Meet The Award Winning LABA Fellow Alicia Svigals

LABA Fellow Alicia Svigals is the world’s leading klezmer fiddler and a founder of the Grammy-winning Klezmatics, who she co-led for seventeen years. Alicia is presenting a new composition at LABAlive Presents “Mothers Without Boundaries” on May 21st at 7:30pm at the Theater at The 14th Street Y. She spoke with us about her music making process and new work debuting at LABAlive.

Q: In one word, describe your music?

A: NeoYiddish-Emo  (If that’s really two words, lets just say NeoYiddish.)

Q: How would you categorize your sound?

A: Instrumental and vocal compositions that draw heavily on Yiddish musical tradition, but incorporate whatever else is floating around in my head.

Q: Your compositions are so full and complex, what influences you?

A: I’m most compelled to draw on and try to represent powerful emotions: love, euphoria, grief. I often come up with melodies when I feel moved by visual beauty (old trees, ornate buildings…).  Sounds, stories, imagery that feels deeply Jewish always gets to me and is the basis of most of what I’ve done.  I’m also intrigued by more abstract ideas – counterpoint, unusual modes or rhythms, anything involving symbolic systems.  I listen to all kinds of music – right now I’m a little obsessed with Thelonius Monk.

Q: Describe your process for us.

A: I’m only now starting to come up with one!  New melodies pop into my head spontaneously a lot; if I can catch one as it flies by and remember it long enough to sing it into my smartphone; I can later start to expand it until it becomes a composition.

Q: Tell us about your experiences as a LABA Fellow?

It’s a wonderful connection with a creative group of people I might never have met otherwise, inspiration for my work, and especially a new way into Jewish texts going forward. Our LABA sessions have been amazing, eye-opening – Ruby Namdar is an incredible teacher and hearing his way of thinking about Jewish texts has been exciting.  I’ve been setting poetry to music, and now I feel like I’ve got a giant trove of new texts to immerse myself in and work with.  For the May 21st show, I assembled the lyrics for one of my new songs from a Yiddish translation of a story we studied with Ruby, which I was able to find in the Yiddish Tanakh that I received as a gift at my bas mitzvah.  Its the first time I’ve made this kind of use of that Tanakh, so it feels very meaningful to me.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Soon I’m going to record my very, very, very long overdue followup to my first klezmer fiddle roots album Fidl – and I’ll probably launch a Kickstarter to make it happen!

To see and hear Alicia Svigal’s new work at LABAlive “Mothers Without Boundaries” on May 21st at 7:30pm, Click Here for Tickets and Information. Also, keep up with Alicia’s upcoming projects here.

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