Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Budapest Klezmer Band at the Jerusalem Theatre

Brought to Israel by Levie Kanes, the Budapest Klezmer Band, here once again, performed concerts in five different venues throughout the 2009 Succoth Festival week. This writer attended the October 5th performance in the Sherover Theatre of the Jerusalem Theatre. Pianist, composer, collector and arranger Ferenc Javori (Jakubovics) is the band’s musical director. Founded in 1990, its members include violinist Bence Gazda, clarinetist Istvan Kohan, trombonist Gabor Tamas, accordionist Anna Nagy, double bass player Gabor Kiss and percussionist Balasz Vegh. Javori, a classically-trained musician, grew up in the Hungarian-Jewish community of Munkacs, where he heard and researched klezmer music and Yiddish songs.

Presenting a variety of songs and dances, the band took the audience in and out of the Jewish wedding hall, its joy, verve and festivity knowing no bounds. Javori’s imaginative arrangements boast color and energy; they provide opportunities for spontaneity and invite his musicians to present their different personalities and display virtuosity. Gazda, Kohan and Nagy, in particular, were brilliant and gave of their all. Klezmer music offers variety and rhythmic surprises and the nostalgically beautiful klezmer scales (shteygers) create its specific soundscape. There were a few delicate and poignant moments – intimate, sad moments reminding us of the tragedies encountered by Jews of eastern Europe. However, these were always swept away with a burst of humor or frenzied dance music – the story of Jewish survival. We also heard simple folk dances, well-known Yiddish songs and items from "Fiddler on the Roof". Following klezmer music to America in the early 20th century, the players donned hats and dark glasses to present the “Yiddishe Blues”.

Joining the Budapest Klezmer Band as guest singers were cantor and operatic tenor Tzudik Greenwald and 11-year-old Orad Katz. Greenwald’s performance of “Mamele” was convincing. His timing was flexed and his silvery voice well suited to the song. The BKB’s accompaniments to all the songs were delicate and sensitive. Young Orad Katz has real stage presence and a fine voice. The audience loved his singing of the Yiddish song “Oifn Pripetchik”:

‘On the hearth a little fire is burning,
And it is hot in the house,
And the rebbe is teaching the little children
The Aleph Bet…..

When you get older, children,
You will understand that this alphabet
Contains the tears and weeping of our people.’

Both guest singers tended to outsing, straining their voices, and this seemed a pity. The beauty and timbre of both their voices would be enhanced by a more understated approach and less use of the microphone. In a hall as well-balanced acoustically as the Sherover Theatre, it seems unnecessary to amplify music to such a high volume. However, the audience enjoyed the music, the atmosphere was warm and we were all well entertained. It was an evening of fine performance and of music steeped in Jewish tradition, music to move the soul. Let’s hear more of the Budapest Klezmer Band in Israel!

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