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[NY Times] Another First for Barclays Center: A Concert of Jewish Music

[NY Times] Another First for Barclays Center: A Concert of Jewish Music

photo by: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

The arena he built in Brooklyn has hosted concerts of hip-hop, Latin salsa and reggae, not to mention performances by Dylan, Streisand and the Rolling Stones, but when the genre chosen was Jewish music, Bruce C. Ratner decided to take charge himself.

Mr. Ratner, a real estate developer who cut his musical teeth on cantorial singing at a synagogue in his hometown, Cleveland, is the de facto impresario of a concert at the Barclays Center announced on Tuesday that will feature the violinist Itzhak Perlman and Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, the cantor from the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan who has been a leader in the revival of Jewish liturgical music.

The two musicians will perform at the 19,000-seat arena on Feb. 28 in an event where food carts will feature glatt kosher food and a special section will most likely be set up with separate seating for men and women, to accommodate the customs of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up a sizable share of the Jewish population of Brooklyn. There will be plenty of food selections for Jewish brownstoners and non-Jews as well.

Brooklyn, Mr. Ratner pointed out in an interview, has a storied tradition of chazzanut — the cantorial singing largely centered around synagogue prayers. Yossele Rosenblatt, known as the Jewish Caruso, led prayers at First Congregation Anshe Sfard in Borough Park in the 1920s and 1930s and the legendary Moshe Koussevitzky was the cantor at Temple Beth El in Borough Park in the 1950s and 1960s.

The genesis of the February concert can be traced to the three-decade friendship between Mr. Ratner and Mr. Perlman, which began when their daughters attended the Brearley School in Manhattan.

Mr. Perlman recently recorded an album with Mr. Helfgot, “Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul,” that includes cantorial standards like “Kol Nidrei” and “Sheyibone Bays Hamikdosh” (“May the Holy Temple Be Rebuilt”). Mr. Perlman fiddled while Mr. Helfgot crooned.

“I wanted to find a venue to expose this music to people who really live it,” Mr. Perlman said in an interview. “”Where should we do this? We’ve got to do it at the Barclays Center. There are a lot of Jewish people in Brooklyn who identify with this kind of music.”

Mr. Perlman called up Mr., Ratner and was struck by his enthusiasm.

“I love it! I love it,” he recalled Mr. Ratner saying. “We’ve got to do this!”

Mr. Ratner, the majority owner of the arena, remains an aficionado of cantorial music and remembers hearing Mr. Helfgot singing the irresistibly schmaltzy “Mein Yiddishe Mama” and more conventional cantorial numbers.

Profits from the concert, Mr. Ratner said, will benefit the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and the Perlman Music Program, a music camp on Shelter Island, N.Y., started by Mr. Perlman’s wife.

The two headliners will be backed up by the Klezmer Conservatory Band, the klezmer musician Hankus Netsky and an 18-piece chamber orchestra, which will include members of the Perlman camp, who will be conducted by Russell Ger.

Mr. Ratner said he expected to place much of the advertising in Jewish newspapers, including Hamodia, which is aimed at an ultra-Orthodox market that rarely attends concerts. New York has 1.1 million Jews, and cantorial music is featured in Reform and Conservative synagogues even more than in Orthodox ones.

The Barclays Center already has a kosher food concession — Avenue K — but additional entrees will be prepared by Abigael’s on Broadway, a large kosher restaurant in Midtown Manhattan.

Mr. Perlman said he expected the music to have appeal beyond a Jewish audience.

“The music is so touching it speaks to everybody, and that’s what I’m hoping,” he said.


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