Friday, October 12, 2007

Yale Strom's amazing klezmer festival!

from the AP: N.Y. hosts over 100 klezmer musicians for 10-day festival:

Some of the world's best klezmer musicians gathered Friday in a New York neighborhood that was once home to poor immigrant Jews for a 10-day festival of the music rooted in their Eastern European cultures.

"This is more klezmer musicians in one place than I've ever seen!" said an excited Theodor Bikel, the 83-year-old folk singer and film, television and Broadway actor.

Bikel joined more than 100 musicians from the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, Canada and elsewhere in a parade that kicked off at the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue.

Klezmer has become an umbrella for all different styles of Jewish music, said Yale Strom, a leading klezmer ethnographer, violinist and composer who organized the festival with a $150,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

But there's always the Jewishness, the perspective of the Jewish aesthetic from Eastern Europe.

Klezmer experienced a revival in the 1970s, when young musicians reclaimed their East European Jewish tradition, incorporating American jazz and rock influences.

Still, klezmer keeps the haunting Middle Eastern intervals heard in its pure form, which has drawn performers like top classical violinist Itzhak Perlman.

The original klezmer was played at weddings, bar mitzvahs and other usually happy occasions, said Bikel, who has performed the role of Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof more than 2,000 times. But klezmer expresses the spirit of a people who very often did not lead happy or unencumbered lives. So there's always a note of sadness in the music.

In the new klezmer, there is a sophistication that has evolved which has to do with the dexterity of the player - a fusion that happened in America, where cross-influences play a big role in music, Bikel added.

The dexterity is especially evident in the technical virtuosity of the clarinet, an instrument central to klezmer and played by festival participants like Moshe Berlin, an Israeli appearing for the first time in the United States, New Yorker David Krakauer and the renowned black jazz musician Don Byron.

Musicians in the festival - many of them non-Jewish - range in age from 20-something Annette Ezekiel to octogenarians Mina Bern and Shifra Lehrer, grand dames of Yiddish theater.

Strom said he organized the gathering in conjunction with the Eldridge Street Synagogue while the older, traditional klezmer artists were still performing.

"We're all getting older and I wanted to capture musicians who are playing this music since the '40s and '50s," Strom said.

The festival runs through Oct. 21, with concerts, lectures and workshops in Manhattan this weekend followed by events throughout upstate New York.

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