Yaakov “Yanky” Lemmer’s mellifluous tenor is heard most often in the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York, where he serves as the head cantor, singing the liturgies and leading prayers.
He has also been heard around the world, on solo tours and as part of “The New York Cantors,” a trio that performed a 2018 Amsterdam concert broadcast on PBS. Afterward, the group went on tour. (The other members are Azi Schwartz of the Park Avenue Synagogue and Netanel Hershtik of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach.)
Lemmer will bring his dulcet tones to Roanoke this Sunday, 3 p.m., as the opening concert for the second season of the Jewish Music and Arts Series presented by the Roanoke Jewish Federation.
“He’s amazing. I’ve heard him many times before,” said Benedict “Bendy” Goodfriend, well known to Roanoke Valley classical music fans as the violinist for the Salem-based Kandinsky Trio. “He truly is one of the best cantors now in existence.”
Goodfriend organizes the music programming for the series. He was pleased by the first season’s reception. “I was encouraged by it,” he said. “Instead of just people from the Jewish community, we attracted other people as well, which is one of my goals in this series.”
Lemmer won’t only perform traditional Hebrew liturgy. His concerts incorporate Yiddish folk songs, Israeli and Hasidic music, even opera and Broadway tunes. “That’s what he’ll be doing here,” Goodfriend said.
The season has expanded this year from two music performances to three. On March 22, Israeli folk singer Ron Eliran will take the stage. “He’s considered Israel’s ‘Ambassador of Song,’” Goodfriend said. “He became really quite famous. Ed Sullivan brought him over here to be on his show, and then he got involved in the folk scene in the ’60s, with Bob Dylan and that whole bunch, Peter, Paul and Mary. He even had a Broadway show. Back in Israel, he became a top folk rock singer.” Eliran now lives in New York.
“I grew up with one of his records, actually. It was kind of a comedy folk record,” Goodfriend said. “It was one of those things since my early childhood that I’ve listened to a lot, so I was excited to get in touch with him.”
Goodfriend himself will play the third concert on April 26, performing violin music by Jewish composers.
The performances will be at Virginia Western Community College’s Whitman Theater instead of at the Beth Israel Synagogue. One sobering reason why has generally to with security. “With what’s going on in the country with attacks on synagogues, and attacks on Jewish facilities, they’re starting to get more and more wary of not knowing who’s coming into the building,” Goodfriend said.
Meanwhile, the Kandinsky Trio — comprised of Goodfriend, pianist Elizabeth Bachelder and cellist Alan Weinstein — has postponed its Roanoke College concert scheduled for Tuesday with violist Kim Fredenburgh and oboist Kevin Vigneau. The guest artists, who are husband and wife, cannot travel because of a serious family illness, according to a post on the trio’s Facebook page. Weinstein wrote that the trio intends to reschedule the performance.