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Project Recalls Yiddish Theater Legends

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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Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.