Leonard Bernstein to klezmer clarinet

Leonard Bernstein to klezmer clarinet

Leonard Bernstein to klezmer clarinet
By Amanda Giracca, Special to Berkshires Week,
Posted: 06/16/2011 12:19:08 AM EDT
Updated: 06/16/2011 03:10:34 PM EDT

Click photo to enlarge

Klezmer clarinetist Paul Green will perform… (Courtesy of Berkshire Celebration of Jewish Music)
Thursday June 16, 2011

When clarinetist Paul Green listens to the American twist on klezmer, or Jewish folk music, he hears the “punched out” rhythm of traditional eastern European folk mixed with the influence of jazz. In American klezmer songs, the melody is somewhere between established and spontaneous.

“Some is original melody, some is from the idiomatic embellishments that create emotion or drama,” Green said.

If this sounds a little like Miles Davis playing “Hava Nagila,” well, that’s the point.

To Green, music is music.

“I’m interested in finding commonalities in different kinds of music,” Green said.

He will speak on the history of Jewish music and its various influences in a talk, “The Development of Jewish Art Music,” this evening at the Berkshire Athenaeum. The lecture begins the second annual Celebration of Jewish Music, which also spans three separate concerts — chamber music in Great Barrington, klezmer music in North Adams and vocal music in Pittsfield — held throughout June.

Green, who recently moved year-round to the Berkshires from Florida, has taught summer courses at the Berkshire Music School since 2006 and clarinet at Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University. He was trained in classical music at the Julliard School and began playing klezmer 15 years ago when, by chance, a friend needed a clarinetist for his klezmer band. He is also a jazz musician.

“A theme to this festival,” he said, “is the broad panoply of Jewish influence in music.”

The panoply ranges from traditional religious music to Yiddish folk songs, American show tunes, and the compositions of contemporary classical musicians like Leonard Bernstein.

The festival will highlight both the influence of Jewish culture on mainstream music and important Jewish composers in all realms of music.
Green co-directs the Celebration of Jewish Music with Cantor Robert Scherr, the Jewish chaplain at Williams College. Scherr is a baritone vocalist, a cantor for a synagogue in Natick for 29 years, and has sung his own panoply of music professionally. From the synagogue to theater, classical to opera, he continues to perform.

“The journey of Jewish music is difficult to pigeonhole — but that’s good,” Scherr said. “The search for authenticity is in the eye of the beholder. It depends on what your experience is.”

A North African might define Jewish music very differently than an eastern European would, he explained.

The purpose of the celebration, he said, “Is to hear a wide, wide range of what Jewish composers have done. But it is by no means comprehensive.”

Both Green and Scherr will perform in this year’s concerts.

This evening’s lecture will trace the development of Jewish music from the Old Testament to the present. Jewish art music could have ended in 70 A.D., Green explained, with the destruction of Second Temple in Jerusalem when there was a ban on all public performances of Jewish music. During the Renaissance, Jewish culture once again became more integrated. Green credits early 17th century composer Salamone Rossi as the first “legit” Jewish composer, although there’s little to distinguish his music as Jewish.

“It sounds like church music,” Green said. “Composers had to obey very strict harmonic rules or else they could have been executed. It wasn’t easy being a pioneer.”

Green’s talk will trace milestones such as the Society for Jewish Folk Music, which was formed in the Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1905. The musicians traveled around Russia collecting Jewish folk songs, incorporating what they heard into their own compositions, “housing the folk tunes in more classical structures.”
The lecture will end with contemporary composers, and Green will share music throughout.

The other purpose of the festival, Scherr said, is community. It’s about drawing people together from all over the county to listen to music from all over the world.

“A person not normally interested in klezmer music might take a chance and expand their range. They might go to one concert to hear Leonard Bernstein, and maybe they’ll fall in love with Yiddish folk songs,” he said.
He also pointed out that the chamber music concert includes a piece by Williamstown composer Steven Dankner.

Arlene Schiff of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, a sponsor of the celebration, also stressed the importance the festival had on both the Jewish and the non-Jewish community, citing last year’s turnout — more than 125 people at one concert. She said she hopes the concerts will link people throughout the county.

“It will bring a greater awareness of the impact the Jewish community has had on music,” she said, “and people will come out, connect, and enjoy.”

If you go …
What: The Development
of Jewish Art Music
When: Tonight at 7
Where: Berkshire Athenaeum,
1 Wendell Ave., Pittsfield
Admission: Free
What: The Chamber Music of Jewish Composers. Co-directors Paul Green and Cantor Robert Scherr present Jewish folk,
classical and popular music. Works by Williamstown composer Steven Dankner and prominent composers such as Paul Schoenfield, Benjamin Yusopov and Jacob Weinberg. Green,
clarinet; Scherr, vocals; Doris Stevenson, piano; Joel Pitchon, violin; and Ronald Feldman, cello.
When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, 270 State Road, Great Barrington
Admission: $12
What: A Klezmer Afternoon
with Paul Green & Friends.
The concert will offer traditional pieces fromthe Eastern European Klezmer repertoire
as well as American Klezmer repertoire.
When: Sunday, June 26, at 3 p.m.
Where: Congregation Beth Israel, 53 Lois St.,
North Adams.
Admission: $12
What: A concert of Jewish vocal music: ‘Shiru Lo, Zamro Lo — Let Us Sing with Joy’
Musicians: Rabbi Deborah Zecher of the Hevreh of South Berkshire; Spiritual Leader Barbara Cohen of Congregation Ahavath Sholom; and Cantor Robert Scherr perform Yiddish, Hebrew and Ladino music and Broadway, spotlighting the work of Jewish composers.
When: June 29, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Congregation Knesset Israel, 16 Colt Road, Pittsfield.
Admission: $12
Info: (413) 442-4360, ext. 12