An Interview With the Hevreh Ensemble
Creating World Music through the Power of Friendship

Hevreh Ensemble is a group based in New York City that incorporates a variety of musical instruments in their performances. This includes Cherokee Native American flutes, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, English horn, shofar, and world percussion instruments such as djembe, dumbek, ocean drum, balafon, kalimba, rain stick, tabla, log drum, and keyboard.

Hevreh Ensemble

Hevreh Ensemble

The ensemble, comprising four friends – Judith Dansker, Jeff Adler, Laurie Friedman, and Adam Morrison – performs original compositions written by Jeff Adler. Since their inception in 2001, they have performed across the United States and Europe, releasing several albums and receiving positive reviews. American Record Guide (Sep/Oct 2019 issue) praised their work, saying “this album belongs on the shelf next to your Silk Road Ensemble records.” In this article, Judith Dansker, one of the members of the ensemble, shares more about Hevreh and their music.

Hevreh Ensemble- Hofstra University Residence April 2022

Can you briefly introduce yourself and Hevreh?

Our group has come together from many places; together with our wonderful audiences and listeners, we have truly become a circle of friends. We trained as classical musicians at the Juilliard and Manhattan Schools of Music, SUNY Stonybrook, Brooklyn College, and the Jerusalem Conservatory in Israel; institutions that inspired our passions for music education and engagement with our audiences. We have been fortunate in our careers, friendships, and travels to have the opportunity to explore many different areas of music, including jazz, composition, conducting, and many musical traditions from around the world.

The Hevreh Ensemble at the Breakers

The ensemble incorporates different combinations of instruments, including Native American flute and shofar horn. How do you compare the sound between the European wind instruments with the native instruments?

Combining the use of Native American Flute and Shofar create unique challenges with both pitch and volume. Modern Native flute makers such as our flute maker Danny Bigay, have increased the volume, which are traditionally too soft to combine with European instruments without mics. He has also adjusted the pitch to make it easier to play in tune without losing the beautiful sound and Native charm of the instrument.

Even so, there are compositional and performance challenges that require attention. The Shofar is an instrument that is notoriously difficult to control, with a piercing forceful sound and it is especially difficult to tune. Composer Jeff Adler has written for the Shofar as a solo instrument with the accompanying instruments kept in the background and playing in a different octave.

Laurie Friedman playing the shofar

Laurie Friedman playing the shofar

The group is formed by friendship. How long have you known each other?

The members of the group have known each other for many years.

Judith Dansker and Laurie Friedman have been lifelong friends and colleagues, meeting as music students at the Manhattan School of Music. They were founding members of the Galliard Woodwind Quintet, which garnered critical acclaim for their performances at the Frick Museum, Carnegie Recital Hall and the Library of Congress.

Your latest album, Meserole Street, was released in 2022. Several compositions were written with the influence of the pandemic. Can you elaborate more? Are there any messages you want to bring through this album?

There are three compositions on the album that were composed during the pandemic. ‘Alone’ captures the loneliness, depression and desperation that many people experienced during the early days of the lockdown.

Alone · Hevreh Ensemble

‘Freedom Day’ expresses hope and optimism that the arrival of the vaccine would release us from the oppressive effects of the virus.

Freedom Day · Hevreh Ensemble · Naren Budhakar · Ralph Farris

‘Perihelion’ is influenced by Western African pop music. Composer Jeff Adler remarked: “I love this style of music. The lockdown allowed me time to become reacquainted with albums that I hadn’t listened to in years”.

Perihelion · Hevreh Ensemble · Jennifer Vincent · Shane Shanahan

Meserole Street is not the first album that you have recorded. However, were there any challenges during the process of recording?

Even after recording many albums, there are always new challenges that present themselves. For Hevreh, one of the most difficult issues is creating the right sound. A good deal of time is spent setting the mics and room arrangement correctly. The room temperature can affect the various wind instruments adversely. All of this can change from one day to the next.

Do you have any upcoming performances that you would like to share?

Before the Pandemic, Hevreh was scheduled to present a tour to China in March 2020 under the auspices of our record label PARMA. Also canceled was a tour to Argentina to play concerts for the Jewish Community of Argentina. This past summer we had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Iceland where we presented concerts at various sacred sites throughout the country. We are currently planning a tour to the West Coast and will be performing a concert for “All Classical Portland” which streams nationally.

Learn more about Hevreh Ensemble.

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