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Adam on arts and culture: August

The Pianist of Willesden Lane, Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, Maya Isacowitz and more in arts and culture for August.

August in Chicago finds the city awash in popular summer music festivals like Lollapolooza and its vibrant theatre community relatively quiet in advance of the fall season.  Likewise, in advance of early High Holidays with a couple leisurely weeks before Selichot, the Jewish cultural front is busy yet quietly preparing for the season ahead. 

It’s your last chance to catch Mona Golabek in The Pianist of Willesden Lane, extended into August. This musical play recounts the inspiring true story of survival of Golabek’s own mother, Lisa Jura. The talented young pianist’s dreams of performing at Europe’s finest concert halls were dashed as the continent became engulfed in war and the Nazi onslaught threatened her very life.  The play follows her escape from Vienna and arrival in London aboard a kindertransport during the Blitzkreig.  Her entire life is upheaved with only the music she plays to keep her grounded.  The show is presented by performer and pianist Hershey Felder and has a limited run at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago.

The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band recaptures the sound of Chicago’s turn of the century Jewish immigrants and recreates the carnivalesque atmosphere of the famed west side open air marketplace and Yiddish theater of yesteryear at two free performances this month. The first is 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 7 on the Village Green on Oakton in Downtown Skokie. The second is 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18 at the Fountain Square Gazebo in Long Grove.

Israeli singer/songwriter Maya Isacowitz performs a rare Chicago appearance. Her indie-folk sound has turned many heads, and she has begun to build a following in the U.S.  She grew up on Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch in the northern part of Israel.  Raised in a musical family, her quartet of violin, bass, and percussion includes her cousin on lead guitar. Maya’s 2011 debut album, “Safe & Sound” circulated widely in Israel thanks to airplay on the IDF radio station “Galgalatz.” Soon she was being touted as a “Discovery” in the Israeli press and performing throughout the country. Last year she collaborated with Amit Duvdevani’s popular band, “Infected Mushroom,” on a track for their new album and was named by “Best New Artist” by Israel’s version of ASCAP. In May of 2013, she headlined the “Jacob’s Ladder” folk festival. She performs at 7 p.m. on Aug. 11 at the Northwest Indiana Jewish Federation Community Building, 585 Progress Avenue, Munster, Indiana.

The Chicago Klezmer Ensemble, featuring Kurt Bjorling on Clarinet and Eve Monzingo on Tsimbal, makes a local appearance at the City Winery’s new World Music Brunch on its Randolph Street patio. The ensemble’s preservationist approach to Eastern European Jewish folk music is strictly instrumental but lively and highly infectious. Sunday 8/25 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph, Chicago.

As people of the book, text is the primary medium of our history. Textiles, however, have also played an interesting role, and not just in the shmatteh business.  Woof and Drash: Weaving the Jewish Experience, a new exhibit at Spertus Institute, opens late this month, featuring the work of Oak Park resident Berit Engen. She takes inspiration from disparate Judaic sources ranging from halacha to the songs of Leonard Cohen, to ancient prayers, to Yiddish curses and the prophetic wisdom, weaving them into miniature midrash tapestries. Opens Sunday, Aug. 25 at Spertus Institute, 610 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago.

If Selichot and the forthcoming High Holidays haven’t inspired you to set foot into Synagogue over the summer, perhaps a bus tour of Chicago-area synagogues focusing on architecture will. In conjunction with the Shalom Chicago exhibit, expert tour guide and architectural historian Rolf Achilles, who lectures on historic preservation at the School of the Art Institute, leads The Synagogue Speaks, which will examine the design, art, and sacred stories of the area’s oldest, greenest and most modern synagogue buildings.  Achilles has written extensively about architecture in Chicago and co-authored a book on the stained glass windows of Temple Sholom.   Sunday, August 11, 2013 - 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark Street, Chicago. Call (312) 642-4600 $50-55. 


Adam Davis is the Cantorial Soloist at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette as well as founder and executive director ofKFAR Jewish Arts Center, a leading presenter and advocate of contemporary Jewish arts, music, and culture programs in and around Chicago.For more information on these events or to make suggestions or offer feedback, e-mail Adam at or call (773) 362-4760.

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