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Updated Ukrainian Jewish site

Dear Friends,

Please, visit updated klezmer.com.ua "Klezmer vig"! There you can find the info about the recent "Klezfest in Ukraine, 2003" and sound tracks from Gala Concert, which took place in Kiev August, 28!

Yana Yanover
Director, The Center of Jewish Education in Ukraine


by Olga Stelmashevska

Upon hearing the words "Jewish music", modern people have only one association to them - dance "Seven Forty". Nevertheless, not one wedding has so far been done without Jewish folklore. This music can be heard even at Moslem weddings of Crimean Tatars. It is understandable, for true arts have no boundaries or religious taboos. At the same time, no one ever thought of where different nations get this everlasting love for Jewish dancing melodies. As it turned out, there is a whole musical movement called the "klezmer music" (from Hebrew "kli-zemer" - "musical instrument"). Today, this movement has become an international phenomenon. This can be seen from the Forth International Festival and Master Class "Klezfest in Ukraine, 2003" that took place at the Kiev resort Pusch-Voditsa on August 24-29. This year, its organizers Yana and Boris Yanover, with the assistance of the Jewish Communities Development Fund for Russia and Ukraine (New York, USA), a project of the American Jewish World Service, invited 55 best performers from Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Estonia, Russia, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, United States, and Canada to take part in it. For the second year in a row, the final gala concert of the festival has been opened for the general public. Thanks to this fact, the klezmer movement is gaining popularity in Ukraine. It is no secret that more and more Gentile musicians start devoting their efforts to the development of this genre. Such tendencies have most rapidly developed in the musical life of Germany. The figures are astonishing. One website of klezmer music provides information on 32 orchestras that perform klezmer. But whatever the reasons behind such popularity of this culture on the both sides of the Wall (guilt, anti-fascism, opposition to the official culture - all of these aspects contribute to the fact), the klezmer life in Germany is characterized by a small percentage of Jewish orchestras that perform klezmer music and by a very small Jewish audience to listen to it. Some people believe neither Jews nor (even less so) Germans should play Jewish music. The very existence of Gentile klezmer orchestras proves a great success of this movement in Europe. Klezmer was recognized as genuine and honored folk music that awakes the interest of serious people of various ethnic groups.

I attended the gala concert of the Kiev "Klezfest" on August 28 at the State Musical Children's Theater. So I can see a few more reasons why this musical trend had such a success with different layers of the population. For example, there were a lot of club-house youth among the audience who came to listen to the so-called Jewish jazz. It was played by quite a radical singer from London clubs, Penelope Salomon. She presented a whole jazz potpourri on Jewish themes and was accompanied by musicians in yarmulkes. No wonder that the hall exploded with applause at the end of her brilliant performance. Another example is a most masterly pianist, composer and arranger, soloist of the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Marylyn Lerner from Canada, who is also widely known precisely in jazz circles. And there was certainly the old guest of Ukrainian Klezfests, recognized leader of the traditional klezmer style, soloist of the Sukke trio, clarinetist Merlin Shepherd from Great Britain. First he artistically conducted a klezmer orchestra combined of instrumentalists - participants in the festival. Thus he tuned the public into dancing. Then, in the second, apotheosis, part of the concert he played his clarinet in such a way that people remembered the words of Sholom-Aleichem when he spoke of a klezmer violinist. "When he put his cheek against his violin and began to run his bow over the strings, a new world would open in front of us. You felt a captured soul inside of his violin. This soul strives for freedom, crying, weeping and imploring... Jewish men with long beards and hardened faces felt like small children when they listened to klezmer Chaim's music: His violin sang, his violin spoke as a living being, it grabbed at your soul:"

Another reason for the success of this music lays in the peculiar melodies and theatricality of Yiddish songs. This year, along with wonderful Adrian Cooper from the United States, the festival discovered blind Czech singer, Katerina Koltsova, who won our hearts with her singing once and for all. But as is known, Jewish music is not just eternal sadness - it's also impetuous joy and delicate, refined humor. This aspect of it was seen not only in instrumental wedding melodies that were played in the course of the whole concert, but also in the original musical parody performed by Psoy Korolenko, Moscow. In different languages, he managed to tell a story of the famous song "Bamir biz tu shein" that every Soviet person knows from famous Leonid Utyosov's song.

In general, I would divide this concert into two parts. One is traditional klezmer music usually represented either by the older generation of musicians or by debutants who have just finished learning the basics of this musical genre. The second part is club-house klezmer music performed by virtuoso musicians. The latter don't care where the melody comes from if it enables one to enjoy, to experiment, to improvise, or to arrange in a non-traditional manner: Maybe it is due to such musicians that klezmer music had gone far outside the boundaries of community music and brought glory to the countries of klezmer festivals - Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine.

I should also acknowledge the enlightening and the "museum" mission of this unique musical forum that annually gathers very interesting people with diverse gifts. For instance, Jeffrey Perelman taught on very practical topics: "Musical Market and Self-Advertisement" and "Self-Advertisement: Planning Your Concert Tour without a Manager". I would also like to wish to "Klezfest" that it expands its boundaries outside closed concert halls. I believe the level of this festival and musicians that participate in it is worthy of being heard by as many people as possible. The audience may join in dancing within the first few seconds of klezmer music or a Yiddish song. But look - the whole Krakow and seems like the whole world dances during a similar festival in Poland!

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