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Judeo-Spanish musical history at the Rex

Members of the audience at the Rex Theater were treated to an impressive musical performance that delved in to the history of stories untold following World War II. Guy Mendilow Ensemble unleashed song after song on listeners with multiple unique instruments and deep, complimentary percussion to accentuate the tales told in Spanish using male and female harmonies with a vocal timbre exuding passion, pain and tradition. Musical Director, Guy Mendilow, asked, “why is that we know so much about the plight of certain communities in WWII, yet others are virtually ignored?” He emphasized by positing, “Ask the average American what they know of Spanish speaking jewish communities in Greece, Bulgaria or Bosnia, and you will most likely receive a blank stare.” Mendilow first heard the Sephardic songs from Balkan and Mediterranean communities in his boyhood Jerusalem home. When he heard these songs through other artists’ interpretations of the traditional tunes, Mendilow was hooked by their meandering musical modes and the stories of integration, migration and adaptation. The evening’s presentation entitled, Tales From the Forgotten Kingdom, featured songs derived mainly from towns in Sarajevo and Salonica in the early twentieth century, although some of the lyrics pre-date 1492. Mendilow acknowledged that as director he rode a fine line between cultural curation and artistic cre- ation. Because much of the music was sung primarily by women in the home or at community events, unaccompanied by instruments, Mendilow gave himself creative license to create the instrumental atmosphere based on the mood of the song. In addition, because some of the songs were so old, there is no record of what would have been played by instruments, what vocal timbre would have been employed and instrumental tuning. He stated because of the many unknowns, Forgotten Kingdom did not aim for ethno-musicological authenticity, “As a composer and student of culture I readily admit that it is risky to recast such rich tra-ditional material this way. We leap from tradition into modern imagination.” The result of the ensemble’s presentation is a full sound that would be perfectly suited for a movie soundtrack, both ethereal and solid, ranging from haunting to mournful to jovial. Each song began with a soft introduction either by wooden flute, violin, clarinet or the array of sounds at the disposal of the percussionist. Mendilow would then give a brief, poetic summary of the upcoming song, outlining where it came from and what the character might have been feeling or experiencing in those days. In the beginning of the evening, the audience seemed awestruck at the end of each song, as a tangible silence separated the song’s conclusion and the beginning of applause. By the end of the night, the enthusiastic crowd was clapping before the tune’s last notes had faded. The performance was presented by the Sanders County Arts Council (SCAC) as the first event in their 2016-17 performing arts season. Funded by grants and donations, SCAC’s stated purpose is to support and promote the arts in the county and provide cultural and educational opportunities to students and the public. In booking the Guy Mendilow Ensemble, SCAC hit a grand slam. Music, other cultures and history were presented to the public and, as with many past and upcoming SCAC supported artists, the ensemble took time to visit local schools and share their talents and stories with students. Adding to cultural perspective was the home countries of the performers. Mendilow hails from Israel, UK and USA, while singer Sofia Tosello joined the group from Argentina. Woodwind player Andy Bergman, violinist Chris Baum and percussionist Matt Hurley are US citizens and faculty at prestigious universities of music. The ensemble was formed in 2004 and based in Boston and Brooklyn. The next SCAC sponsored event will be a Japanese Taiko drumming performance by Fubuki Daiko. The presentation is scheduled for Thursday, October 20, 7 p.m. at the Paradise Center (formerly Paradise School). Tickets for performing arts season events are $13 in advance online or at ticket outlets two weeks prior to show date, or $15 at the door. Student tickets are $5, available at the door only. Ticket outlets include First Security Bank and Garden Gift and Floral in Plains, and D&D Liquor and First Security Bank in Thompson Falls. For more information visit their website at