Magical World of Yiddish Song
“...The sounds of traditional Jewish klezmer music make a joyful noise, a breath of fresh rhythm on the stage … under the swinging baton of Zalmen Mlotek.”
- Jack Kroll, Newsweek Magazine
Zalmen Mlotek is an internationally recognized authority on Yiddish folk and theater music and a leading figure in the Jewish theatre and concert worlds. Mr. Mlotek was raised in a prominent Yiddish speaking family renowned for its Jewish songbook collections. His formal training as a classical musician and conductor was at Julliard School of Music, the New England Conservatory of Music, the Tanglewood Music Center, Manhattan School of Music and Mannes School of Music. Among his most notable teachers and mentors was Leonard Bernstein. Mr. Mlotek also studied conducting with Zubin Mehta, James Levine and other Master of Music and conducting.
Mr. Mlotek’s deep roots in Yiddish culture, his elite musical education and his talent and passion for both have merged into a career that has revitalized the world of Yiddish music and theater. Mr. Mlotek brought Yiddish- Klezmer music to Broadway and off-Broadway stages as a co-creator, music director, and conductor of Those Were the Days, the first bilingual music honored with a Drama Desk Award and nominated for two Tony Awards. He was co-creator, music director and conductor for the The Golden Land, an off-Broadway hit that toured nationally and was produced in Italy under the sponsorship of Leonard Bernstein. Mr. Mlotek was the arranger and music director for Robert Brustein’s acclaimed production of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Shlemiel The First at Lincoln Center’s Serious Fun Festival in 1995 that subsequently toured to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.
He is currently the Artistic Director, Musical Director and Conductor of The National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene (NYTF), America’s oldest Yiddish theater. When he took over the organization in 1998, he instituted bilingual, simultaneous English and Russian supertitles at all performances. NYTF is dedicated to bringing quality performances of the spoken and sung Yiddish word, with accessible translation, all year to new audiences around the country. His vision has propelled classics including NYTF productions of the world premiere of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yentl (1998) in Yiddish, Di Yam Gazlonim (2006) (The Yiddish Pirates of Penzance) and the 1923 Rumshinky operetta, The Golden Bride (2016), which was nominated for a Drama Desk Award and listed as a New York Times Critics Pick. Other notable productions include On Second Avenue, an historical musical overview of the heyday of the Yiddish Theater, nominated for two Drama Desk awards and performed in Los Angeles in February 2007, Amerike, The Golden Land, nominated for a Drama Desk Award and most recently, the critically acclaimed, Fidler Afn Dakh (Fiddler on the Roof – In Yiddish).
In 1995, Mr. Mlotek conceived and was musical director for the first All Star Klezmer Extravaganza at Lincoln Center, filmed by PBS for Great Performances and later released on CD and video as In the Fiddler’s House with Itzhak Perlman. Mlotek has concertized in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities in Europe and Israel and has performed extensively throughout North America.
His many recordings include several made at the request of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. His tribute to wartime Yiddish Theater, Ghetto Tango, which he conceived in collaboration with Adrienne Cooper, is performed all over the world and is available on the Traditional Crossroads label. Mlotek’s Yiddish choral work can be heard on Mandy Patinkin’s Yiddish language CD Mameloshen on Nonesuch Records.
He has presented master classes in Yiddish art song, folk, and theater music and taught at Columbia University, Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College, the University of California at Berkeley, and Bar-Ilan University.
As a leading authority on Yiddish folk and theatre music, Mr. Mlotek has taught and performed all over the world, worked with countless singers including Jan Peerce, Theodore Bikel and others. His piano artistry can be heard in over two dozen recordings and films. He is gratefully married to Debra Cohen, a pediatric occupational therapist and is a proud father and zeyde.
Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn
Through The Golden Age of American Yiddish Theater
Join Zalmen Mlotkek, Artistic Director of the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene and Musical Director of Fidler Afn Dakh (Fiddler on the Roof – In Yiddish), directed by Joel Grey, as he leads us on a one-of-a-kind journey of the Yiddish theater, from its European roots to Ellis Island, Second Avenue and beyond, joined by renowned singers Elizabeth Shammash and Thom King. The storytelling-in-song takes us from despair to hope to entertainment, and everything in between, with musical influences of operetta, Tin Pan Alley and Broadway, including chestnuts such as Rozhinkes mit Mandlen and Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn. The message is timeless, speaking to this moment with immigration hopes, dreams and desperation, the drive to make a new life in a new homeland and integration of personal stories with humor and poignancy. Originally commissioned by Lyric Fest, one of Philadelphia’s premiere musical organizations, this show received acclaim as a powerful fusion of entertainment and education.*
Praised as “a mezzo voice that makes one sit up and take notice” (Boston Globe), Elizabeth Shammash has enjoyed a career that embraces many genres. Symphonic appearances have included the Israel Philharmonic, Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Berlin Radio Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra. Recital and chamber music have brought her to residencies at the Ravinia Festival, Beijing Music Festival, Tanglewood and Marlboro Music. She has recorded extensively for the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, including Yiddish Theater and art songs of Lazar Weiner. Recent appearances at YIVO in New York City have included an evening of Hebrew art song and a concert of Yiddish art song. She is a graduate of Brown University in Italian Studies, Manhattan School of Music and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she received ordination as Hazzan. She currently serves as Cantor of Adath Israel in Merion Station, PA and makes her home in Philadelphia with her husband David and their dog, Lenny.
Zalmen Mlotek is an internationally recognized authority on Yiddish folk and theater music as well as a leading figure in the Jewish theatre and concert worlds. For the past 20 years, Zalmen Mlotek has been the Artistic Director and conductor at National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. He was the musical director and conductor of critically acclaimed, Fidler Afn Dakh (Fiddler on the Roof – In Yiddish), directed by Joel Grey. He brought Yiddish-Klezmer music to Broadway and Off-Broadway stages with the Tony-nominated Those Were the Days and Drama Desk Nominated Amerike – The Golden Land. He serves as Music Director for most NYTF productions, including the Drama Desk Nominated musical, THE GOLDEN BRIDE. His music can be heard in over two-dozen recordings and films, has taught and performed all over the world and worked with countless singers including Jan Peerce, Theodore Bikel and Mandy Patinkin. Mlotek received his musical training at the Juilliard School of Music and studied under Leonard Bernstein.
Thom King has an impressive and varied list of over 60 professional operatic and musical theatre roles to his credit, including Scarpia in Tosca, Rigoletto, Germont in La Traviata, and Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha. He has performed with such companies as the Chautauqua Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, The Florida Grand Opera and the Connecticut Opera, , and garnered rave reviews for his interpretation of Peter Maxwell Davies’ challenging EIGHT SONGS FOR A MAD KING with Musica Escena in Mexico City. Since arriving in Baltimore in 1997 to serve as Cantor of Beth El Congregation, he has maintained a thriving Adult Choir, and with his wife Shazy has continually championed the presence of children in the musical life of the synagogue. In 2005, Thom made his debut with the Montreal Symphony as the soloist in Ernest Bloch’s SACRED SERVICE under the baton of Kent Nagano. As a composer, he has created numerous choral, solo, and symphonic works for the synagogue and concert stage,, including a Selichot service for Cantor and solo cello which he presents annually with eminent cellist Evan Drachman. Several of his original niggunim (spiritual melodies) have been published by Transcontinental Music. Thom is also showcased in a CD entitled “Thom King Sings Michael Isaacson”, featuring contemporary Jewish liturgical music. He resides in Baltimore with his wife Shazy and is the proud father of three lovely daughters- Rachel, Sarah, and Tovah, and two new sons-in-law.
The Miracle of Fiddler in Yiddish
A concert by the two stars of the Off Broadway award winning hit “Fiddler Afn Dakh” (Fiddler On the Roof in Yiddish) – Steven Skybell (Tevye) and Jennifer Babiak (Golde) team up with the show’s initiator and musical director, Zalmen Mlotek – to present the major numbers of the show, and tell the story of its magical effect on the cast and its audiences alike. Hearing the people of Anatevka speak and sing in their own language was one of the reasons so many people considered this one of their most beloved productions of Fiddler – a sentiment echoed by its composer Sheldon Harnick.
My Yiddishe Chanukah
“My Yiddishe Chanukah” is a musical and theatrical celebration for the whole family, featuring a young ensemble of performers and accompanied by a hip Klezmer ensemble. Under the musical direction of Zalmen Mlotek, artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, the performance stars Joanne Borts, Rachel Yucht, Elysa Sunshine, Avi Fox-Rosen, Avram Pengas, D. Zisl Slepovitch, Brian Glassman and Matt Temkin.
Virtual Concerts During Covid-19 Pandemic
NATIONAL YIDDISH THEATRE FOLKSBIENE:
ZALMEN MLOTEK “LIVING ROOM CONCERTS”
Quotes by audience members from Zalmen Mlotek’s virtual concert at the JCC on the Palisades:
“You may be singing to a blank screen but you are singing directly to our hearts.”
“Wonderful! Thank you for bringing the joyous Yiddish songs!”
“It was such a great program and brought back lots of wonderful memories.
“…the emphasis is on the wonderful, tuneful, toe-tapping songs performed by a talented, energetic cast of ten and musically directed by Zalmen Mlotek … our rating, A+!”
Tom Jacobs – THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS about “On Second Avenue”