Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians: Batsheva (Capek). Folksinger (Yiddish, Ladino, Hebrew, English), Musician

 

BATSHEVA Lead Photo 002

Batsheva


Music Online

Welcome to our weekly Sunday music section called

“Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians.”

By David Eisenstadt

November 21, 2021: What does Batsheva Capek have in common with David Buchbinder, Dave Cohen, Marc Jordan, Colin Linden, Fred Molin, Eddie Schwartz and Amy Sky?

All are notable Canadian Jewish musicians who have made a significant segment of their careers in Nashville, Tennessee.

Folksinger, songwriter and broadcaster Batsheva Capek is another Toronto-born and raised Jewish performer who has found success in Nashville. 

Her Polish-born mother and first generation Lithuanian-Canadian father lived with her grandparents, who spoke Yiddish at home. From age six to 21, she studied piano and cello at the Royal Conservatory of Music. She was “encouraged by film-maker/author Jack Kuper and Joso Spralja (of Malka & Joso fame) to become a professional artist.”

She plays acoustic guitar and sings in Ladino, Yiddish, Hebrew and English, and is also a comedy writer.  She has “performed with many of the leading Yiddish and Sephardic artists of our time in festivals and concerts in Israel, the United States, England, and across Canada.”

BATSHEVA El Dio Alto Batsheva Capek 002

El Dio Alto Batsheva Capek

Click HERE to watch this video


Using only her first name, Batsheva sees herself “as a cross between Theodore Bikel and Tom Lehrer from a distinctly feminine voice.”

She told me, “I have always been connected to my heritage and faith. Singing and writing Jewish music has been my life’s work.  I have been a Jewish folksinger since I was 17 years old and taught myself to play the guitar.”

Over the years, she was embraced by Toronto’s Jewish community and was involved with various Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) committees. Batsheva wrote and sung for many of their programs from the 1970s to the 1990s.  “In 1977, she “won the National Competition for Holocaust Literature sponsored by the CJC.”  That year, they recorded her Song of Remembrance, a mainstay “still sung at Holocaust remembrance ceremonies across Canada, and installed in the official archives of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel.”

In 1977 Batsheva moved to Israel.  She sang for the Israel Broadcast Authority program Shevet Achim and had a regular gig singing at the Jerusalem Plaza, a Canadian Pacific Hotel.

In 1984, she won the Kum Kum North American Jewish song writing competition for “another song I wrote about Soviet Jewry, titled Smaller Crowds.”  In 1992, she was the first Canadian to be signed by the Golden Land theatrical Agency in New York.

Batsheva recorded her first full length album I, Batsheva, Singer, with guitarist Rob Piltch and oboist Lesley Young.  Billboard Magazine Canada’s Larry Leblanc wrote, “This beautiful record was made for all the right reasons with heart and soul.”

She met her future husband, John Capek, the composer, producer and musician in 1995. They were married in 2000.  Music performed at their ceremony was played by Dan Hill, Marc Jordan and Amy Sky, with klezmer musicians Martin van de Ven and Alex Luminsky. The couple moved to Nashville in 2010.

Batsheva is featured in what is recognized as the first book on feminist Jewish song writing and liturgy published in 2016, A Season of Singing – Creating the Feminist Jewish Music in the United States by Dr. Sarah Ross. Two of her tunes are referenced: Damn Little Yiddish Folksongs and Yiftach’s Daughter.

A highlight of her repertoire includes a ballet based on three of her Yiddish translations (done in the late 1980s) of Leonard Cohen, arranged by John Capek.  The world premiere of Cohen happened in November 2019 at Kent State University’s School of Theatre and Dance. The choreographer Jeffrey Marc Rockland wrote, “With themes of love, desire, isolation, worship and loss, Cohen is a ballet that celebrates the poetic genius of Leonard Cohen and it is my hope that their work will serve as an artistic prayer for peace and understanding across cultural, religious, racial and sexual differences.” 

Cohen’s publisher, SONY/ATV authorized Batsheva to prepare the Yiddish translation for Dance Me To The End of Love.  It was reported that Cohen was consulted for Batsheva’s Hebrew translation of Hallelujah.  Both tunes are the only two authorized versions of his songs in Hebrew and Yiddish.

BATSHEVA Ashkenaz Leonard Cohen Tribute 002

Ashkenaz Leonard Cohen Tribute BATSHEVA “Dance Me to the End of Love” Yiddish

Click HERE to watch this video


Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Batsheva has kept busy performing zoom concerts for international audiences.  She has also “been doing lots of song writing for a future record.”  Tours to Australia, the UK and the US are in the planning stages, with, she said, her “hope to launch that new record in Toronto.”

Music notes

Credits:  Batsheva Capek/YouTube; Facebook.


A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in the Category section.

Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact David Eisenstadt at cjnonline@protonmail.com

David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Reader’s Comments

-What a wonderful article! Thank you so much. I am delighted to be part of your beautifully written  series. I fully understand the  contribution that you are making by writing about the Jewish music culture in Canada. You are to be commended. It is an invaluable record. Bravo to you and your partner for your efforts. I will post this on Facebook and also send out to my friends, colleagues and fans around the world. I hope you will stay in touch. Thank you again for this wonderful piece. I wish you and yours a very Happy Chanukah. Zay gezint un shtark. – BC, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

-Nice to read your piece on Batsheva; we go way back and worked together here and there over the years. – BK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

-It is beautifully written and gives a real sense of the person. Really nice of her to send such a supportive note. – FSK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians: Zara Nelsova. “Queen of the Cello.”

“For me, playing music is about sharing, sharing my love for music, and sharing my love for what we are as human beings,” – Zara Nelsova

Cellist Zara Nelsova 002

Zara Nelsova

(1918-2002)


Music Online

Welcome to our weekly Sunday music section called

“Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians.”

By David Eisenstadt


August 8, 2021: Zara Nelsova was a child prodigy.

She was renown as the “Queen of the Cello” and “celebrated for her molten golden tone”, according to Strings magazine.

Born December 24, 1918, to Russian-Jewish parents, Sara Katznelson who with two older sisters all settled in Winnipeg. They were enticed by the free land offer to immigrants from the Canadian government.

Her professionally-trained flutist father, Gregor Katznelson, (who later changed the family name to Nelsov) was registered as a farmer. He recognized Sara’s potential when she was four and converted a viola into a miniature cello. As her teacher, he helped her become an accomplished soloist.

He also arranged for young Sara to take lessons from Hungarian-born cellist (also a child prodigy) Dezso Mahalek, who played with a Winnipeg theatre orchestra.

The three Nelsova sisters (Sara was 10 at the time) founded the Canadian Trio in 1927, as The Telegraph reported, “Touring the Dominion” and winning first prize at a Manitoba music competition.

Sir Hugh Robertson, conductor of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, was one of the judges. He encouraged the family to move to London with the help of a grant from the Manitoba Ministry of Education. The family was poor and needed to be subsidized.

Sara was enrolled at the London Violoncello School, directed by Herbert Walenn. One of his previous students was John Barbirolli, from whom Nelsova claimed to learn her sound and who arranged for her to perform for iconic cellist Pablo Casals.

Zara Nelsova - Lalo Cello Concerto 003

The Canadian cellist Zara Nelsova (1918-2002) plays the 2nd movement “Intermezzo” of Lalo Cello Concerto in D minor with the Berlin Philharmonic under Seiji Ozawa.

>>> Click here to watch this video <<<

“At 12, she was already a great cellist. But seeking improvement long past the beginning of her professional career, she went on to study with the three great cellists of the day: Gregor Piatigorsky, Emmanuel Feuermann, and Pablo Casals. Nelsova’s humility in seeking out further guidance was coupled with confidence and assertiveness, qualities that stood her in good stead both musically and professionally”, wrote Sara Margolis in Strings magazine. At 13, she was a guest soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra, appearing with Sir Malcolm Sargent.

“She gained the opportunity to study with Piatigorsky by showing up unannounced to play prior to an early morning departure at his hotel. She caught conductor William Steinberg’s attention by planting her cello directly in front of him after a rehearsal and just started playing. All that plus a name change, and before long, Zara Nelsova had been crowned cello royalty. Audiences were wowed by her tone; technique; forthright music-making; fast, intense vibrato and colorful gowns,” added Margolis.

Over the next 10 years, Nelsova played as a soloist and with her sisters Ida, a violinist, and Anna on piano, traveled throughout Australia, North Africa, and South Africa.

She returned to Canada in 1939 and was the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist from 1940-43. She also formed a new Canadian trio with Ernest MacMillan and Kathleen Parlow.

The Guardian reported, after World War ll, “Zara was left the use of a Stradivarius cello that belonged to Portuguese cellist Guilhermina Suggia. Though perhaps a little small for her very swollen fingers later on, it was a lovely instrument, and the sound she drew from it was exceedingly special.” Her 1726 Stradivarius cello was known as the Marquis de Corberon.

“Further studies with Emanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky, and after 1946, with Pablo Casals, opened up solo and concerto engagements for Nelsova,” noted The Canadian Encyclopedia. “She made recordings with Samuel Barber and the cello music of Ernest Bloch, who said ‘Zara Nelsova is my music.’”

In 1955, Nelsova became an American citizen, performing with many global orchestras as a soloist, including the New York Philharmonic and orchestras in Montréal, Winnipeg and Boston and overseas in Berlin, Amsterdam, and Warsaw. She married American pianist Grant Johnannsen with whom she often performed and recorded.

She performed as a soloist with conductors who became household names: Leonard Bernstein, Daniel Barenboim, and Zubin Mehta.

She was the first American cellist to tour the Soviet Union in 1966 and taught at New York’s Juilliard School of Music from 1962-2002. Nelsova was the first American cellist to tour the Soviet Union where she gave the Hindesmith and Shostakovich sonatas their British premieres. She performed the Walton Concerto under Walton’s baton and cut the first recording of the Barber Concerto with Barber conducting.

Zara Nelsova- CBC Radio Documentary 002

“A documentary from CBC radio with performance and live interview excerpts, tracing the life of Zara Nelsova, a cellist many consider to be among the best of all time.”

>>> Click here to watch this video >>>

“For me, playing music is about sharing, sharing my love for music, and sharing my love for what we are as human beings,” she told cello.org in 2000. “The minute I start to play, I’m in a different world, and I’m so caught up in the music and in my desire to share it with the audience that all else fades away. The overwhelming feeling I get is a sense of connection with each person in the audience; I want the audience members to know how much I love what I am doing and how much I love them. And how do I do it? I do it by trying to communicate my love through beautiful music”, Strings magazine’s Sara Margolis reported.

Nelsova died on October 10, 2002.

Music notes

Photo Credit: gallery.ca; Carlos Fernández Marroquín/YouTube; batcello/YouTube.


A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in the Category section.

Do you have comments or questions about Zara Nelsova? Contact David Eisenstadt at cjnonline@protonmail.com 

David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Reader’s Comments

-Thank you for this article on Zara Nelsova. While I am not a cello fan, your Jewish musicians’ presentations beg the question, is there a book on the horizon? – IK, Toronto, Canada

(Ed. response: Yes, plans are in place!)

-I enjoyed reading your article on this amazing Canadian Jewish Cellist, Zara Nelsova.  I was amazed she made her cello sound like the voice of Angels.  – MR, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada

-What a life!  Good column. – FK, Toronto, Canada

-Nice article. Never knew too much about her, including her Jewishness. I thought the name was Nelson originally.  One of the earliest recordings I owned was hers of Bloch’s Schelomo. I also met her husband pianist Grant Johanneson, who taught my wife for a short while. – RS, Vancouver, British Columbia

-Hidden treasures. – DW, Toronto, Canada

-Another interesting article! – DB, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


 

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