom.”