Some of the leading artists in the younger generation of New York City’s Jewish music community have combined their considerable talents and shared vision to form Ahava Raba, a collaboration in music-making that lives up to its name: ahava raba means abundant love, and it is a sacred prayer for peace. Front and center is Cantor Yaakov “Yanky” Lemmer, whose magnificent voice lifts the ensemble, moving audiences with a blend of Jewish traditional music rich with feeling and spirituality.
At 31, Yanky Lemmer is one of the world’s most sought after cantorial singers. In the Jewish faith, cantors play an important role in the synagogue: together with the rabbi, cantors lead the congregation in prayer, they teach students to read from the Torah, and if ordained, they may conduct wedding and funeral services. It is perhaps the cantor’s voice that makes the greatest contribution. Growing up in the Orthodox-Hasidic neighborhood of Boro Park in Brooklyn, Lemmer has been immersed in the sounds of davening – i.e., reciting Jewish liturgical prayers – his entire life. He began his singing career as the star soloist of the Young Israel of Bethel Choir, where world-renowned Cantor Ben Zion Miller was his private tutor. He also studied with Cantors Joseph Malovany and Bernard Beer, among others. Lemmer’s skill has brought him to festivals in Europe, Israel and the Americas, singing at memorials in Poland and for the menorah lighting at the White House. Now Cantor at Manhattan's Lincoln Square Synagogue, his hobby is collecting old Victrolas and 78 rpm discs of cantorial recordings. Lemmer, in fact, evokes the “golden age” of cantorial singing captured on the recordings he collects – but his voice brings immediacy and fresh feeling to all he sings.
Clarinetist Michael Winograd frequently collaborates with Lemmer, and has been central to laying the groundwork for Ahava Raba. A masterful player of the instrument who is conversant in many styles, master Winograd grew up listening to his father’s cantorial music and has been playing klezmer since he was a child. Klezmer is the traditional social/celebratory music of Eastern Europe’s Jewish community that had its beginnings in the Middle Ages. It came to the U.S. with the wave of Jewish immigration at the turn of the 20th century, and experienced a revival 1960s-70s. Today young artists like Winograd infuse it with new influences. He is a ubiquitous figure in the klezmer community, working on projects with such artists as Frank London and the late Adrienne Cooper. In 2006 he founded Tanzhoyz, New York City’s first Yiddish dance house. Other members of Ahava Raba include Ben Holmes on trumpet, known for his work with the Tarras Band (named for clarinetist Dave Tarras, arguably the most important klezmer musician in the 20th century), as well as Patrick Farrell, the “go to” klezmer accordionist in New York City, Remy Yulzari on bass and drummer Dave Licht.
Together, this mix of talented musicians has come together to explore, honor, and share “a wide palette” of Jewish music: cantorial, klezmer, nigunim and z’miros, and traditional Ashkenazic religious singing.Performances by Ahava Raba introduce listeners to strands that are religious, social, and celebratory, spanning several centuries and migrations in the course of a concert but springing from the same source.
Ahava Raba, featuring Cantor Yanky Lemmer, will be performing at the festival on Sunday. The Brooklyn Klezmer Orchestra will perform the music of legendary klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras on Saturday.