Interview with Aleksandra Somysh and Adel Dianova

This November, for our monthly interview we travel to Lvov, Ukraine. A city with an incredible and very rich Jewish heritage, and at the same time very marked by the tragic events of the 20th century. In this regard, we have the pleasure of interviewing Aleksandra Somysh, manager of the international annual Klezmer festival "LvivKlezFest" and Adel Dianova, founder of the Festival, organized by the All-Ukrainian Jewish Charity Foundation "Hesed-Arieh" once a year since 2009.

AEPJ: Aleksandra, could you tell us a little about the Jewish history of Lvov and its current situation?
Lviv is the unique crossroad of the different cultures, which always has the atmosphere of the creativity.
The third part of prewar Lviv was represented by the Jewish population, so you can imagine that the Jewish cultural life here was really active and bright and it has the huge influence on the development of the city.
The numerous Jewish theatric companies, and the legendary Gimpel's Theatre among them, which had been described by Sholem Aleychem in the novel "Wandering Stars", journalism, philosophy, the grandiose buildings of the Jewish architectures, numerous synagogues were the important part of life in Lviv-Lemberik.
Lemberik and the area around were the motherland of such world-famous personalities as philosopher Martin Buber, the writer and the painter Bruno Schultz, the science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, the actors Alexandr Granach, Bertha Kalich, Leo Fuchs, the lawyers who first used the words "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" and of many other outstanding persons, who exerted impact on the world culture and science. Naftule Brandwein - king of Klezmer clarinet also was born in our region.
The Nazi Occupation stopped the life of the community by killing almost all citizens of Lviv with the Jewish roots. 120 000 Jews were murdered in Ghetto of Lviv, 240 000 were killed in the death concentration camp which was organized in the city.
The modern Jewish community of Lviv and the region is about 8000 persons. Most of them are the descendants of those who came to the city after the Second World War from the different parts of the Former Soviet Union.
Here and there you can see the inscriptions in Yiddish on the walls of the old houses, which appear under the layer of the plaster. We watch them across the tears, because they remind us about that incredible world which has been disapeared.
The memorial monument "Spaces of synagogues" was opened not so long time ago at the place of the remains of the destroyed synagogue "The Golden Rose Synagogue".
Our All-Ukrainian Jewish Charitable foundation "Hesed-Arieh" works at the region since 1998. It is the constant initiator of the different events whose goal is the prosperity of the Jewish cultural life and the integration of it in the cultural life of modern independent Ukraine.
It is very important for us to open this world which was shot to the contemporary generations and to open Lviv - the place of the incredible beauty to the modern world.
We founded the large scale annual festival "LvivKlezFest" in 2009 despite of really difficult economical situation in the country. This festival gathers best klezmer musicians of the world - such as Dr. Alan Bern, Michael Alpert, "The Klezmatics", Daniel Kahn, Shura Lipovsky, Merlin and Polina Shepherd, Efim Chorny and Suzanna Ghergus, Roman Grinberg, Daniel Zamir and many others.

AEPJ: The LvivKlezFest Festival is more than a Klezmer Festival. Could you comment on the different cultural and artistic proposals that occur during the Festival?
The festival ends by the grandiose Gala-concert at the main square of the city. This concert traditionally goes on the all day long till the late evening. The moments when the crowd of the citizens and the guests of Lviv sing and dance together with the performers are very touching. This is the best inoculation against the anti-Semitism.
But the beginning of the festival happens a few weeks before. So people can join the excursions, dedicated to the Jewish Lviv, can whatch the theater performances which are connected with the Jewish themes, can visit several exhibitions which embraced both old exhibits and contemporary art objects, can look at the presentations of Jewish cinema, sometimes even accompanied by the live soundtrack, can participate at the culinary battles, can take part in the work-shops provided by the famous klezmers and Yiddish song's performers and evidently can visit a lot of the concerts, because the musicians who come to our festival usually have the solo concerts in addition to the performance at the main gala-final.
Therefore the city "breathes" by the Jewish culture during several weeks.

What about the musical component - we are trying to embrace all the branches of the modern klezmer music, so everyone can find something close to him at our festival - Klezmer-Jazz, Balkan-Klezmer, Klezmer hip-hop and so on.
At the same time we respect the traditional klezmer style very much. Several years in a row we had successful theatrical Jewish Weddings ceremony, when the wedding procession moves across the city, the bride and the groom sits at the carriage, they are accompanied by the live klezmer musicians and surrounded by the crowd of people in the different costumes. It was full of charm, joyful and very touching.

Every such festival is the event which leaves the deep and beautiful traces in the hearts of the audience, of the members and in the history of the modern Lviv, it inspires young people of any nationality to support and to develop this culture.
One of the most fruitful things on that way is the cooperation of the Ukrainian musicians with the stars of Jewish music. We had the wonderful international projects with the Ukrainian symphonic orchestra INSO-Lviv, Ukrainian folk musicians and the guests of our festival - klezmer soloists and bands from all over the world.
And for sure the performers from Israel are very important part of our festival.
We also are very interesting in the including of the Sephardic components into our programs.

AEPJ: This year the Festival will celebrate its tenth edition. We know that the production of this type of cultural event is a huge challenge. In your opinion, what are those challenges for the coming years?
First of all these are financial problems. Our team works all year long to make such festival possible. All of us are volunteers. Our organization is non-profit. Our concerts and events are free for the audience, although some of the musicians who perform at the festival are the Grammy winners. But we believe that it is very important to bring Klezmer music back to one of its motherlands (because this genre was born in Ukraine as well) and we are sure that LvivKlezFest is very powerful weapon against the anti-Semitism, that is why we continue to do it despite of all difficulties.
We are so happy, because every year we get the application letters from the musicians from all over the world - from California to Paris. They want to join our festival because they heard how interesting it is. But the next anniversary year looks really difficult from the financial side.
The situation at the East of Ukraine has the bad influence on the economy of the country. We are not able to find the financial resources which are appropriate to the high standards of our festival events, so we are really worried that our anniversary LvivKlezFest will be the last festival if nothing will change. So any sponsorship, any philanthropic support really can save festival which already has the reputation, its history and is the biggest one in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
We dream for a long time to invite David Krakauer - the outstanding klezmer and Jazz clarinetist, whose ancestors come originally from Lviv, but we do not have such financial possibilities.
We have huge number of contacts in the Jewish Music world and a lot of interesting ideas; we have very good experienced team which is able to realize these ideas. But it is really very difficult for us to find the financing.

AEPJ: In the last decades we have been able to see how throughout Europe a lot of Jewish cultural festivals have flourished, music, literature, theater... Are you in contact or in collaboration with any other European Jewish Cultural Festival?
We are so glad and honored to have among our friends and often guests Dr. Alan Bern ? brilliant musician and the director of the legendary "Yiddish Summer Weimar", the stars of Klezmer Frank London and Michael Alpert who were the directors of the different big international Jewish festivals. I (Alexandra Somish) am the leader of the Jewish song ensemble "Varnitshkes" and I visit numerous festivals as the solo-performer and together with the band, trying to collect the organizational experience, which help us to create our own festival trends.
Next year we are planning deep collaboration with the European Jewish Choral Festival, which takes place every year in a new city of Europe. This is a big challenge for us - the organizers - to combine two festivals in one - choral and klezmer, but we hope that it will be the real firework of Jewish culture, where the audience will have possibility to feel many colors of its palette.
Thank you for the possibilty to share our activity with you, come to us, join us, celebrate life, be happy and zayt undz gezunt!