Music as a cultural bridge: Libertad! Artist-in-Residency features Argentinean musical duo

Argentinian duo César Lerner, right, and Marcelo Moguilevsky perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency program.

Argentinian duo César Lerner, right, and Marcelo Moguilevsky perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency program. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Argentinian duo Marcelo Moguilevsky and César Lerner, out of frame, perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency.

Argentinian duo Marcelo Moguilevsky and César Lerner, out of frame, perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Argentinian duo Marcelo Moguilevsky and César Lerner, out of frame, perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency.

Argentinian duo Marcelo Moguilevsky and César Lerner, out of frame, perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Argentinian duo Marcelo Moguilevsky, front, and César Lerner perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency.

Argentinian duo Marcelo Moguilevsky, front, and César Lerner perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Argentinian duo César Lerner and Marcelo Moguilevsky, out of frame, perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency.

Argentinian duo César Lerner and Marcelo Moguilevsky, out of frame, perform for Northampton High School students Thursday afternoon through the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 12-03-2023 12:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — For Argentinean Jews, the word “Libertad” isn’t just the Spanish word for freedom — it’s also the name of one of the streets within the old Jewish quarter in Buenos Aires, as well as the name of the largest synagogue in that city.

It’s that inspiration which gave the name to the Libertad! Artist-in-Residency that welcomed the Argentinean musical duo of Cesar Lerner and Marcelo Moguilevsky to western Massachusetts for four days last week.

Sponsored in part by the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, the residency that came to an end Saturday featured educational workshops, such as one held on Thursday at Northampton High School, jam sessions and concert performances, with the stated goal of fostering diversity and cultural understanding through music.

The Jewish Federation said it supports the residency program because “cultural exchanges, education, and awareness can help us fight racism and bigotry in all its forms — especially at a time when antisemitism is at an all-time high.”

Lerner and Moguilevsky showcase their own unique style, blending traditional Argentine forms of music with the Jewish klezmer music of their ancestors, who immigrated from Poland and Russia fleeing prejudice and seeking a better life.

“For my career, I didn’t choose music,” Moguilevsky said. “The music chose me.”

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In their performances the duo combine a wide array of musical instruments, such as piano, accordion, percussion, pennywhistle and sounds made by the human voice. The duo has been playing music for more than 40 years, and have toured internationally since 1997, visiting cities such as Toronto and Washington, D.C.

In Northampton, Moguilevsky said they were met with a kind and open-minded reception from the people.

“There is a freedom here that you can feel in the streets and in the restaurants,” he said. “It’s something special that makes me feel very relaxed.”

The duo’s residency started with an open jam session at the Parlor Room music venue in Northampton on Wednesday, with a presentation and music workshop at the high school on Thursday before heading to Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity that evening. On Friday, the duo will start the day with a presentation at Lander Grinspoon Academy in Northampton before heading to Williamstown for a Shabbat Service at the town’s Jewish Religious Center. The residency ended with a concert at Next Stage Arts in Vermont.

“Our way, our language is a singularity, and it’s not a standard way to make music right now,” Lerner said of the workshop and performance at NHS. “I am astonished because even the teenagers here, they give me incredible feedback, which to me is life.”

Various local and state organizations helped sponsor the duo for their residency in the region. In addition to the Jewish Federation, other sponsors included the Cultural Council of Massachusetts, the Grinspoon Foundation, Williams College and Florence Bank.

Joey Baron, a consultant in marketing and community arts from Boston who helped arrange the Northampton visit, said that the timing of the residency was particularly crucial given a recent uptick in antisemitism in the United States, and hoped that the duo, with their diversity of music that bridges cultures, might also be able to bring together people of different faiths and races together.

“Given the world situation, the undercurrent of antisemitism is a little more upfront than it would have been six months ago,” Baron said. “It’s important to them, and it’s important to me, that we always try to find ways to connect with each other. Music is one of the best ways to do that.”

Moguilevsky agreed.

“The goal is to erase the border that many times splits this world,” he said. “Not only Jewish people, not only Argentine people, music is for everybody.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.