Hungarian Jewish Traditions Will Feature Prominently at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Publicated on: June 20, 2013

The Hungarian Heritage Program at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will present a broad range of Hungary’s folk traditions, showing the cultural diversity of the country. The organizers are convinced that folk traditions can only be presented in the multicultural setting that they hail from, showing the interactions which exist between its various components.

Hungarian Jewish traditions will feature prominently at the Hungary program this year. This will include music as well as crafts, food and other artisanal traditions.

Hungary is home to the third largest Jewish community in Europe and the largest in Central and Eastern Europe. Jews have settled in present day Hungary in Roman times and there has been a sizable Jewish community in Hungary since the middle ages, making a major contribution to the cultural life in Hungary. Traditional Jewish folk culture has thrived in Hungary in the 18th and 19th centuries, transmitting influences to Hungary from the Yiddish speaking world of Eastern Europe.

Some of the most well-known artists to perform at the Festival include Bob Cohen and Eszter Bíró.

BOB COHEN approaches klezmer music as a living folk art, and presents it in the style it would have been performed in its heyday. In addition to Hungarian, Romanian, Moldavian and Yiddish music, his repertoire also includes traditional Hasidic tunes. Bob Cohen was born in New York in 1956. His mother was Hungarian and his father Moldavian. As a child, he visited Hungary several times, where he first encountered the music of the Sebő Ensemble and dance houses. In the United States, he played several styles of music and worked for a radio as well as an ethnographer. After his return to Hungary in the late 1980s, he commenced his research on the region’s Jewish musical heritage, including songs, dances and musical instruments. In 1993, he founded Di Naye Kapelye (The New Band) with accordionist Christina Crowder and bassist Géza Pénzes; the band’s line-up has changed several times over the following years. Their 2008 album, Traktorist, ranked high on Songline World Music Magazine’s ”Top of the World” list of best new albums.

ESZTER BÍRÓ is a versatile performer who is well respected as a singer, film and musical actress in Hungary. Apart from movie parts, she is most well-known for being the lead singer of the well-known Budapest Klezmer Band. Her career started at the age of 16 with the title role of Miss Saigon, performing the lead over a 100 times. That was followed by the female lead role of Dorian Gray performed in London. In 1997, she won the first prize of The Youth Eurovision Festival in Croatia. After graduating from The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, she played a number of roles including Mary Magdalene on the tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. Back in Budapest, she performed with the legendary Al Di Meola. After 6 years of touring throughout Europe with traditional klezmer music, she started her own solo projects. In 2007, her first world music record called “Eszter” was released. She sang Jewish folk songs from different parts of the world in unique, electro-acoustic arrangements in 8 different languages. Her recent record with the Eszter Biró Quintet called “When will that happen?” was released at the end of 2009.

Time: Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Venue: John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Millenium Stage, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566

Open to public, seating is on a first come, first served basis