A Soulful Story of Klezmer – The London Klezmer Quartet
By Liane Morris
In these extraordinary times of globalisation and secularisation there is a danger of losing the minutia of cultures – a watering down of the rituals and art that make each country and all of us unique. So it is with some joy that I recently discovered something new for me, but something very old and very rich in tradition. I heard The London Klezmer Quartet performing songs from their new album To the Tavern and it touched my soul.
Klezmer is a style of music that has its roots in primarily Eastern European Jewish cultures – it’s the traditional music you might hear at a Jewish wedding for example and is meant for dancing. The word itself is Yiddish and means “vessel of song”. Originally, klezmer music was meant to replicate the sound of the human voice, in particular the cantor from the synagogue. The instruments are usually violin, clarinet, piano accordion, a bass or cello and a drum. Being non-Jewish, I had never heard this term before but as soon as I heard the music I knew it.
There is something profound in this style of music. Something that reaches deep inside of you and connects you to your emotions and, some would say, to God. It is music with spiritual significance but it is by no means dour or boring. Quite the opposite in fact. This is toe tapping, joyful, sometimes melancholy, jaunty, total fun and immersive enjoyment that will put a smile on your face and move you to tears all at the same time. I defy anyone to hear it and not be moved by it.
What is particularly wonderful about hearing this style of music now, is that it is a tradition that was almost lost but is now enjoying an enthusiastic revival. Klezmer is an aural tradition that was handed down from musician to musician. During the Holocaust, much of the klezmer practice was decimated. Add to that, the desire of new Jewish immigrants in countries such as America to “fit in”, and this style of music was performed less and less. What a tragic loss that would have been for all of us. It is thanks to groups of talented musicians such as The London Klezmer Quartet who have doggedly traced the roots of this music, unearthing it and recreating it for us all, that we get to hear and enjoy it today.
The London Klezmer Quartet is comprised of Ilana Cravitz (violin), Susi Evans (clarinet), Carol Isaacs (accordion) and Indra Buraczewska (double bass & vocals – Latvia/Australia). The individual band members also record & tour with other groups around the world such as The Indigo Girls (US), Sinead O’Connor (Ireland), Natacha Atlas (Egypt), She’Koyokh (UK), and Ahmed Mukhtar (Iraq). According to the UK’s Sunday Times “The tradition (klezmer) is safe in the hands of the next generation.” Australian audiences have enjoyed London Klezmer Quartet headlining folk festivals over the past few years but Sydney is in for a treat in February 2017. The London Klezmer Quartet are performing songs from their latest album To the Tavern, at Riverside Theatres on 18 February 2017.
What makes To the Tavern extra special, is the inspiration behind the music. During a workshop the band were running in Sydney Australia a few years ago, a man named Peter Newell presented them with a short story he had written called Konrad’s Bukovina Khosidl. It is the story of an Eastern European musician who travels around looking for work playing his violin in 1939. He follows a blank sign post one day to a town and on his way there, a new fully formed piece of music pops into his head – a gift from God. Later the next night he performs the music or khosidl with tragic consequences. When The London Klezmer Quartet were recording their latest album, the short story haunted them. Inspired, they crafted their album to tell a similar story. To the Tavern is the story of 24 hours in the day of a group of musicians, travelling by train to an unknown destination, an anonymous town, where they find a klezmer inn and play music for a party, before leaving again at dawn. The effect this has on the music is to anchor it in the traditions of its past – telling part of the story of the Eastern European Jewish culture. It allows the listener to imagine themselves in the tavern, dancing up a sweat and feeling the melancholy of the transient lives of the musicians.
“Without this violin I am nothing in this world, merely a man with bad papers, without a job, who speaks every language, even my own, with an accent, a foreigner everywhere except in the valley round my home village, and I am not going back there…” from Konrad’s Bukovina Khosidl.
Do yourself a favour and read the story before you go to the concert. It will enrich an already deeply satisfying experience.
I can’t wait to see The London Klezmer Quartet in action. I am full of gratitude that artists like these protect the treasures of the past, shining them up so that they are once again valued and put on display for us all to enjoy long into the future. It is through art, music, dance and food that we retain historical traditions in which different cultures are allowed to breathe. If you’re already a fan you know what I’m talking about but if you’re new to this genre, don’t miss it – it’s an experience that is immersive and emotionally, spiritually uplifting.
The London Klezmer Quartet performs To the Tavern at Riverside Theatres on Saturday 18 February at 7:30pm. Tickets on sale now – Click here to book.
A freelance writer with a background in arts and media marketing, Liane runs a boutique consultancy from her home in Lake Macquarie. She can write just about anything but has a passion for the arts, health and cooking, happiness theories, travel, feminism, leadership and parenting.
In the past Liane worked as a senior marketer in organisations such as Canberra Glassworks, Riverside Theatres, Sydney Symphony and Time Inc. Magazines (Who Weekly, Time, Sports Illustrated and InStyle) but these days she prefers the flexibility and creative freedom in freelance writing work.
A proud Novacastrian, Liane loves living on the coast just 1 ½ hours from the big smoke, growing amazing little human beings and writing for pleasure and for her clients.