Plucky chamber ensemble specializes in Jewish music

When violinist Randall Weiss programs concerts for his chamber ensemble, the Bridge Players, he usually includes the meat-and-potatoes music of Beethoven, Brahms or Schumann.

He also includes the brisket-and-knishes music of Gershwin, Bloch or Bernstein. There’s always something Jewish on the Bridge Players’ musical menu.

That’s why the group has performed at the Jewish Music Festival three years running. It also explains “Music in the Mishkan,” the Bridge Players’ thrice-yearly concert series in the sanctuary of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.

Now in its 10th year, “Music in the Mishkan” takes place next on May 3 at the San Francisco synagogue. On the program: a string trio by Beethoven, the Schumann piano quartet and three nocturnes by Jewish composer Ernest Bloch.

The Bridge Players

“This program is probably typical-ish of all the programs,” Weiss says. “My philosophy is, an audience will listen to any good, unfamiliar music [like Bloch] if you surround it with more familiar music and if you talk about the music.”

In addition to his regard for familiar Jewish composers such as Felix Mendelssohn and modernist Osvaldo Golijov, Weiss has an affinity for little known Jewish composers with names like Ullmann, Schul and Klein. They were promising European composers who perished in the Holocaust.

Fortunately, their music did not.

“These were men who died in the middle of their musical careers,” Weiss adds. “They were artists who didn’t have a chance.”

The Bridge Players performed a concert two years ago called “Tales at Terezin,” which featured works by composers interned at the notorious Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

Weiss’ fascination with these artists is more than academic. His longtime violin teacher, Paul Kling, was an inmate at Terezin, and knew Gideon Klein, one of the murdered composers.

The Bridge Players has five permanent members, and borrows other musicians as needed to perform certain pieces.

Weiss is one of those lucky violinists able to make a living playing music full time. In addition to the Bridge Players, he is also the assistant concertmaster of Symphony Silicon Valley, and he previously served for 17 years in the same capacity with the San Jose Symphony.

Born and raised in Lima, Ohio, Weiss grew up in a Conservative household with two parents who taught Hebrew school. He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio and landed his first orchestral position with the Louisville Orchestra. He later moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where he played music and became involved with the local Jewish community.

Weiss settled in the Bay Area for good in the early 1980s. One of his first steady jobs here was playing the old Compass Rose Lounge at the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square.

Since then he’s moved up the symphonic food chain, but the Bridge Players remains his most cherished pet project. The name is a multiple pun on the Bay Area’s many bridges, the bridge of a stringed instrument … and, uh, one of the members plays bridge.

“We’re kind of a mom-and-pop organization,” Weiss says. “We don’ta have a [mixing] board. We’re just people who share the same musical ideas and goals.”

“Music in the Mishkan” concert at 4 p.m. May 3 at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, 290 Dolores St., S.F. $15-$20. Information: (415) 861-6932 ext. 304 or shaun@shaarzahav.org.

pine-dan
Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.