Alan Bern is a renowned composer, pianist, accordionist, educator and cultural activist who has been internationally recognized for his preservation and promotion of Jewish music.
A style of music typically heard at celebrations, such as weddings and B’nei Mitzvah, klezmer draws upon the traditions of Ashkenazi Judaism and Eastern European folk tunes and refers to any music played by “klezmorim” (professional musicians in Yiddish culture).
“Klezmer music is not a genre,” explains Bern, noting the term only became popular in the 20th Century. “The repertoire of klezmer musicians was very, very broad. It included core repertoire that was played by and for Jews, it included the repertoire of their neighbours and it included also whatever the latest cosmopolitan hits were.”
Bern is internationally recognized for his contributions to the research, dissemination and creative renewal of Jewish music with Brave Old World, The Other Europeans and the Semer Ensemble, among others. He is artistic director of Yiddish Summer Weimar, the Other Music Academy (OMA), the OMA Improvisation Project, the OMA Middle Eastern Music & Cultures Project, and Weimar klingt!, and is the creator of Present-Time Composition, a musical and educational approach informed by cognitive science that integrates the methods of improvisation and composition. In 2016 he received the Weimar Prize in recognition of major cultural contributions to the city of Weimar. In 2017 he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Free State of Thuringia, and in 2022 he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
In Winnipeg as part of a two-week “Musician-in-Residence" program at the University of Manitoba, the Bloomington-born, Berlin-based Bern presents a cultural exchange, of sorts, in partnership with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (Ottawa).
“This is an amazing opportunity for the students and for the school, and for all of us to experience music that isn’t a part of what we usually do at the faculty,” says Laura Loewen, Associate Dean of Desautels Faculty of Music Undergraduate Programs.
After years of delay and frustratingly fickle online connections, Loewen resolved to bring Bern to Winnipeg which was met with immense support from various facets of the community, including the Peace and Conflict Studies Graduate Programs, the German and Slavic Studies Department, the Arthur V. Mauro Institute for Peace & Justice at St. Paul’s College and the Rady Jewish Community Centre.
Winnipeg’s own renowned klezmer band Finjan have been instrumental in working with Bern and the students at the Desautels Faculty of Music, Loewen adds.
As part of the residency, Bern presented a series of lectures last week followed by a public performance and screening of the documentary “The New Klezmorim: Voices Inside the Revival of Yiddish Music” at the Rady JCC’s Berney Theatre on Sunday afternoon.
On Wednesday, November 23, Bern leads the Desautels Klezmer Group, an ensemble of music students mentored by him and members of Finjan. The performance takes place at 12:30 p.m. at the University of Manitoba’s Eva Clare Hall.