Full disclosure: I love, love, love the annual HASC Concert. It is—and has been for many years—the flagship event of the Jewish Music industry, featuring many of the greatest stars of past, present, and future, always in a top-notch venue. I have attended two HASC concerts—A Time for Music XVI: Vintage MBD in 2003 at the Metropolitan Opera House was the greatest musical event I have ever attended (I’m still waiting for the CD release), and A Time for Music XVIII: A Chai Celebration at Madison Square Garden was an experience in its own category (Matisyahu, anyone?). Since then, I have yet to make it to Manhattan on the second Sunday in January, but I still look forward to the annual release of the concert recording on audio and DVD.
A Time for Music XXVII: Celebrating 40 Years of Camp HASC, recorded on January 12, 2014, took place at the HASC Concert’s regular home in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. While it seems like the orchestra this year was smaller than it had been in years past (the days of 60-piece orchestras and “101 Talented Voices” are long gone), Yisroel Lamm was back at the helm, and the Shira Choir returned for another year singing backup. And, of course, the great Nachum Segal reprised his regular role as master of ceremonies.
The greatness of the HASC Concert is the organizers’ abilities to successfully combine elements of the multiple generations of Jewish Music fixtures on the same stage in an effort to satisfy the diverse likes of the nearly-3,000 member audience. This year was no different—the performers ranged from up-and-coming (Benny Friedman, Baruch Levine, 8th Day), to established superstars (Avraham Fried and Abie Rotenberg), to ‘70s-era greats (the Diaspora Yeshiva Band). Throw in a couple of guest stars, and you’ve got yourself an event for the ages.
Track numbers reference the audio version of the recording.
Track 1, Overture—Neginah Orchestra: After Nachum’s welcoming words, we are treated to this year’s HASC overture, an instrumental preview of the evening arranged by Yisroel Lamm. If you had ever wondered what a 12/8 version of “Yaalili”, “Yesh Tikvah”, or “Heimoh” sounded like on the violin, well, here’s your chance. Of course, the medley is bracketed with the classic HASC theme which has introduced the concert for 27 years straight.
Track 2, “Dreams Come True”—Abie Rotenberg and Benny Friedman: The first vocalist introduced on the album is the legendary Abie Rotenberg. Abie gave a short speech extolling the virtues of the R’ Mordechai Kahn z”l, the founder of HASC, and crediting all of the strides made in Jewish special education to R’ Kahn and his family. In honor of the camp’s 40th anniversary, Abie said, he and Ding rewrote and rearranged “Dreams Come True” from Journeys 4, which he performed with Benny Friedman. The new lyrics are from the point of view of a HASC camper, who is overjoyed that his dreams can finally “come true”, and that he can go to camp in the mountains, just like his other siblings.
Tracks 3 and 4, Benny Friedman: Benny then stayed on the stage for his opening set. He performed “Shalom Aleichem”, the popular disco from Yesh Tikvah, and Gad Elbaz’s “Hashem Melech” (a.k.a., “the super-popular disco with halachically-questionable lyrics”—ask your posek). Let’s just say this—Benny can definitely get a crowd going.
Track 5, “Kevodo”—Ieshula Ishakis: As part of the evening’s ongoing tribute to the Kahn family, Nachum called up Ieshula Ishakis, one of R’ Kahn’s grandsons, to perform “Kevodo” (originally featured on Lipa’s Leap of Faith), which he delivered admirably in his HASC concert debut.
Tracks 6 and 7, 8th Day: “Ladies and Gentlemen, get ready for some fun!” That’s how Nachum Segal announced the arrival of 8th Day, the always-entertaining duo of Bentzi and Shmuli Marcus. After opening with their popular song “Cheery Bim” from the album All You Got, they described how they had performed at Camp HASC the previous summer. The spirit in the concert hall at the camp had gotten past the level of dancing—“We had reached the level…of Hooleh!”, they said, to thunderous cheers. “Hooleh” was indeed their next song, and I think it was composed especially for concerts like this—the song is a definite crowd-pleaser, and the Marcus Bros. are just the people do deliver it.
Tracks 8 and 9, Baruch Levine: Next up, everybody’s favorite young singer/songwriter, Baruch Levine! Baruch opened with the title song from his most recent album, Modim. Then, he introduced this year’s special guest boys’ choir: Shir Vasheivach, the chassidishe childrens’ group which had accompanied him on the album Modim. Together with conductor Chaim Meir Fligman, Baruch and Shir Vasheivach performed “Ufaratzta”, the hit disco from the Modim album.
Track 10, “Am Echad”—Ari Goldwag: 2013 was a pretty dry year for Jewish Music, and I suppose it only made sense to invite the composer and singer of the most popular song of the year, “Am Echad”. Ari Goldwag nails the performance, as expected, and it is refreshing to hear the song with real instruments for a change. One nitpick—Nachum introduces Ari as making his HASC debut, but I’m pretty sure Ari was still in Miami Boys Choir when they performed at HASC 7.
Tracks 11-13, Diaspora Yeshiva Band: You can tell when Nachum Segal is hyped up about something—you know, how the adrenaline sneaks into his voice, and the uber-professional radio guru morphs into just another music fan for just a couple of minutes? Well, Nachum dissolved into a giddy schoolgirl while introducing his own personal headliners: Avraham Rosenblum and the Diaspora Yeshiva Band. The folk-rock pioneers of modern Jewish Music were met with thunderous applause, and ably performed three of their hits from days gone by: Pischu Li, Lo Es Avoseinu, and, of course, Hofachta.
Tracks 14 and 15, Ohad: Welcome to the “I can sing higher than you can” part of the show…and here’s your host, Ohad! Ohad first performed “Malchuscha”, the hit rock song from his third solo album. His second song, while entitled “Chuppah Medley” on the album version of the concert, should probably be entitled “Pop Covers”—a medley of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” (i.e., “Eishet Chayil”) and “Boi Kallah”, the Maccabeats’ version of the ridiculously-popular/covered-too-many-times-to-count pop ballad “Hallelukah”.
Tracks 16 and 17, Avraham Fried: I think it says something about the strength of a concert’s lineup when the arguably biggest name on the promotional poster doesn’t come out onto the stage until three-quarters of the way through the concert—and no one seems to notice. Avremel performed “Bench”, the hot hora from his new almost-all-Yiddish album A Mechayeh, and his Ivrit classic single “Aleh Katan Sheli”.
Track 18, “Lifecycle”: This 22-minute production is a medley of songs by Abie Rotenberg and Baruch Levine which trace the entire life of a Jew. Abie and Baruch (playing piano and guitar, respectively) introduce each song as a part of the life of their story’s character, “Moishe Shmiel” (Really? Really.), as the rest of the concert’s cast join the duo at different points in the medley. The journey starts before “Moishe Shmiel” is born (the first stanzas of “Neshomele” from Journeys II and MBD’s The Double Album, with Baruch playing MBD’s part), and continues to the tefillos of his mother at the shabbos candles (Baruch’s “V’zakeini”, performed by Avraham Fried). Next comes Moishe Shmiel’s bar mitzvah (“The Bar Mitzvah Song” from Marvelous Middos Machine 4, featuring Ari Goldwag), his development into a ben Torah, (Baruch’s “Chassan Hatorah”, with Benny Friedman), his apparent sudden inability to speak standard English (Abie’s “Yeshivishe Reid”, together with 8th Day), his marriage (my absolute favorite song of all time, “Birkas Habayis” from Aish 2, featuring Ohad), and his growing old while being zoche to the ultimate bracha, peace (Dveykus’ “Na’ar Hayisi”, with Diaspora). Finally, as we come to the end of the story, Baruch, Avraham Fried, and Abie perform the last stanza of “Neshomele”, as Moishe Shmiel’s “little neshomele” ascends to take its place “right by the Throne” at the end of a full and accomplished life.
Track 19, “Ivdu”: HASC’s concert productions are meant to raise money for their summer program, and to that end the concert’s producers typically put together a video or two extolling the virtues of the camp, its staff, and the special children who attend the program. Apparently, someone in this year’s audience was so moved by one of the videos featuring R’ Matisyahu Salomon that he decided to donate $300,000 (!) towards the construction of a new bunk at Camp HASC if the Diaspora Yeshiva Band and the Friedman family (Avraham Fried with his nephews Benny Friedman and Bentzi and Shmuli Marcus) would sing the famous Diaspora song “Ivdu”. The song was unrehearsed, so it was wonderfully chaotic on stage, but everyone seemed to handle it without too much trouble. By all accounts, it was an incredible moment for whoever was lucky enough to be in the audience that night.
Track 20, Finale: There are two main categories of HASC finales. The first variety is when the cast of the concert reprises the original song which was written for the night or introduces a brand new song at the finale—e.g., HASC 3 (“A Small Piece of Heaven”), HASC 4 and 25 (“Candles”), HASC 7 (“The Next Stage”), and HASC 18 (“Keep the Flame Burning Bright”). The other type is when the performers each belt out one more hit from their collection as a curtain call, as they did at the end of year 1, 22, 24, and 26. This year’s finale was a bit of both. We are treated to Avraham Fried’s “Hofachta”, Benny Firedman’s “Yesh Tikvah” (of course!) together with composer Ari Goldwag, Diaspora’s “Malchuscha”, 8th Day’s “Yaalili”, Baruch Levine’s “Toda”, Avraham Fried’s “Bench”(again), Abie Rotenberg’s “The Ninth Man”, Ohad’s “Piha Pascha”, Eyal Golan’s “Mi Shema’amin” (which Benny Friedman released as a single in 2011), and Avraham Fried’s “Heimoh”, before the cast reprises “Dreams Come True” (see Track 2). The HASC theme then played the performers off, leaving me clearing space in my calendar for a trip to Manhattan on a Sunday in January 2015 for A Time for Music XXVIII.