BMOP Explores Klezmer Music With David Krakauer
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), the nation's premier orchestra dedicated exclusively to commissioning, performing, and recording new orchestral music, presents Klezmer Madness: a one-night only concert of contemporary music by three composers exploring their Jewish heritage through klezmer music. Featuring guest soloist and klezmer superstar David Krakauer, the program includes the Boston premiere of Mathew Rosenblum's searing clarinet concerto Lament/Witches' Sabbath, Wlad Marhulets's Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet, and Avner Dorman's Ellef Symphony and Uriah.
"There cannot be any doubt of the Jewish identity of the works on this program," says Gil Rose, BMOP's Artistic Director and Conductor. "Multiple, varying influences inform these works, both in terms of style and origin, but there is one common theme: klezmer. Those with no previous exposure to klezmer music and those already familiar with it will find this ages-old, nearly forgotten art form appealing."
Klezmer is a genre of music derived from and built upon the secular musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. It is stylistically influenced by indigenous music from various countries in Eastern Europe, particularly Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, Greece, and Turkey. From its inception, klezmer music has always reflected the music of the Jewish community while adapting the music of the larger, surrounding culture. It received a bit of a revival in the late 20th century, as numerous musicians combined klezmer with free jazz, funk, hip-hop, drum & bass, concert, and folk music. More and more composers have intentionally drawn on the musical characteristics commonly employed in klezmer music.
BMOP begins its tribute to klezmer music with two works written for and featuring clarinetist David Krakauer (b. 1956), one of the most important and influential musicians in new Jewish music today and of the vital new wave of klezmer. The 23-minute Lament/Witches' Sabbath (2017) by Mathew Rosenblum (b. 1954) received its premiere in 2018 at Pittsburgh's Beyond: Microtonal Music Festival, performed by the Beyond Festival Orchestra and Krakauer, both under Gil Rose's baton. This extremely personal, Jewish-themed work about escape from pogroms blends clarinet and orchestra with historic field recordings of Ukrainian and Jewish laments and private recordings of Rosenblum's grandmother, Bella Liss, who speaks and sings in Ukrainian, Russian, and Yiddish. The work is about migration, loss, memory, and cultural transformation and contributes to current debates surrounding these issues. According to Stereophile, "the music itself is so powerful, and the singing and playing so atypically eloquent that they simply must be heard. This is music that transcends speeches, rhetoric, and thoughts and prayers as it cuts straight to the heart."
Krakauer joins BMOP again for Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet (2008) by Wlad Marhulets (b. 1986), a polystylistic concerto that juxtaposes traditional klezmer forms with contemporary orchestral writing. The composer describes it as the most important work of his career. Born in Minsk, Marhulets moved with his family to Gdansk, Poland, as a child. It was there, at the age of 16, that he first heard a recording by the acclaimed Krakauer. "Listening to this modern reinvention of klezmer music changed my life," says Marhulets, who immediately picked up the clarinet and formed his own klezmer band. "It inspired me to become a musician and to explore my own roots and culture through music. Since then, I've been trying to give back by writing music that is primarily inspired by Jewish culture."
Bookending the solo clarinet works are two pieces by Avner Dorman (b. 1975), Uriah (2009) and Ellef Symphony (2000). Dorman, a native of Israel now living in the United States, explains that Uriah is a "protest piece" against the violence of corrupt political leaders. Over five continuous movements it tells the biblical story of Uriah, the soldier King David sent to the front lines and to his death to cover up David's affair with Uriah's wife, the beautiful Bat-Sheba.
The evening concludes with Ellef Symphony, which has four parts that are performed continuously. The first three parts are inspired by Jewish poetry of the second millennium (1000-2000), each concerned with a different aspect of war. The fourth movement leaves hope that the poetry of the third millennium will not have to deal with wars. Premiered by the Young Israel Philharmonic, the piece received Israel's prestigious Prime-Minister's Award in 2000.