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The 8th Litvak Days that began on 28 November this year in London are dedicated to mark the centenary of the reestablishment of the Lithuanian state and celebrate the Litvak musical heritage
The Litvak Days have been organized by the Lithuanian embassy in the United Kingdom since 2011. Put on together with University College London the cycle of Litvak Days events this year are dedicated to mark the centenary of the reestablishment of the independence of the Lithuanian state and are an invitation to experience a deeper understanding of the musical heritage of Lithuania’s Jews.
Lithuania’s ambassador to the United Kingdom emphasized in his welcome that the Litvak Days has become one of the most popular events organized by the Lithuanian embassy, attracting more and more visitors every year. The Litvak Days have become a kind of bridge connecting the large Litvak community in the UK with its historical motherland, as well as an important event in the calendar of those interested in the cultural heritage of Jews and their contribution to the cultural, political, social and scientific world of Lithuania. According to the ambassador, music, chosen as this year’s theme, is worthy of separate attention. Amongst the Jews of historical Lithuania and their descendants there is a host of world-famous musicians, for example, the Vilnius-born violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz, the composer George Gershwin, the jazz legend Benny Goodman, and the world-famous singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen…The musical traditions or schools of Litvaks formed over the centuries have had an influence on Lithuanian music. On the other hand, according to Prof. Sacha Stern, the head of the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department, in his greeting on behalf of University College London, the local context had an important influence on the unique identity of Litvaks, and for this reason it is interesting and valuable to study the mutual relationship. The deputy chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Prof. Leonidas Melnikas greeted the visitors on behalf of the LJC .
A quartet of musicians from Lithuania, the cellist Gleb Pyšniak, the violinist Darius Dikšaitis, the pianist Robertas Lozinskis and the vibraphonist Marius Šinkūnas, presented Aerograma, a special programme in which fragments of the musical legacy of Lithuania’s Jews were revealed through their unique musical interpretations.
The exhibition 'One Century out of Seven. Lithuania. Lita. Lite', organised by the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, was opened at the Lithuanian embassy in London on 28 November, inviting viewers to look afresh at the life of Jews in historical Lithuania from their arrival on the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th century up to the present day.
During the events it was announced that 2020 has been proclaimed as the Year of the History of Lithuanian Jews and the Vilnius Gaon for which a wide-ranging programme of events has been planned.
On 29 November 'Music: Soundtracks of Jewish Life and the Wider World', an all-day academic conference, took place at the Lithuanian embassy, bringing together academics, Jewish music experts and performers from Lithuania, the United Kingdom, Germany and the USA. The sessions were moderated by Prof. Alexander Knapp of the School of Oriental and African Studies and Dr Helen Beer, a lecturer at University College London. One of the main talks was given by Diana Matut, a visiting professor at Heidelberg University, on the tradition of Jewish cantorial singing in Vilnius; Prof. Leonidas Melnikas of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre in his talk The Secrect of the Generation of Geniuses spoke about the most distinctive Litvak composers and musicians at the junction of the 19th and 20th centuries, the political-cultural context that had an influence on the uniqueness of their creative work; Ilana Cravitz, who performs secular European klezmer music, talked about the characteristics of this musical genre in the Litvak world. In the second part of the conference the main talk was given by Prof. Shirli Gilbert of the University of Southampton in the UK who spoke about the role of music in the Jewish ghettos set up by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Dr Kamilė Rupeikaitė, musicologist and assistant director of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, dedicated her talk to an analysis of the Jewish-themed creative work of Anatolijus Šenderovas, one of Lithuania’s most famous contemporary composers. A conference surprise was the appearance of Batsheva, the Canadian singer and performer of Jewish traditional music and songwriter who had come from Nashville, Tennessee. In the final talk Batsheva talked about the Litvak roots of the world-famous singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen; she performed some of his most popular songs (like ‘Dance me to the End of Love’ and ‘Hallelujah’) in Yiddish. Batsheva has acquired the rights to the Yiddish and Hebrews versions of Cohen’s songs.
On 5 December, another event, part of the 8th Litvak Days, will take place at the popular cultural space Rich Mix: Dash Café: Beats from a Vanished World. The creative group Dash Arts in conjunction with the Lithuanian embassy and the Lithuanian Culture Institute is organizing an informal conversation with the Lithuanian artist Paulina Pukytė, the curator of the 2017 Kaunas Biennal, the British composer Ben Lunn and the members of the Lithuanian DJ group Baltic Balkan about the world of Lithuania’s Jews which was almost completely lost during World War II and the inspiration for today’s Lithuanian cultural scene. The evening will end with the wild rhythms of improvised klezmer music played by the DJ group Baltic Balkan.
The 8th Litvak Days in London are supported by Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Lithuanian Council for Culture, the Lithuanian Culture Institute, the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, and University College London.
Photograph: Deivaras Kaleininkas