Project Recalls Yiddish Theater Legends

Listen: <b>Web Extra</b>: Boris Thomashefsky singing the Kaddish, from a Columbia recording in 1929.

Bessie and Boris Thomashefsky

Bessie and Boris Thomashefsky were the most popular performers of the Yiddish Theater era. Thomashefsky Project/Michael Tilson Thomas hide caption

itoggle caption Thomashefsky Project/Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas, left, with his grandmother, Bessie, and his father, Ted Thomas

Michael Tilson Thomas, left, with his grandmother, Bessie, and his father, Ted Thomas Thomashefsky Project/Michael Tilson Thomas hide caption

itoggle caption Thomashefsky Project/Michael Tilson Thomas

Michael Tilson Thomas is a superstar in the classical music world. He is the music director of the San Francisco Symphony and artistic director of Miami’s New World Symphony. This weekend, Tilson Thomas is taking a look at the world of his grandparents, who were superstars of another era: Yiddish Theater greats Bessie and Boris Thomashefsky.

Tilson Thomas says that, growing up in Los Angeles, his grandmother Bessie Thomashefsky was a frequent houseguest. He never knew his grandfather, who died in 1939.

The pair, born in Russia, became legends in Yiddish Theater, a genre they helped define. Among Boris Thomashefsky's more ambitious projects was a version of Hamlet that would inspire audiences to explore the original Shakespeare. And Tilson Thomas says he hopes this evening, dedicated to his grandparents, provides similar inspiration.

The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater plays at New York’s Zankel Hall this weekend. It will be repeated at Davies Hall in San Francisco this June.

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