Berlin Supergroup “Semer Ensemble” Tours Canada with Rare German-Jewish music from “lost” 1930s Record Label

GTA Weekly
Berlin's "Semer Ensemble"
(Toronto, ON) Canadian audiences are in for a rare and unique musical experience in November. Germany’s Semer Ensemble brings back to life the eclectic Jewish music captured on historic recordings made in Berlin between 1933-1938 on Semer Records. The Berlin supergroup tours to the Toronto Centre for the Arts’ George Weston Recital Hall on Wednesday November 8 and then heads to Ottawa for November 9 andMontreal for November 15.

This short-lived record label served as a “musical Noah’s Ark” at a time when Jewish artists were banned by the Nazis from participation in the mainstream music industry. In five short years, the label recorded a vast array of artists and styles, including Yiddish folk and theatre songs, klezmer, Berlin Cabaret, Russian and Ukrainian folk songs, operatic arias, and cantorial music.
This precious musical time capsule of a world facing annihilation was forgotten and thought lost for decades following the destruction of the Semer store and all its master recordings by the Nazis on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938. But six decades later, ethnomusicologist Rainer Lots embarked on a worldwide mission to track down the original vinyl copies of the label’s catalog. Crossing oceans and continents, searching under beds and in dusty attics, Lots’ remarkable mission took ten years, and resulted in the re-assembly and eventual re-release of almost the entire original Semer catalog.

in 2012, Berlin’s Jewish Museum commissioned New Jewish Music pioneer Alan Bern (Brave Old World, Other Europeans) to create a live concert program based on these recordings. Now, this new Semer Ensemble creates fresh interpretations and provocative, contemporary arrangements of repertoire from the original Semer Records catalog. This moving concert experience re-creates a golden age of Jewish music, opening a time tunnel between pre-war Berlin and today’s vibrant Jewish Music scene. Says Bern: “It’s amazing, but 80 years after the destruction of this culture there is once again a critical mass of musicians in Berlin able to take on a project like this.” The all-star group includes a who’s-who of the contemporary Klezmer and Yiddish musical world, including Lorin Sklamberg (Klezmatics), Sasha Lurje, Daniel Kahn, Fabian Shnedler, Paul Brody, Mark Kovnatsky, and Steve Whipple.
Presented in Toronto as part of Holocaust Education Week (HEW), this event is now the third in a series of Ashkenaz HEW presentations that have explored the living culture and rich musical traditions of pre-WWII European Jewry. Past concerts by the Ger Mandolin Orchestra (2013), andMuzsikás (2015), and this year’s production of Semer Ensemble, have presented little-known aspects of pre-WWII Jewish musical history from Poland, Hungary and Germany, respectively. The fascinating backstories and compelling ethnomusicological features of these “lost” musical traditionsintersect the Holocaust in significant ways, if only as the historical event which brought on their ultimate demise. But the broader aim of these presentations has been to educate about the Holocaust by celebrating the centuries of vibrant Jewish life and artistic innovation that preceded the Shoah.

According to Ashkenaz Artistic Director Eric Stein: “By bringing to light lesser-known musical histories, these concerts not only engage audiences with entertaining and compelling music, but open fascinating windows into understanding European Jewish musicians’ relationships with their host nations and surrounding cultures prior to the Holocaust.”
As it has in these previous productions, Ashkenaz will provide free attendance for hundreds of Holocaust survivors and students. The former will be honoured and touched to experience the resurrected music of their youth, while the latter will connect to this music and re-focus their thoughts about the legacy of the Holocaust and its meaning today towards an appreciation of the rich culture and history that existed before the calamity.
Watch the Video trailer for Semer Ensemble’s Canadian Tour (3 mins) (

More about Semer Ensemble and their album “Rescued Treasure”  (
Official Semer Ensemble website (

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