Gesher Music Festival seeks to build bridges to 'Shelter of Peace'

Gesher Music Festival seeks to build bridges to 'Shelter of Peace'

CENTRAL WEST END – The Gesher Music Festival opens this week with a preview concert on Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. at the World Chess Hall of Fame, 4652 Maryland Avenue.

Now in its ninth year, the festival is hosted by the Jewish Community Center, though performances take place at venues in both St. Louis county and city. Three formal concerts will take place this year at various locations, including the Music Center and the Missouri History Museum, in addition to more informal gatherings where audience members can meet the musicians.

Founding Artistic Director Sara Sitzer, a cellist, said the festival was founded on a desire to connect people through music.

“The festival got started as a program of the Jewish Community Center, which at the time had art offerings, theater offerings but really not much in the way of music,” she explained.

The festival was named with a desire for connection in mind: “gesher” is the Hebrew word for “bridge” or “connection.”

Each year, the festival has a distinct theme that influences all of the concerts. This year that theme is “Shelter of Peace,” which Sitzer said was “timely right now in the United States.”

She added, “There’s a lot of conversation about people seeking shelter in the country. Obviously, we’re a music festival, we’re not going to get political, but it’s always interesting the way the arts can shine a lens on a conversation like that.”

All of the concerts look at this theme, from various angles.

“Safe Haven,” on Aug. 15, will focus on composers who came to the United States to seek safety. “Shelter from the Storm,” on Aug. 17, will present pieces throughout history about seeking refuge from a storm – going as far back as the story of Noah’s Ark. And the final concert, on Aug. 18, is “Sacred Spaces,” featuring music written about places in the world that people regard as sacred.

The theme of a shelter of peace plays a large role in Jewish culture in general, Sitzer said, though the music presented by the festival is by no means exclusively Jewish. More than about one particular faith, Sitzer said, the Gesher Music Festival seeks to “take music and ideas that people think they know and tell a story with them that might help people look at them from a different perspective.”

The Gesher Music Festival opens with its preview concert on Aug. 8 at the World Chess Hall of Fame. For a full schedule of the festival’s events, visit http://www.geshermusicfestival.org/