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To combat antisemitism, a journalist organizes a concert honoring Jewish composers

Pianist Bruce Vogt and flautist Thomasine Berg rehearse for an upcoming concert at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston. (Cristela Guerra/WBUR)
Pianist Bruce Vogt and flautist Thomasine Berg rehearse for an upcoming concert at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston. (Cristela Guerra/WBUR)

A longtime journalist is combating escalating antisemitism with a concert honoring Jewish heritage and culture. On a recent morning, the sound of flute and piano filled Linda Matchan’s home.

Pianist Bruce Vogt and flautist Thomasine Berg, two members of a trio along with cellist Michael Kevin Jones known as Border Colleagues, rehearsed in her living room. Matchan has been a journalist for decades. She felt led to organize a concert after noticing a shift while reporting for a community paper called The Jewish Journal. Every week, incidents of hatred were on the rise. People were scared and feeling victimized.

“I guess what really made me think hard was when after 40 years in this business, I never had had the experience of people I interviewed asking me not to mention in the story that they were Jewish,” she said. “And that was horrifying.”

She spoke to college students worried about antisemitism on university campuses. They didn't want to display their Stars of David. She wanted to confront this moment of fear with beauty, with music. And in this way offer a balm and an opportunity to listen to how Jewish culture has really impacted the world in ways most people aren’t even aware of.

“I think it speaks right to your heart,” Matchan said. “I think music speaks to people in a way that is stronger than speech or language. It opens you up.“

The concert celebrates Jewish composers Felix Mendelssohn, Ernest Bloch, and George Gershwin, virtuosic composers who all experienced antisemitism in their lifetimes.

“Gershwin was part of that group of songwriters who we now refer to as ‘[Great] American Songbook,’ who drew from jazz and popular music in general,” Vogt said. “But they were almost all from late 19th-century poor American or poor Jewish immigrants coming from nothing almost. And so it's very interesting to certainly recognize what they'd done with a very strong Jewish background.”

The concert begins at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 6, at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston in Newton. Lily Rabinoff-Goldman, CEO and president at the JCC Greater Boston, said part of what she loves about being Jewish and Jewish community is the way they are a “community of joy and of richness and of tradition and experience that's so multifaceted.”

“That really offers an antidote to experiences of fear,” she said. “And so it's really challenging for me as a leader of this community and this organization to hold both of those things. It doesn't feel good to encounter antisemitism and the rise of antisemitism that really is different. It feels different, sort of qualitatively and quantitatively, than it has my whole life span.”

There’s space to hold that alongside this long lineage of music and art and community and gathering, she said. A Jewish value she was taught is solidarity, standing side by side with people of other identities and experiences. That’s the way to lift everyone up and build a world based on love and kindness. This concert leans into this idea – the musicians aren’t Jewish. This trio from Spain, Canada and Boston are giving of their time, energy and talents to inspire audiences and celebrate this Jewish legacy.

“I have loved music by these composers my whole life and never thought about their cultural heritage or their religious affiliation,” Berg said. “And learning about who they were as human beings and what they had to either push back against or hide from gives greater depth to my playing their music and helps me connect with it in that way.”

Cristela Guerra Reporter
Cristela Guerra is an arts and culture reporter for WBUR.



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