- …a stunning vocalist with a four octave range and no slouch on piano, either. - Forward
-...singer Polina Shepherd evoked the spirit of the Ashkenazi Jews with a spine-tingling traditional Hassidic song ... Her dramatic interpretation was such that one did not need the translation to understand what was going on in the harrowing song. - Chicago Classical
- Singer Polina Shepherd …combines virtuoso vocal talent with raw emotional delivery. She plumbs energy from the same archetypical sources that make blues and flamenco singing so powerful. - Portuguese American Journal
- Polina Shepherd - a Yiddish/Russian singer of rare gifts... Her expressive voice and face seemed to represent every exile’s sense of yearning and hope, the sum of the tales to come. - Cleveland Classical
- Shepherd’s performance, like all the best ones we’ve heard this week, was not about kitsch, sentimentality, or nostalgia. This wasn’t singing around the campfire. Delivering the prayer inimitably, with ornamentation reflecting her immersion in the chant of the muezzin as much as in the cantorial tradition, it was about transcendence via art. It was a cry from her own heart, an act of creation, and a transformation of time and space into. - Forward
-...bouncy village songs, light classical numbers and some fiery vocals make for an experience that is both worldly and rooted in Jewish tradition." - Songlines
Polina Shepherd is a composer, performer, educator and cultural activist originally from Siberia, now living in Brighton UK. She grew up with singing at family gatherings where she accompanied her grandfather, a WWII veteran and her whole Cossack / Jewish family from the age of 7. Since moving to the UK in 2003 has been performing, teaching, composing and touring with various projects internationally.
Her singing, though based on traditional forms, cuts a sound deeply rooted in east European Jewish and Russian folk. Growing up in Tatarstan also placed her close to Islamic ornamentation and timbre, which can be heard in her unique vocal style.
Whilst living in Kazan (capital of Tatarstan, Central Russia) and studying at the State Academy, Polina joined Russia′s first klezmer band after Perestroika, Simcha (1990-2000). She soon became the principal Yiddish choir leader of the former Soviet Union, composing original material for large groups of voices and touring internationally with her Quartet Ashkenazim (1991-2007).
As a solo performer she presents a variety of original songs including her solo album Three Centuries Ago, some of the songs with her own poetry. In 2023 Polina joined the GRAMMY®-winning baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire (Cleveland, USA) as a guest singer in Exile & Resilience tour of the USA and Europe. Amongst dozens projects, as a vocalist worked and recorded with a remix artist Max Pashm in Never Mind the Balkans, a Romanian Gypsy style brass band Fanfara, and most recently for Gecko Theatre production Kin (2022).
The most ambitious choral project is 150 Voices, a recorded collaboration with the lead singer of the Grammy-winning The Klezmatics Lorin Sklamberg and five choirs in the UK and the USA. Apart from the original choirs, the Sklamberg – Shepherd Duo offer workshopping and performing it with any group or choir in the world.
Amongst her other projects is Sklamberg & The Shepherds – a trio which brings the world of traditional and newly composed Yiddish and Russian song blended with Klezmer and southern Mediterranean Music.
Her duo projects are The Stranniki with a “wandering scholar” Psoy Korolenko (Russia/US) and a programme with a Grammy-winning New-Yorker Lorin Sklamberg, The Izba, the Shtibl and the Global Village. Merlin and Polina Shepherd Duo travel the world and have a reputation of The Led Zeppelin of Klezmer.
As a pianist she works with the Sound & Light Cinematic Duo (UK), who play live accompaniment to black & white silent films from 1910-1930. She was the original keyboards player in The Yiddish Twist Orchestra.
Polina’s composition is focused on East European styles with an influence of classical music and folk elements. About 120 pieces including music for theatre shows, choir compositions, settings for Yiddish poems, piano work, and nigunim performed by soloists and choirs all over the world. Amongst her latest compositions are two vocal cycles: Di Khasene (The Wedding) by M. Kulbak and a cycle of erotic Yiddish songs for poems by T-K. Handler. Her choral arrangements and compositions have been published internationally, including the latest publication in Edition Peters Yiddish Choral Series (2022).
Her choral work is united by the umbrella of The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience and covers many aspects of vocal music from large scale choirs to smaller chamber groups, from highly arranged and conducted pieces to on spot choral improvisation. Her specially developed teaching and conducting methods are based on specific East European sound, ornamentation, modal experimentation with attention to history and context. Choir leader: the Award Winning Russian choir of Brighton & Hove in 2007-2023, The London Russian Choir in 2013-2023, the Brighton & Hove Yiddish choir and the London Yiddish choir in 2015-2022. Currently leads Slavic Voices in Brighton and London. Music Co-Director of Caravan Orchestra and Choir: a German – Israeli youth project (2019 – 2023), where Polina experiments with creating musical forms on the spot with a 40+ group of musicians with classical, jazz and Arab music backgrounds.
Polina’s involvement in theatre includes various work: musician – actor in The Hypochondriac, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, 2005; Jewish Music Advisor for Paul, strange Kind of a Hero in Brighton by Goodcompanymedia, 2007; Music Director, composer, pianist and singer at Coventry Belgrade Theatre for Marriage by N. Gogol, 2013. Music Advisor and Recording Artist for the Gecko Theatre production Kin (2022). In 2023, she took part in a Refugees Together, The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (New York, USA) theatrical concert production. In cinema, she recorded soundtracks for The Windermere Children (2020) and appears conducting her choir and singing in The Crown (2022).
Programme director for various international festivals starting from the International Festival and Competition of Jewish Musicians in Kazan, Russia in 2002 – 2003, International Klezmer Music Festival in Moscow in 2005 – 2006, carrying on in the UK with Klezmer South in Brighton in 2018 – 2019 and lately, to a large online project including over 50 performers from 13 countries over the pandemic months Yiddish Song Forum: Step Forverts.