Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Alicia Svigals’ Klezmer Fiddle Express at St. Marks Church, NYC 7/16/09

“In case you have any simchas coming up, we’re available for bar and bas mitzvahs, talk to me after the show,” Alicia Svigals grinned. The Klezmatics co-founder, original violinist and her four-piece band – rhythm section and first-call accordionist Patrick Farrell – definitely brought the simcha (party). This was one of those only-in-New-York moments, a casually brilliant, frequently transcendent show played to a neighborhood lunchtime crowd on the steps of Second Avenue’s St. Marks Church courtesy of the folks at the Third St. Music School Settlement. Besides being a blazing player, Svigals brings an impressive social consciousness and historical awareness to her music, not particularly surprising since, as she told the crowd, her immersion in classic Jewish folk and liturgical music was fueled by seders at the Workmen’s Circle. She sang a particularly tongue-in-cheek yet forcefully populist one of those numbers and got the crowd going on its playful, “oy, oy, oy” chorus.

Otherwise, the show was a trip through worlds both lost and found. She delved into the Moisey Beregovsky archive of stark, rustic, ominously atmospheric pre-Holocaust Ukrainian Jewish repertoire along with her own composition, the Healthy Baby Girl hora which she said she’d pieced together from a documentary film soundtrack she’d done. Farrell got a couple of chances to take center stage and as usual, made the most of them with mordant wit and blistering speed. Svigals is a world-class player who matches precision to a raw, unselfconsciously emotional edge and a frequently devious sensibility – she’s recorded with Itzhak Perlman and similar luminaries. She saved her wildest playing for the series of dizzying freilachs at the end of the show, finally taking off with some wild trills and flights to the uppermost registers, playing off her bandmates and bringing the energy to redline. They closed with a similarly upbeat number from the renowned catalog of the Hoffman Watts family of Philadelphia, drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts and her trumpeter daughter Susan Hoffman Watts continuing the tradition their ancestors brought over from the Ukraine over a hundred years ago. One of the factors that gives klezmer such a poignant, frequently biting edge is that like American blues musicians, not only were klezmers (Jewish musicians) outsiders in society as a whole but also frequently within the more pious sectors of their own Jewish communities. Which translates richly into both the pain and the joy of so much of what Svigals and her band of hellraisers played.

In addition to the weekly free concerts that the Third Street Music School Settlement puts on during the school year, they also host the June-July series of which this show was a part. The concluding concert is this Thursday with Cheres playing traditional Romanian, Ukrainian and Moldavian music.


July 20, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Is Alicia performing in NYC this month or next? (May or June). I heard her on Cape Cod last summer and am dying to hear her again!

    Comment by Sarah James | May 10, 2010 | Reply

  2. didn’t see anything listed on her site. If I find out anything I’ll put it on the concert calendar here. What an inspiring player she is…

    Comment by the boss here | May 10, 2010 | Reply

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