Alicia Svigals, internationally acclaimed llezmer violinist and composer and Yonatan Malin, Associate Professor of Music Theory and Jewish Studies at CU Boulder, will work with the archived recordings and transcriptions of Moshe Beregovski, made in Ukraine from 1929 to 1949, in an effort to understand the deep and ecstatic music of Jewish Eastern Europe in the centuries leading up to World War II.  In addition to developing a rigorous understanding of modal features of the instrumental music collected by Beregovski, they will improvise, compose, and share their work through innovative forms of scholarship, workshops, and concerts and bring together local musicians for a performance at the conclusion of the residency. 

Alicia Svigals

 Alicia Svigals playing violin at Chautauqua



   Yonatan Malin's CV

 Yonatan Malin playing flute


Project Description

Artist: Alicia Svigals, Internationally Acclaimed Klezmer Violinist and Composer

Scholar: Yonatan Malin, Associate Professor of Music Theory and Jewish Studies at CU Boulder

Archive: Recordings and transcriptions by Moshe Beregovski from Jewish musicians in Soviet Ukraine, 1929 to 1949


In this project, we will develop a rigorous understanding of modal features of the instrumental music collected by the pre-eminent Soviet Jewish ethnomusicologist Moshe Beregovski, and we will use this understanding for improvisation, composition, and pedagogy. We plan to share our work through innovative forms of scholarship, workshops, and concerts. The Beregovski archive brings us as close as we can get to the deep and ecstatic music of Jewish Eastern Europe in the centuries leading up to World War II.

Background and Collaborative Relationship

Alicia Svigals has been a leading figure in the klezmer revival since the 1980s. In January 2018, she will join with jazz pianist Uli Geissendoerfer to release the Beregovski Suite, a new album of klezmer melodies from the Beregovski archive. Yonatan Malin has engaged in close interpretive analysis of musical repertoires ranging from German Lieder to Jewish Biblical cantillation. He teaches a course on “Music in Jewish Cultures” at CU Boulder and he participated in workshops on klezmer performance at the Yiddish New York Festival in December of 2017. Yonatan and Alicia collaborated on a two-day residency at CU Boulder in the fall of 2017 with a performance at the Dairy Arts Center, a panel discussion, a guest lecture, a workshop for the violin studios, and meetings with graduate student composers and performers. They also met in New York in December 2017 to work on this proposal and envision the shape of the Chautauqua residency.

The Archive Transformed

The main sources for the klezmer revival of the 1980s and 90s were early twentieth-century American 78rpm records along with oral histories and direct contact with a few remaining musicians. It is only recently that musicians and scholars have begun to dig back into the Eastern European sources. The most significant source is the archive of Moshe Beregovski, with recordings and transcriptions made in Ukraine from 1929 to 1949 (Slobin, Rothstein, and Alpert 2001; Feldman 2016, 128-36; Sholokhova 2017). Alicia’s Beregovski Suite is a beautiful example of modern, creative, and sometimes avant-garde renderings of the Beregovski melodies, and selected tunes from Beregovski are taught at klezmer workshops. But there have only been a few attempts to map out the modal features of the Beregovski melodies, and none with the explicit goal of creating new improvisation, composition, or pedagogy. Modal analysis identifies the scales in a given repertoire along with characteristic melodic gestures. Joshua Horowitz has written about modal dimensions of klezmer music in general (Horowitz 1993) and Walter Zev Feldman has written about the modes of particular melodies (Feldman 2016). Yonatan’s analytical work will build on material from Horowitz and Feldman, but it will focus on the Beregovski melodies and will be informed by conversations with Alicia. Alicia’s intuitive understanding of the modes, gained through performance, improvisation and recording, will help to verify the relevance and validity of the analysis. Alicia in turn will develop a more explicit understanding of the modal system in dialogue with Yonatan, and she will use this as a springboard for composition, improvisation, and teaching.

The Residency

Before the residency, Yonatan will engage in close analytical study of the instrumental melodies transcribed by Beregovski (2001) and recordings that have been released from the archive in Kiev. Yonatan will share preliminary results with Alicia a month before the residency. During the residency, Yonatan and Alicia will discuss and refine the analysis. Alicia will develop new improvisations and compositions, and they will work together to develop pedagogical materials in print, audio, and video formats. Yonatan and Alicia will test their pedagogical materials and compositions in a workshop for an invited group of musicians on the third day (see below for a list of potential participants). This group will then perform together with Alicia at the public presentation. Subsequent stages of the work may include joint workshops and presentations at Yiddish culture festivals and academic conferences, co-authored articles, and a video for the peer-reviewed videocast journal SMT-V. The benefit of this work will be a deeper understanding among musicians, scholars, and the general public of the early twentieth-century Eastern European Jewish soundscape and its creative potential.

Project Needs

The project will need a place to play music and record without disruption or extensive noise, a midi keyboard, a printer, and a space with a piano and projection capabilities for the workshop with guest musicians and public presentation. We would also like to have good quality audio and video recording of the workshop and public presentation for use in future online publications.

About Alicia Svigals:

Alicia Svigals, violinist/composer and a founder of the Grammy-winning Klezmatics, is the world's foremost klezmer fiddler. Alicia almost singlehandedly revived the tradition of klezmer fiddling, which had been on the brink of extinction until she recorded her debut album Fidl in the 1990’s. In January 2018, Svigals and jazz pianist Uli Geissendoerfer will release her newest album, Beregovski Suite, a fantasy on klezmer melodies culled from the archive of ethnomusicologist Moshe Beregovski. Svigals is also a composer who works in many genres. She was an NEA MacDowell Fellow in 2014, an honor for first-time fellows of “extraordinary talent.” She is the recipient of the Foundation for Jewish Culture's 2013 New Jewish Culture Network commission for her new live score to the 1918 Pola Negri silent film The Yellow Ticket, which she tours internationally with pianist Marilyn Lerner, and was commissioned to create an expanded version of the score for the Seattle Symphony’s clarinetist Laura DeLuca, premiering in May 2014. She was fellow at LABA: a Laboratory of New Jewish Culture in 2014, where she studied Jewish texts with a multidisciplinary group of fellows and wrote a song cycle for soprano, violin and accordion drawn from that experience.

Svigals has taught and toured with violinist Itzhak Perlman, who recorded her compositions as duets with Ms. Svigals and the Klezmatics; and she was awarded first prize in performance at the Safed, Israel international klezmer festival. She’s been featured in Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues (at Madison Square Garden with Phoebe Snow, Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, and Brooke Shields). She’s composed for the Kronos Quartet, and composer Osvaldo Golijov was commissioned to create a work for her and clarinetist David Krakauer (then a fellow band member in the Klezmatics) entitled Rocketekiya, recorded on the Milken Archives label and performed at Merkin Concert Hall and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In Svigals' band the Klezmatics, she created contemporary Jewish music that combined the joyous and mystical Yiddish tradition with a postmodern aesthetic and an overtly political worldview. She co-led and toured with the band for seventeen years and recorded albums which reached the top ten of the Billboard and European World Music Charts. They appeared on Prairie Home Companion, Rosie O'Donnell's Kids are Punny, Good Morning America, MTV News, Nickelodeon, the BBC, and NPR's Weekend Edition, and with them she composed music for theater, dance and film, including the score to Tony Kushner's A Dybbuk, first produced at the Public Theater in NY, and his work-in-progress It's an Undoing World, groundbreaking documentary filmmaker Judith Helfand's A Healthy Baby Girl, and for poets Allen Ginsburg (in performance at the first Berlin Jewish Culture Festival) and Israeli singer Chava Alberstein (on her collaboration CD with the Klezmatics, The Well). Alicia’s multi-media event The Third Seder, featuring Tony Kushner and the Klezmatics, was presented by La Mama and by the Jewish Museum in New York, and became the model for Michael Dorf’s Third Seder events. Alicia and the Klezmatics recorded two albums for EMI with violinist Itzhak Perlman, which became the best-selling folk albums of all time. They performed with him on PBS' Emmy-winning In the Fiddler's House and on David Letterman, and appeared with him in concert at Radio City Music Hall, Tanglewood, and Wolf Trap. Ms. Svigals plays and writes music from heavy metal to traditional Greek, and she's recorded on projects from Lipa Schmeltzer‘s Kol Nidre to the soundtrack for the TV series the L-Word. She wrote and recorded string quartet parts for singer/songwriter Diane Birch’s debut Bible Belt, and appeared playing Indian-style violin on Gary Lucas and Najma Akhtar’s Rishte. She was featured on Herb Alpert’s recording of Belz, arranged by Marvin Hamlisch, on A Jewish Songbook. She’s appeared in stadium shows with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, recorded for John Cale's (Velvet Underground) album Last Day On Earth, and the Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever Amen, and improvised with Marc Ribot and John Zorn, appearing on the Knitting Factory Cobra CD. She composed an Americana soundtrack to Judith Helfand's documentary The Uprising of 1934 with singer Peggy Seeger, arranged string quartets for singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman at Carnegie Hall (released as a live CD), provided original music for choreographers Risa Jaroslow, at Lincoln Center, Naomi Goldberg in L.A. at the Ford Theater, and Diane Germaine at the Aronoff Center for the Arts in Cincinnati. She has provided original music for author Thane Rosenbaum’s live readings from his novel Golems of Gotham, and for a theater production with acrobat developed from the novel at the 14th St. Y in NY; two characters in the novel are based on Svigals. She’s featured on Avraham Fried's Avinu Malkeynu. Her album Vodkazak, produced by Chabad rabbi Zalman Goldstein, feature her klezmer interpretations of Hasidic Nigunim and is a rare production from that community featuring a female artist. Most recently, she collaborated with silent film pianist and composer Donald Sosin on a new score for Das Alte Gesetz (1923), to be released on DVD in 2018 followed by live performances at west coast silent film festivals.

Svigals has played with performance artist Taylor Mac in the Yiddish song segment of his 24-hour popular song piece, recorded a klezmer “Three Blind Mice” for the permanent children’s room exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History, played Yiddish baseball songs for Peter Miller’s documentary Jews and Baseball: an American Love Story, performed Ethiopian Jewish-African pop with singer/songwriter Alula, led a giant fiddle string orchestra jam with whiskey on a Manhattan rooftop, recorded with Terry Dame’s funky/modal Monkey on a Rail Orchestra, studied Turkish maqams with Ross Daly, taught Klezmer to top young professional artists in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall residency, performed David Krakauer and SoCalled’s Battleship Potemkin score for sampler, orchestral percussion, clarinet and violin at the Wintergarden Theater, was honored at the Bam Café’s performance evening entitled “Tribute to Alicia Svigals”, curated 60 shows in a month at John Zorn’s venue the Stone, worked tirelessly with Yiddish dancemaster Steve Weintraub to revive old-world Klezmer dancing in the Jewish community and led concert/dance parties with him at Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Public Library et al; led children’s shows introducing the next generation to Yiddish music and dance, and appeared all over the world with her all-female band with the late Adrienne Cooper, Mikveh, her roots group Alicia Svigals’ Klezmer Fiddle Express and her Klezmer/new improve duos with pianists Marilyn Lerner (Klezmer Unfettered) and Uli Geissendoerfer. (Klezmer Reimagined) – everywhere from the Cite de la Musique in Paris to Carnegie Hall in New York to the Port Townsend Fiddle Festival. Svigals also writes and lectures on Jewish music and culture.

Alicia Svigals playing violin

Photo by David T. Coons