“Shiksa” Kicks Off
High Lights Festival

St. John and Herskowitz’s terrific show leads off 18th edition

Twin reviews by Byron Toben and Mary Ann Lacey

Lara St. John WestmountMag.caByron’s take

God said “Let there be Light… and there was Light.” Montreal further implemented this directive to announce the new millennium in 2000 with an annual Montreal High Lights (Montréal en lumière) Festival to dispel the dark cold days of our Northern winters. This year, supported by such as Bell and The Royal Bank, it runs from February 23 to March 11. Billed as the 18th edition, I make it out to be only the 17th. Readers, help!

Anyways, be it 17 or 18, it is chock full of theatre, music, museum and outdoor lit delights… even gastronomic. (Lyon is the featured food city this year.)

On its first night, it featured, in connection with the special Chagall exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Shiksa, a one-night live presentation of selections performed by Canadians Matt Herskowitz (piano) and Lara St. John (violin). Consisting of Jewish and Gypsy folk tunes from East Europe, Armenia, Palestine, Russia, Greece, Hungary and Romania, it included largely Yiddish music from the Ashkenazi Diaspora as well as haunting Ladino influences from the Iberian and southern Diaspora.

The very name shiksa in Yiddish refers to a nice non Jewish girl (which Ms. St. John is).

Matt Herskowitz WestmountMag.caBoth performers have had raves individually from Australia to Ireland and points in between. What a pleasure to have see them together in an inspired and spirited collaboration!

I have long been a Herskowitz fan, sharing his appreciation of Gershwin and catching his award winning Jerusalem Triology at the Montreal Jazz Fest in 2013. Albums of Shiksa are available on the internet.

For those interested in Ladino melodies, another spectacular Canadian shiksa is vocalist Patricia O’Callaghan who also appeared at the Jazz fest back in 2001.

A full program of the Festival can be found at

Mary Ann’s take

Laura St. John and Matt Herskowitz painted the stage at the Salle Bourgie with their passionate and dynamic music. This performance was part of the Montreal Museum of Fine Art’s Chagall: couleur et musique exhibition. St. John was wearing a gold and yellow gown with an abstract pattern similar to a Chagall’s canvas of a fractured sun. The hall was equally fitting with its colourful backlit stained glass windows and grand domed ceiling. St. John told the audience about a her Shiksa project, a collection of Jewish, Roma and folk songs with pianist Herskowitz, stating that she is the Shiksa (a Yiddish term for non-Jewish woman) in the project.

The concert included Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane, George Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm, and several young contemporary composers’ works: Martin Kennedy’s Czardashian Rhapsody, Serouj Kradjian’s Sari Siroun Yar, Milica Paranosic’s Čoček and John Kameel Farah’s Ah Ya Zayn.

Saving the best for last, Matt Herskowitz’s Bella’s Lament was a hauntingly beautiful piece and I noticed a few teary eyes in the audience. Herskowitz’s Nagilara, a composition based on Hava Nagila (a celebratory Jewish folk) was exciting and dramatic, showcasing the incredible technique of both performers, leaving the audience breathless.

The audience gave the performers a well-deserved standing ovation and the encore was a lively and joyous Fritz Kreisler’s Schön Rosmarin.

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club
Mary Ann Lacey is a jazz vocalist who has written reviews for All about Jazz. She also teaches tango dancing.

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