PREVIEW Few genre-themed music festivals enjoy as much freedom in programming as Berkeley's Jewish Music Festival, now in its 23rd year. For who's to say what the criteria are? Jewish music expresses joy and pathos, success and failure, the thrill of adventure and the solace of tradition, assimilation, ostracism, whimsy, and gravity, as much as music and only music can. And so goes the festival, staking out its territory with challenging and alluring forays all over the Jewish cultural map.
Klezmatics frontman Frank London opens the proceedings with "A Night in the Old Marketplace," a newly commissioned song cycle based on a Yiddish play penned in 1907 by I.L. Peretz. Of course, if Berkeley is the birthplace of slow food, you might call "The Ark: Cyclical Rituals," the most ambitious program of the festival, "fast music." In the space of a week, nine notable performers, including London and influential Bay Area composers John Schott and Jewlia Eisenberg, will board a creative Noah's Ark, devising a collaborative debut on themes of ritual and tradition.
Two more sure bets: violinist Kaila Flexer and oud player Gari Hegedus of the acoustic ensemble Teslim play Middle Eastern and Sephardic traditional music with understated mastery of melody and ornamentation. And, straight out of the promised land of New York City, the punk-rock klezmer band Golem expands the limits of the shtetl songbook with show-stopping stage presence and a remarkable grasp of Yiddishkeit.
JEWISH MUSIC FESTIVAL Fri/22Sun/30. (510) 848-0237, visit www.jewishmusicfestival.org for specific times and locations.