This summer, Harbourfront Centre explores the notion of legacy to mark its 40th anniversary. The notion is resonant too for Ashkenaz, a festival celebrating the culture, creativity and artistic brilliance of the Jewish people. Elie Wiesel has remarked of the Jewish people: "their best characteristic is their desire to remember. No other people has such an obsession with memory." Indeed, this distinctly Jewish preoccupation has informed the work of Ashkenaz since its inception.
The Ashkenaz Festival was created in 1995, a half-century removed from the Holocaust. As the thousand-year cultural legacy of east European Jewry balanced precariously on the edge of potential oblivion, the Ashkenaz Festival emerged as a powerful force to preserve for all time that lost East European Jewish world through art and music. Equally important, Ashkenaz has been driven by a determination to re-invigorate pre-Second World War traditions with contemporary sensibilities, so that they might thrive and evolve in a new millennium and a multicultural world.
The Ashkenaz mission has since evolved further, drawing upon the artistic legacies of multiple Jewish and non-Jewish communities and identities, from around the world and across time. A great diversity of cultural and historical legacies now serve as the wellspring of creativity featured in the Ashkenaz Festival. The festival's legacy is now comprised of nearly 20 years of cultural innovation, during which time we have featured thousands of artists from over 30 countries and have reached over half a million audience members. Our greatest legacy, perhaps, has been the cultivation of a thriving artistic scene among Toronto- and Canadian-based artists, for whom the festival has provided inspiration and a platform to present their own work.
In 2014, as we present the 10th edition of our world-renowned festival of Jewish musical and artistic creativity, we continue striving to serve as a vibrant continuum of artistic and communal transformation, in which past meets present to establish a living, breathing culture whose own legacy will resonate far into the future.
— Eric Stein, Artistic Director