Alicia Svigals

ALICIA SVIGALS is the world’s foremost klezmer violinist, composer, and founder of the GRAMMY-winning Klezmatics. Alicia almost single-handedly revived the tradition of klezmer fiddling, which had been on the brink of extinction until Alicia recorded her debut album, Fidl, in the 1990s. She taught klezmer to Itzhak Perlman, and her two records with him and the Klezmatics became the best-selling folk albums of all time.

Chenango Sessions Ep. 131

Svigals is also a composer who works in many genres. She was an NEA MacDowell Fellow in 2014, an honor for first-time fellows of “extraordinary talent.” She is the recipient of the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s 2013 New Jewish Culture Network commission for her new live score to the 1918 Pola Negri silent film The Yellow Ticket, which she tours internationally with pianist Marilyn Lerner, and was commissioned to create an expanded version of the score for the Seattle Symphony’s clarinetist Laura DeLuca, premiering in May 2014. She was fellow at LABA: a Laboratory of New Jewish Culture in 2014, where she studied Jewish texts with a multidisciplinary group of fellows and wrote a song cycle for soprano, violin and accordion drawn from that experience.

Svigals has taught and toured with violinist Itzhak Perlman, who recorded her compositions as duets with Ms. Svigals and the Klezmatics; and she was awarded first prize in performance at the Safed, Israel international klezmer festival. She’s been featured in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues (at Madison Square Garden with Phoebe Snow, Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, and Brooke Shields). She’s composed for the Kronos Quartet, and composer Osvaldo Golijov was commissioned to create a work for her and clarinetist David Krakauer (then a fellow band member in the Klezmatics) entitled Rocketekiya, recorded on the Milken Archives label and performed at Merkin Concert Hall and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Chenango Sessions Ep. 116

In Svigals’ band the Klezmatics, she created contemporary Jewish music that combined the joyous and mystical Yiddish tradition with a postmodern aesthetic and an overtly political worldview. She co-led and toured with the band for seventeen years and recorded albums which reached the top ten of the Billboard and European World Music Charts. They appeared on Prairie Home Companion, Rosie O’Donnell’s Kids are Punny, Good Morning America, MTV News, Nickelodeon, the BBC, and NPR’s Weekend Edition, and with them she composed music for theater, dance and film, including the score to Tony Kushner’s A Dybbuk, first produced at the Public Theater in NY, and his work-in-progress It’s an Undoing World, groundbreaking documentary filmmaker Judith Helfand’s A Healthy Baby Girl, and for poets Allen Ginsburg (in performance at the first Berlin Jewish Culture Festival) and Israeli singer Chava Alberstein (on her collaboration CD with the Klezmatics, The Well). Alicia’s multi-media event The Third Seder, featuring Tony Kushner and the Klezmatics, was presented by La Mama and by the Jewish Museum in New York, and became the model for Michael Dorf’s Third Seder events. Alicia and the Klezmatics recorded two albums for EMI with violinist Itzhak Perlman, which became the best-selling folk albums of all time. They performed with him on PBS’ Emmy-winning In the Fiddler’s House and on David Letterman, and appeared with him in concert at Radio City Music Hall, Tanglewood, and Wolf Trap.

Ms. Svigals plays and writes music from heavy metal to traditional Greek, and she’s recorded on projects from Lipa Schmeltzer‘s Kol Nidre to the soundtrack for the TV series the L-Word. She wrote and recorded string quartet parts for singer/songwriter Diane Birch’s debut Bible Belt, and appeared playing Indian-style violin on Gary Lucas and Najma Akhtar’s Rishte. She was featured on Herb Alpert’s recording of Belz, arranged by Marvin Hamlisch, on A Jewish Songbook. She’s appeared in stadium shows with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, recorded for John Cale’s (Velvet Underground) album Last Day On Earth, and the Ben Folds Five’s Whatever and Ever Amen, and improvised with Marc Ribot and John Zorn, appearing on the Knitting Factory Cobra CD. She composed an Americana soundtrack to Judith Helfand’s documentary The Uprising of 1934 with singer Peggy Seeger, arranged string quartets for singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman at Carnegie Hall (released as a live CD), provided original music for choreographers Risa Jaroslow, at Lincoln Center, Naomi Goldberg in L.A. at the Ford Theater, and Diane Germaine at the Aronoff Center for the Arts in Cincinnati. She has provided original music for author Thane Rosenbaum’s live readings from his novel Golems of Gotham, and for a theater production with acrobat developed from the novel at the 14th St. Y in NY; two characters in the novel are based on Svigals. She’s featured on Avraham Fried’s Avinu Malkeynu. Her album Vodkazak, produced by Chabad rabbi Zalman Goldstein, feature her klezmer interpretations of Hasidic Nigunim and is a rare production from that community featuring a female artist.

Svigals has played with performance artist Taylor Mac in the Yiddish song segment of his 24-hour popular song piece, recorded a klezmer “Three Blind Mice” for the permanent children’s room exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History, played Yiddish baseball songs for Peter Miller’s documentary Jews and Baseball: an American Love Story, performed Ethiopian Jewish-African pop with singer/songwriter Alula, led a giant fiddle string orchestra jam with whiskey on a Manhattan rooftop, recorded with Terry Dame’s funky/modal Monkey on a Rail Orchestra, studied Turkish maqams with Ross Daly, taught Klezmer to top young professional artists in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall residency, performed David Krakauer and SoCalled’s Battleship Potemkin score for sampler, orchestral percussion, clarinet and violin at the Wintergarden Theater, was honored at the Bam Café’s performance evening entitled “Tribute to Alicia Svigals”, curated 60 shows in a month at John Zorn’s venue the Stone, worked tirelessly with Yiddish dancemaster Steve Weintraub to revive old-world klezmer dancing in the Jewish community and led concert/dance parties with him at Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Public Library et al; led children’s shows introducing the next generation to Yiddish music and dance, and appeared all over the world with her allfemale band with the late Adrienne Cooper, Mikveh, her roots group Alicia Svigals’ Klezmer Fiddle Express and her Klezmer/new improv duos with pianists Marilyn Lerner (Klezmer Unfettered) and Uli Geissendoerfer. (Klezmer Reimagined) – everywhere from the Cite de la Musique in Paris to Carnegie Hall in New York to the Port Townsend Fiddle Festival.

Svigals also writes and lectures on Jewish music and culture.