Music and revolution take stage at Old St Paul’s

Klezmer Rebs (David Moskovitz – lead vocals, trumpet; Heather Elder – violin; Sue Esterman – accordion, vocals; Jonathan Dunn – trombone, vocals; Rose OHara – piano, vocals; David Weinstein – guitar, mandolin, vocals; Rainer Thiel – bass)

Old St Paul’s

Tuesday 6 August, 12:15 pm

This hybrid group, roughly descended from the Yiddish culture of eastern European Jewry and early jazz band traditions broke the usual pattern of (relatively) sober classical lunchtime concerts at Old St Paul’s.

Their frequent style and subject matter, congruent with their name, is revolution, booze, sex and most things in between. For example there’s the title song of their latest CD, Anarchia Total, which could well become one of the most alarming projects under the most urgently needed revision of state security measures in the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill.

Lyrics and music for it were said to have been written by ‘Freedomfighters across the globe and Urs Signer’ (the group’s clarinetist who did not play this concert: I heard the word gaol in an obscure reference to his whereabouts). Anyway, I was offered the following background note to Anarchia Total: partially written in Schwyzerdütsch (Swiss German).

“Schwyzerdütsch? Even if you can’t speak it, the message is clear: For love and justice, against fascism and the police state. To the barricades everyone! Against racism and the patriarchy!  Reb Urs’s music and lyrics spread Spanish, Māori, English and Yiddish onto a Schwyzerdütsch substrate, cemented together with energetic, mad craziness.  There’s only one thing for us – Total Anarchy … Anarchia Total.”

It was a rousing performance which will doubtless swell the numbers at their training camps.

The quasi-military character of the squad was emphasized by the expropriation of elements of Royal New Zealand Navy uniform by the trumpeter/vocalist David Moskovitz, viz an officer’s hat. But to regain a military/civilian balance, there were other cultural insignia, such as the embroidered skull-cap worn by guitarist David Weinstein and the dresses worn by the women that might have suggested, variously, the hippie era or Bukovinian/Ruthenian peasant dress.

The music was in keeping: happy, irreverent, using a variety of boisterously played instruments. The trumpet and Sue Esterman’s accordion were always prominent, emphatic and feet-tapping. For several items Moskovitz took the trumpet from his lips and sang, in which pianist Rose O’Hara joined.

Guitarist Weinstein also played mandolin, which at times suggested the Greek bouzouki (to which I’m a bit addicted), as when they played the charmingly nostalgic, American-composed Flatbush Waltz. The violin of Heather Elder was rather masked during the first pieces but emerged later; I wondered whether it depended more on amplification than I would have expected.

Then there was Jonathan Dunn’s trombone which led the way into Yoshka, enjoining us: ‘Drinken Bronfen Nichten Vine’ (‘drinking whisky not wine’), an injunction supported in varying aspects by trumpet, mandolin, violin, good bass lines and some nice scooping on the accordion, with clapping in which some of the audience joined. Its character was Balkan, though to Yiddish words.

A departure from the usual Klezmer style, at least it seemed so to me, came with Moonlight, a song in Ladino (don’t confuse with the Romance language, Ladin, spoken in parts of north Italy: South Tyrol, Trentino and Belluno) the Spanish-derived language of the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain under the benign reign of King Ferdinand at the end of the 15th century. With the arrival of a guest singer, Manny Garcia, and Rose O’Hara singing again, this attractive song began in Ladino but their linguistic talents were soon obvious, as I later recognized English.

Yet another example of the Jewish culture in the Latin world came with Gedenk, a tango from Argentina.

Rose sang a couple of further songs, some using pretty hand movements, Odessa Bulgar and Bublichki, before there was another urging to debauchery, a striking drinking song composed by Moskovitz and clarinetist Signer, Kumt, kumt, khaverim (Come, come friends).

Finally they checked whether there were Russian speakers in the audience; when no hands were raised, “That’s good; this is a filthy Russian song”; it was called Zvezda (Star) and when no translation was offered I had to assume that here was the compulsory hymn to sexual licentiousness. At least, the music was pretty risqué.


Kugeltov: Klezmer music opens the St Andrew’s Concert Season

Klezmer music old and new

Robin Perks (violin), Tui Clark (clarinet), Ross Harris (accordion), Malcolm Struthers (double bass)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Monday 8 March 2010 midday

(N.B. Ross Harris has drawn my attention to a mistake and to a couple of other misunderstandings in my review and the review has now been amended.  Wednesday 10 March)

The series of lunchtime and early evening concerts at St Andrew’s opened with a highly diverting concert of Klezmer music – the music of the Jewish cultures of Eastern Europe, whose traditional language is Yiddish, derived from Middle High German, mixed with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slav and Romance languages.

The group’s name, Kugeltov, dervives from Kugel which means ‘ball’ in German. A Kugel is a staple of Jewish cooking and it originally referred to balls of noodle dough. (The programme note included a recipe for ‘Malcolm’s Kugeltov Cake’).

Their music, likewise, echoes these cultures, so lovers of the music of Serbia and Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, Greece and areas of southern Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus will find much delight.

The series revives one of the original elements of the New Zealand International Arts Festivals: concerts by mainly New Zealand musicians at lunchtime and in the early evening, playing music of all kinds (apart from commercial popular stuff). The concerts were hugely popular from the start and reached their peak in the festivals of 1990 and 1992, under Chris Doig. It is a mystery that festivals in the last decade have so reduced the amount of music generally and turned their backs on these fine opportunities for New Zealand musicians to stand alongside overseas artists in concerts that are cheaper and more informal than the NZIAF itself. They also offered an extra draw-card for visitors from elsewhere who look for things to do during the day.

The musicians offer another example of the way professional Wellington musicians get involved in popular music of all kinds. Two of these players are in the NZSO – Robin Perks and Malcolm Struthers, one in the Vector Wellington Orchestra – Tui Clark, and Ross Harris, who taught  at Victoria University and has other lives as composer and French horn player, not to mention a commitment to Klezmer music.

So the quality of the playing was one of the striking features. Nothing was more striking than the frequent clarinet sallies from Tui Clark, a player of lively brilliance with an uncanny instinct for idiomatic styles rendered with excitement and real delight.

The first piece, by Ross Harris, opened with an exciting, anticipatory, plucked bass intro, followed by squealing clarinet rushes and staccato phrases; accordion and violin soon fleshed it out.

The second medley of three tunes opened with Robin Perks’s perfectly idiomatic gypsy sounding violin, that turned from melancholy to a wild, foot-stamping dance.

Most of the pieces, many consisting of two or three distinct tunes fused in cunning ways, were of genuine folk origin, and ten tunes were by composer/accordionist Ross Harris.

The centre piece was Ross Harris’s Klezmorphology, which was the most extended and took the genre to areas remote from the simple Klezmer, almost losing sight of its origins at times and becoming a piece that may well please conventional chamber music lovers, and there were many at this concert.

The quite large audience clapped along with the infectious final number, the popular Klezmer tune, Hava Nagila. The series has got off to a great start.

<!–[if !supportEmptyParas]–> <!–[endif]–>