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January 18, 2013

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HASC XXVI Review/Recap

by Yossi Zweig
Photos by Stan Weiss

On January 8, 2012 The HASC summer program presented HASC 25, a concert celebrating a quarter of a century of great Jewish music for a tremendous cause. The show included performances by Avraham Fried, Dedi, 8th Day, Yoel Sharabi, Eli Kranzler, Abie Rotenberg and Journeys, Shloime Gertner and more. With such a staggering cast encompassing over thirty year of Jewish music, everyone wondered how Suki & Ding Productions could top that.

As of Sunday night I am proud to announce that they did just that.

This was actually the first HASC concert that I attended where the two undisputed Kings of Jewish Chassidic music MBD and Avrohom Fried both performed.
As over two in a half thousand ticket holders filed into Avery Fisher Hall, they were greeted by a massive curtain hanging over the entire stage, obscuring the stage and orchestra. The drapery we later learned was used as a massive video screen. It was amazing to have such a big screen where EVERYONE in the entire hall could view.
As with every HASC concert for the last 26 years, there was an opening overture. This year however, it was written by Mendy Hershkowitz, musical director of the evening and one of the owners of the Freilach Band. When fans heard that Freilach was playing the show there was much speculation as to how many band pieces would be on stage. Would it be a “band” with just five pieces? Would there be a brass section? etc… The band was EVERYTHING you have come to know and expect from a HASC concert. The band included 14 pieces in total; 4 strings, 5 brass (including Jim Hynes and Shloime Cohen) and finally 5 rhythm (including Avrumi Schreiber & Nachman Dryer). Both Mendy and Avrumi have studied musical theory extensively and can read and write music as well as their third core member, guitar player Nachman Dryer. Needless to say, the fans were blown away when Jim Hynes approached center stage (in front of the curtain) and proceeded to whistle and trumpet to the famed tune of “Dim the lights and raise the curtain.” It sent chills down everyone’s spines and when the entire band joined in it was like magic and the audience responded with thunderous applause.

HASC master of ceremonies, Nachum Segal, approached the stage and was introduced by Ding as “the radio host of JM in the AM who happens to be celebrating his 30th year of broadcasting.” Nachum started to by telling us how special it was to go back to the beginning. It started 26 years ago with these two Jewish music stars and why not continue to the next level with the two. However, before they get to that point of the program, with all of the devastation of Sandy and the chessed going on in the Jewish community, Michoel PRUZansky made his HASC debut performance.

When the chords of PRUZ’s Tasseh Mitzvah began to resonate through Avery Fisher Hall, the “screen” behind PRUZ began to show video of some of the devastation that Sandy cause in Sea Gate, Far Rockaway, New Jersey, Queens etc. As the song progressed, the scenes changed from devastation to chessed as people from all over came to help, pump, bring generators etc. PRUZ was on top of his game, this was his HASC debut after all. I never hear him sound so good. His voice was crisp and powerful and it was the perfect opening act for a HASC show. When the video and song finally ended there were smiles and tears all around.

Nachum Segal again approached the podium and started to mention some of the evening’s honorees and discuss the amazing work of camp HASC and its staff. Special guest, Senator Charles Schumer, stopped by to talk about the wonderful work of camp HASC as well.

Everyone was wondering who would be the next to sing. Would it be Mordche? Avremel? A surprise act? When the voice of Nachum Segal announced that he had introduced the next act many times in his career, and announced to please welcome BOTH MBD and Fried to the HASC stage.

The crowd went wild. The band started up with an amazing medley written by the talented Mendy Hershkowitz. The medley included some of the duo’s biggest hits including, Maaminim, Hesech Hadaas, Kulom Ahuvim and of course the widely popular Ki Heirbeiso. When the last notes faded away the audience was on its feet and wanting more. Mordche and Avremel said they would be back for more.

Enter Avremel stage right, and the place goes wild. He opens his solo performance with what many consider to be the best song of 2012, Hofachto. The musical performance by Frielach band was enhanced by the angelic voices of Shira Choir, that made the song sound just as good as it did on the album. This song just has so much energy and Avremel sings it in ways that no one else can. Here is where we get to the interesting part. Avremel tells the audience that he always wanted to try something and if they stay quiet then he will try. Avremel walks away from the mic deeper in stage. He climbs the stairs to the brass section, turns around and starts to sing Rak Tefilah. THAT moment was pure HASC magic. No microphone in Avery Fisher Hall and yet I can confirm with an audience member who was sitting in the back that Avremel was clearly heard throughout the hall. He was magnificent. Then of course Friend ran up to the mic and the Frielach jumps in with immense energy. Needless to say that Avremel brought down the house.

Next Avrmel surprisingly performed an English medley including the songs Don’t Hide From Me (off Brocho V’hatzlocho), Father Don’t Cry (off Bein Kach) and of course Keep Climbing. Fried never sounded better. Since day one, his albums always included an English song like No Jew, The Time is Now and Golus Goodbye. The next set included Kesheim which navigated into the well know Mareh Cohen and then info Sissu off his Brocho V’hatzlocho album. Fried literally gets better every year and more refined, a pleasure to listen to. Fried tells the audience that Moshe Laufer who wrote/arranged many of the songs he just performed is in the audience and asked him to stand up and take a bow.

Nachman Dryer started up the guitar intro to one of the biggest songs off of Fried’s latest album Keep Climbing, Kach Es Sheli. Avrremel stops Nachman and explains to the audience that there was a lot of speculation as to the makom of the lyrics of this particular song. While Fried admitted that there isn’t really a source, he quote the Sh”la who says that the reason Tisha B’av is pushed off if it falls out on Shabbos is because when one cries tears of for the Beis Hamikdash, those tears ultimately will become the physical blocks which will ultimately rebuilding the Bayis. Since building (boneh) is forbidden on Shabbos (as most people learning daf yomi can attest to), Tisha B’Av, a day when many tears are shed over our loss, cannot take place on Shabbos. After that intro, Avremel starts the song off slowly then turns to Nachman Dryer and says one, two, three, go and the band kicks in. This song was one of my favorites on Keep Climbing and has such depth musically and lyrically. Shira amazingly kept the pace with Fried and there was a nice back and forth between the two which was amazing to behold.

Avremel mentioned that just two weeks prior to the show was the Alte Rebbe’s 200th yahrtzeit. With that in mind he started the sing from a tehillim Tzama Lecha Nafshi, it was really a moment to behold. I think the only justice I can do is post a photo from Stan Weiss below which captured the emotion. After that it was back to the fast paced Heyma off Keep Climbing, which was originally recorded on Sruli Ginsberg ‘s second album Az Yevaka. If you loved this song and its energy on the album then you would LOVE what Freilach was able to recreate live. With the last few notes still in the air and everyone including Avremel danced in the aisles and bounced in their seats. Fried waved goodbye and exited the stage.

It was then that the beloved voice of Nachum Segal announced the next act. “Here he is, ladies and gentlemen, the KING of Chassidic music, Mordechai Ben David.”
So began the historic return of the King to the HASC stage after a decade of absence. MBD came out strong with the hit Omar Rabbi Akiva off his Kulom Ahuvim album. Mordche then took us all the way back to the beginning of his career with songs off his first few records, Vani Sefilosi, Ani Maamin and Odcho. The audience couldn’t get enough. Rumors were false, MBD was back and better than ever. MBD then introduced the next song which was composed in Switzerland back in the 90’s with Mona and a band from Germany. The song, Timche, off the Tomid Besimcha album. Again Mendy Hershkowitz’s arrangements shined through and really helped these medleys flow and people tapping their feet. Practically the entire night, my row of seats was shaking from people tapping and stomping along to the music. Timche flowed into Chevron (which if you remember was actually released as a single back in the day) which turned into Ein Od Milvado. Everyone seemed to be taking a journey down their own personal memory lane as they remembered listening to these amazing songs.

The next song MBD informed us, he composed while on vacation in Florida back in 1973 while looking at the stars in the evening. The song of course is the widely popular Shir Hashalom off his Neshama Soul album. Despite the song being over three decades old, the audience joined in remembering those times years ago when everyone was younger and more carefree.
Now came the real fun, MBD did a medley of his ENGLISH hits, and there were many. From over a forty plus year career, MBD sang Happy Days, Just One Shabbos, I’m So Proud (a.k.a. Hakadosh Baruch Hu) and Yerusholayim is Not For Sale. No, that wasn’t the end of the set. Mordche sang his hit Lonely People but changed the word to “There will be no more HOMELESS people” which everyone got a kick out of, obviously MBD’s reference to hurricane sandy. The medley continued with Let My People Go and obviously ended with Someday. One might think that the Chassidic Shira Choir couldn’t have handled English lyrics. Boy were they wrong. Zevi Fried, Yossi Rubin and the three other Shira choir members showed that they are true professionals, easily belting out English song after English song. Even though Mordche just gave us over twenty minutes of performance we wanted more and bochurim continued to sing Someday long after the song ended.

When the applause died down, Mordche started to talk about the devastation of the recent storm and the ahavas chessed of Klal Yisroel. Busses of people from Baltimore came to help and when they couldn’t finish the job they came back the next week with four times the people. Mi Keamcho Yisroel. MBD then went on to talk about how much his neighbor and friend Yossi Green helped with getting generators etc. On that note Mordche dedicated his next song Anovim to Yossi Green who is an amazing person, friend and Talmud chochom. EVERYONE knows and loves this song. MBD’s stellar performance had us all on our feet demanding more, when he bowed and left the stage.

It was then that stage hands started to wheel out a grand piano and we all knew who was coming, prolific composer, Abie Rotenberg. Abie spoke for a minute or two telling us how lucky we were to have two such greats as Mordche and Avremel with us together on this special night. Then Abie asked both of them to join him on stage. Abie stated that although that the two greats made a living singing and performing, their main donation to Jews is their continued chessed and doing what they could for their fellow Jew. Then the trio starter to remember hits from the other and performed them together. Among the song were from MBD’s Peroik Yas Onoch, Avraham Fried’s Kel Hahoidois, Abie’s Hamaloch and more.

During a concert such as this, with the two greatest singers/performers in the last 35+ years, one expects PURE moments, moments where the two voices flow like honey and each one compliments the other. I didn’t hear it in their opening medley, but I did get that purity here. When MBD and Fried were singing a Koach from Reb Yom Tov Erlich and when they sang MBD’s V’l’Yerushalayim. Even though when Abie comes to a HASC show you would expect him to do his own songs, it was a pleasure to watch them compliment each other on their career and hit songs. They closed the set when Abie announced that he had only prepared one number and it was the only one they had not done yet. The song wasn’t even an Abie composition. It was a classic Yossi Green’s selection Od Yeshvu. What a perfect was to end this emotional walk through memory lane.

As Abie waved goodbye and hurriedly left the stage, Avremel did something quite unexpected. Fried asked the audience to “give it up” for MBD. When Avery Fisher Hall broke into loud applause Avremel demanded more, he wanted everyone to get up and give MBD a standing ovation. The audience was only too happy to rise to their feet, Mordche wagged his finger admonishingly at Fried who was clearly basking in the enjoyment of watching over 2,500 people expressing their thanks to the King of Jewish music. The two then shared a hug and it was clear to see that each one had affection and held the other in high esteem. It’s not about egos or anything else with these two, just achdus.

With Avremel and Mordche sitting on stools center stage they proceeded to share a story from their amazing career and travels. I had heard both stories before but in that moment it was almost like hearing them for the first time. Through the pictures below you can see the chein just rolling off the two and how the entire audience was captured by these stories, and they weren’t even singing.

After that set, most in the crowd figured the show was over. How could you possibly top that. It was then that Fried and MBD were talking about their prospective families and the next generation of Jewish music. Lo and behold both Yeedle and Benny Friedman were asked to join the two greats on stage. The four started the medley off with Yeedle’s smash hit Shiru Lamelech which then went into Benny Friedman’s Yesh Tikva which resulted with members of the audience literally dancing in the aisles. When Yesh Tikva flowed into MBD’s smash hit Usid the place went wild and the set ended with the “Chabadsker Nigun” recently off of Beri Weber’s most recent album. The song kept repeating and both the performers and the audience was caught up in the amazing music by Freilach band.

When the four walked off stage, I think everyone’s hands were hurting from clapping so much. HASC played their final video which included a song written and performed by counselor and Miami Boys Choir alumni, Jordan Odinsky, entitled HASC Through My Camper’s Eyes.

For the finale, the entire cast joined in singing Hinei Ma Tov (originally created and performed by the OHEL 5758 concert), Fried’s Yerushalayim, MBD’s Moshiach and of course the signature HASC theme performed masterfully by the Freilach band.

All said and done, it was a truly amazing evening with two of the biggest Jewish music stars that nobody will forget. Freilach Band and Shira enhanced the show and took it to the next level. Of course all of this was the brainstorm of Suki and Ding production and the stage design by Bernie Dov and sound by Illya Lashinsky. Here’s to HASC 27 in Yerusholayim.