Two separately produced, yet coincidentally timed, performances in New York provided a rare look at the traditions of Russian Jewish music.
The pianist Evgeny Kissin, who feels strongly about his Russian Jewish heritage, presented “Jewish Music and Poetry” on Wednesday, offering commanding accounts of three sizable neglected works by Ernest Bloch, Alexander Veprik and Alexander Krein, along with his deep-voiced, vividly dramatic recitations of Yiddish poems by Yitzhak Leybush Peretz. Then, on Thursday, Leon Botstein conducted the American Symphony Orchestra in “Russia’s Jewish Composers,” a program of shorter works by Krein and Mikhail Gnesin, Anton Rubinstein’s Cello Concerto No. 2 and the American premiere of Maximilian Steinberg’s 40-minute Symphony No. 1.
That these programs took place on successive days, however, was just a “terrific coincidence,” as Mr. Botstein, the orchestra’s music director, explained during a preperformance talk on Thursday. In any event, these two evenings offered a rare look into a fascinating cultural tradition. The history of Jews in Russia in the several decades surrounding the 1917 revolution is an amalgam of “segregation, poverty, exclusion, persecution and extraordinary intellectual and cultural achievement,” as Mr. Botstein wrote in extensive program notes.
Mr. Kissin, continuing his Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall with his program, took the audience deep into the larger Jewish culture by giving extraordinary performances of three teeming pieces. Here was a classical-music superstar revealing profoundly personal connections to a rich heritage. I left the hall with newfound intellectual respect and personal regard for this dedicated artist.