A few weeks ago I read that Seattle’s Medieval Women’s Choir would be performing Sephardic music tonight. That was a good reason to go since I love early music and Sephardic music. But an even more important reason was that I saw my old band mate, Shira Kammen was performing as accompanist. Way back in the early 1980s when we were both UC Berkeley grad students, my brother and I formed a Jewish music ensemble, Yasmine, which played in the Bay Area and recorded one audio tape, Jewish Songs of Celebration and Struggle. We also performed at the first Bay Area Jewish Music Festival which I founded with Gerry Tenney. When we first conceived of our group, Todd decided to invite Shira to join. She was a consummate fiddle player with a wonderful alto voice.
My brother is an excellent musician, far better than I. But Shira was the true professional among us. She was an elegant accompanist, never missing a note, never performing off key. She was always prominent in the mix but never too forward and never too far back. Not only that, but when two brothers perform together while their voices mesh wonderfully their personalities don’t always. Shira was the calm middle whenever there was tension. She had that wry, self-deprecating sense of humor that so many Jews share. She’s gone on to a professional career performing on medieval stringed instruments though her original one is the violin. Among the distinguished early music groups she’s belonged to are Ensemble Alcatraz and Ensemble P.A.N.
The concert was delightful. Here are Margriet’s insightful program notes. The choir was quite good but the soloists and accompanists were even better. Linda Strandberg had a vibrant soprano voice that conveyed the passion and intensity of the Sephardic melodies. I especially loved her opening the concert standing at the entrance to the synagogue’s sanctuary singing a very slow, resonant version of La Rosa Enfloresce (“The Rose Flowers”). The notes were piercing. The melody gorgeous. For my wife and I this was a special moment since this was the music we chose to walk down the aisle at our wedding. I first heard the song from a Hesperion XX record I bought while a grad student at UC Berkeley, right around the time Shira and I were in Yasmine together. I also note that Shira has performed with Hesperion XX, another indication of the high musical regard in which she is held.
Shira had great attack during her solos and accompaniment bringing gusto to the music. Her duets with Margriet Tindemans (also the Choir’s director), who played medieval fiddle, were exciting to listen to. The concert even featured two songs on Yasmine’s cassette, Dodi Li and Et Dodim, both from Song of Songs. During several songs, notably the sinuous vocal ornamentations of D’ror Yikra, it was all I could do to stop myself from joining along with the singing.
When I introduced myself during intermission I was delighted to find that she remembered me and our collaboration. It was so good to see her.
For anyone from Seattle, my wife and I ate at a new Asian noodle place called Boom Noodle on Capitol Hill. While the ambiance reminded me of a college cafeteria (big open tiled space with lots of reverb and noise of diners). People eat at long common tables so you don’t get a lot of privacy. But the food is quite extraordinary along with being relatively inexpensive. We had an appetizer, two noodle bowls, dessert and sake for $50 including tip. I had a seafood noodle soup with udon that included ling cod, penn cove mussels and shrimp. The mango mousse was delightful, closer to pane cotta than mousse. While Seattle is a good city for restaurants I’ve never been impressed by most of the Asian offerings. It’s great to have our first superb noodle house. Here’s the P-I review.