Serge Koussevitzky and Leonard Bernstein following a performance of Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “Age of Anxiety” at Tanglewood in 1949. / Photograph by Howard S. Babbitt/Courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra

The hills are alive with the sounds of Tanglewood, Yidstock



The hills are alive with the sounds of Tanglewood, Yidstock

Serge Koussevitzky and Leonard Bernstein following a performance of Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “Age of Anxiety” at Tanglewood in 1949. / Photograph by Howard S. Babbitt/Courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra

Music fans, take note.

From the sprawling lawns of Tanglewood, nestled in the rolling hills of the Berkshires, to Yidstock: The Festival of New Yiddish Music at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Western Massachusetts beckons with a weekend of Jewish music and culture.

On Friday, July 8, when conductor Andris Nelsons, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, lifts his baton for opening night of the BSO’s summer season at Tanglewood in Lenox, he’ll lead the orchestra in Leonard Bernstein’s “Opening Prayer,” a short, stirring work featuring baritone Jack Canfield, making his Tanglewood debut.

It will be followed by Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “Age of Anxiety,” with Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the piano. Bernstein was the piano soloist in the BSO’s 1949 world premiere of this jazz-inflected work inspired by a poem by W.H. Auden.

Celebrated Jewish virtuoso pianist Emanuel Ax leads off the weekend on Thursday, July 7, in a performance with the Lorelei Ensemble. Ax returns for two more performances later in the season.

Set in Hebrew, the lyrics for “Opening Prayer” are the words from the “Priestly Blessing” (Birkat Kohanim), the ancient Jewish benediction in Numbers, Chapter 6, that is part of the traditional Jewish liturgy.

Bernstein, born in 1918 in Boston, the son of Jewish immigrants, grew up influenced by the synagogue music at Congregation Mishkan Tefila, then in Roxbury, led by Solomon Braslavsky. Bernstein would go on to become the first American-born and educated conductor of the New York Philharmonic – and the first American Jewish conductor to lead a major American orchestra. The maestro died in 1990.

He composed “Opening Prayer,” in 1986 for the momentous reopening of the renovated Carnegie Hall, where his luminous musical career, from concert halls to Broadway and Hollywood, was launched.

Bernstein later folded “Opening Prayer” into “Jubilee Games,” dedicated to the Israel Philharmonic, an orchestra he championed, and later as the fourth movement of his “Concerto for Orchestra,” for the orchestra’s 50th anniversary.

“There’s not really a theme to the two Bernstein works,” noted Anthony Fogg, the BSO’s longtime artistic administrator. “They’re just great pieces with strong Tanglewood connections,” Fogg wrote in an email.

But for Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch, the kickoff of Tanglewood – in its first full season after the pandemic – resonates with deep Jewish spiritual meaning.

“It’s a beautiful piece and the fact that it’s being performed on a Friday evening at Tanglewood is a way to expand the definition of how one might celebrate Shabbat,” said Hirsch, the rabbi at Pittsfield’s Temple Anshe Amunim. “It’s a deeply Jewish experience to be having in this secular place but also a place that many people view as sacred.”

Hirsch, who grew up in Dover, said the “Priestly Blessing” has become a staple of Jewish ritual, recited often at life cycle celebrations. She bestows the blessing on her children at the Shabbat table.

Hirsch is leading a talk about the piece on Wednesday, July 6, as part of her congregation’s

“Arts and Culture Through a Jewish Lens” series, that attracts the area’s Jewish summertime residents and visitors.

There are few who would argue that the music that will fill the air at Yidstock, July 7-10 at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, is the very soul of Jewish music.

The tenth anniversary of the popular Yiddish music extravaganza marks its return to a live, in-person event for the first time in two years, due to the pandemic. COVID protocols include masks and proof of vaccination.

This year’s lineup includes concerts by the Klezmatics, Tony award nominee Eleanor Reissa and other all-star musicians, as well as dancing, socializing, films and talks.

Highlights include Cantor Yaakov Lemmer, making his Yidstock debut on Thursday, July 7, at 8 pm and Tsvey Brider (Two Brothers, in Yiddish), the award winning duo of the Boston area’s Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell, and West Coast accordionist Dmitri Gaskin, with the band Baymele.

Lemmer, the cantor at New York’s Modern Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue, brings fresh interpretations to traditional liturgical prayers and Hasidic melodies.

Lemmer, accompanied by an ensemble led by Frank London of the Klezmatics, is the show’s not-to-be-missed performance, according to Joey Baron, former co-founder of the Boston Jewish Music Festival and the Jewish Arts Collaborative.

“Lemmer’s connection with London is deeply spiritual and mystical … blending Lemmer’s training and repertoire with London’s creativity,” Baron said in an interview.

Tsvey Brider’s Russell, a classically trained opera singer who now brings his heavenly voice to Yiddish music, is looking forward to returning to Yidstock after Tzvey Brinner’s first concert there four years ago.

“It really is its own kind of audience – interested in Yiddish language and culture from the get-go and interested in seeing and hearing what artists are doing with the language and culture,” he wrote in an email.

Tzvey Brider’s set includes original songs based on poetry by Yiddish modernists, arranged for the Baymele ensemble. Russell cited wide-ranging Jewish influences from Kurt Weill, classically oriented cabaret music, French chansons, Yiddish theater music and the American songbook.

Russell “is a committed Yiddish scholar and an incredibly charming performer,” Baron observed.

Russell’s art-house music “reminds people that Jewish culture is beyond the traditional shtetl,” Baron said.

For more information on Tanglewood, visit For information on Yidstock, visit For information on “Arts and Culture Through a Jewish Lens” visit

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