Two concerts next week have a Jewish connection. Duo Dmitri, a Russian flute and piano duo, will perform Wednesday and the Guy Mendilow Ensemble will perform Thursday.
Flutist Dmitri Kasyuk and pianist Luba Agranovsky have been in this country since 1997, but how they got here is a story in itself. Both had trained and performed around Russia and being ambitious, Kasyuk said, they wanted to compete in an international competition in Germany in the late 1980s. At the time, Russia allowed musicians to leave the country to do so, but the Ministry of Culture refused to give them adequate passports until two days before the competition was to start.
“We had been practicing for eight months, but there was a lot of anti-Semitism,” Kasyuk said from Philadelphia where the couple is now based. “We decided to drive to Germany … we couldn’t fly, but there was a long line at the border. They finally let us through but we got to the competition 24 hours too late to compete. That was the last straw.”
The couple decided to emigrate, but didn’t have the money. The Jewish Agency for Israel, a partner of the Jewish Federations, stepped in with the airfare, and after months to get the proper paperwork, they flew to Israel in 1990.
“It was pretty amazing help,” Kasyuk said. “It cost six months’ salary. We sold everything we had to get out of the country.”
That included his flute.
“We had to start from scratch. But a program that helped emigres purchase musical instruments provided me with a $1,500 cash gift and a $7,000 loan to buy my flute. The Jewish people have been tremendously helpful. That’s why we believe it’s our obligation to give back.”
Their concert next Wednesday is a fundraiser for the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York’s Women’s Philanthropy and includes a buffet dinner. Duo Dmitri will perform works by Bach, Chopin, Offenbach and encore-type pieces.
WHEN: 6 p.m. – 8:45 p.m.; Sept. 14
WHERE: Congregation Shaara Tfille, 84 Weibel Ave., Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $36 (prepaid by Sept. 9); $18, 12 and under; $40 at door
MORE INFO: 783-7800; www.jewishfedny.org
Guy Mendilow Ensemble
WHEN: 7:30 p.m; Sept. 15
WHERE: Union College Memorial Chapel, Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 812-339-1196, ext. 205; email@example.com
During their stay in Israel, the couple won several competitions, made recordings and performed on Israeli radio and television. In this country, they teach in the Philadelphia area and have performed more than 600 concerts nationwide.
“This country is amazing,” Kasyuk said. “We’re very grateful. We pinch ourselves at how very lucky we’ve been.”
Guy Mendilow and his quintet of violin, woodwinds, percussion, guitar, and voice bring another type of message to audiences on Thursday. Their program, “Tales from the Forgotten Kingdom,” includes songs and stories of the Sephardic Jews who lived in the Mediterranean and Baltic regions during the last two centuries.
“These were home, sing-along songs and are true folk music, preserved aurally and not written,” Mendilow said. “I thought it would take me a year to scratch at the history and culture, but it opened up into a seemingly endless rabbit hole. It’s become a massive project and the primary project for us.”
Six years ago he found a few scratchy recordings — today several are available online — but ran aground until word of mouth brought him to an ethnomusicologist and a translator who both had an interest in the subject.
“It was an historical grapevine,” he said.
The richness of the Ladino tradition has entranced his ensemble, who themselves come from Israel, Argentina, Palestine and the United States. Songs are sung in archaic Spanish and Arabic, Hebrew and Greek.
The Thursday concert is part of a four-week U.S. tour and Mendilow said he hopes the material will also captivate audiences.
“It will be gratifying,” he said.