Big Galut(e) band brings classical, crazy mix to Bay Area

Don’t be fooled by the parenthetical e: There’s nothing oafish about the band Big Galut(e), which lives up to the other meaning of its name — Hebrew for “Jewish exile” — with a global mix of genres.

Its self-titled debut CD offers klezmer, Turkish- and Indian-influenced melodies, a melodramatic Argentine pop hit, classical pieces by Salomone Rossi and Kurt Weill, a Borscht Belt-style send-up of the opera “Carmen,” and popular Yiddish theater songs, including “La Yiddishe Mama” sung in French.

Debut CD

The East Coast quintet makes its California debut next week with appearances Sept. 24 at Sonoma State. Sept. 25 at San Francisco’s Red Poppy Art House, and Sept. 26 at Stanford. The San Francisco performance will feature Big Galut(e)’s original suite, “Tale of Monish,” based on a late 19th-century ballad by classic Yiddish poet I. L. Peretz. The San Francisco performance will feature guest narrator Daniel Barton.

The nearly hourlong piece “is about this brilliant shtetl kid, maybe an adolescent, [who is] so brilliant and so perfectly good that everybody feels like he’s going to usher in the age of the messiah,” says Big Galut(e) violinist-vocalist Sasha Margolis, who developed the work with his father, composer Sanford Margolis.

According to the Faustian spoof, “Lilith, the devil’s wife, appears in the shtetl as a young German girl. Monish falls in love with her. She makes him be faithful by swearing in the name of God. Monish is immediately taken down to hell, and everyone celebrates.”

The piece melds multiple musical elements, according to clarinetist Robin Seletsky: “Hassidic-style; kind-of-Shostakovich, slightly modern classical, with a klezmer freilach that comes in and out.” The composers also toss in a tango and a cha-cha, Margolis adds.

The composition “makes me very misty.” Seletsky says. “Sasha was able to work with his father so closely on this. It’s his father’s music and Sasha’s interpretation of the poetry.”

Big Galut(e), plays three Bay Area concerts next week.

Seletsky had a similar relationship with her late father, classical and klezmer clarinetist-composer Harold Seletsky, who taught her classical clarinet when she was a child and klezmer stylings as an adult. Two pieces on the CD, “Seletsker Freylekhs” and “Kosher Bagel Medley,” feature melodies composed by each Seletsky.

Similarly, Margolis learned klezmer from his father, who arranged tunes for the boy violinist and his flutist sister.

Sasha Margolis and Robin Seletsky were playing in an opera festival orchestra in 2010 when their klezmer and family backgrounds brought them together. With baroque guitar and lute master Michael Leopold, who grew up in Greenbrae, they formed a trio to perform three klezmer pieces at a festival chamber concert.

“I almost chickened out,” Seletsky says. “I didn’t think it would be appropriate. But people loved it.”

The next year brought the final two band members: Mark Rubinstein on accordion and percussion, and Richard Sosinsky on bass and mandolin.

The band members play with the craft and precision indicative of their shared classical background, but Margolis and Seletsky work klezmer stylings into their playing.

Margolis also promised “a little shtick” at the concerts. “We generally tell two or three bilingual jokes — Yiddish with very loose English translations,” he says. “There’s also some explaining from the stage, which is very un-Borscht Belt-like. Sometimes we’re serious, sometimes we’re silly.”


Big Galut(e) performs at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24 at Sonoma State University, Schroeder Hall, Green Music Center, Rohnert Park. Free; $5 parking. (707) 664-2324 or www. Also 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, Red Poppy Art House, 2698 Folsom St., S.F. $15-$20. Also 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, Stanford University, Campbell Recital Hall. Free. [email protected]