Now or never

A polished 15-man German band honors the music of 1920s-era Jewish composers.

September 24, 2010 16:04
2 minute read.
Max Raabe at the Tel Aviv Opera House

max raabe311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester ensemble have been touting their yesteryear musical wares around the globe for nigh on to two decades. Now they are bringing the Heute Nacht Oder Nie, or Tonight or Never, show here with concert slots set for the Opera House in Tel Aviv (October 18 and 19), the Jerusalem Theater (October 20) and the Krieger Hall in Haifa (October 21).

Considering the artistic program Germany-based Raabe and the band perform, it really is about time they showed Israeli audiences what they can do. The frontman and the band specialize in performing songs that were popular in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Raabe is keen to point out that the chronological span of the material ends in 1933, with Hitler’s rise to power.

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“Many of the composers were Jewish and had to leave, stopped working in music or were killed when Hitler took over,” he says. “I want people to know about these composers and give them the respect they deserve.”

Said writers include Mischa Spoliansky, whose father was Jewish and who wrote the Raabe show’s title song; Russianborn Sholom Secunda, who fled the pogroms to the United States in 1907; Vienna-born Jewish composer Robert Katscher; and, naturally, Kurt Weil.

The show is really like a blast from the past. You half expect Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to come waltzing onto the stage while the band reels off a string of eminently danceable popular numbers. There is a strong theatrical element to the show, with Raabe looking quintessentially dapper in his Astaire-like tails and the band members in smart suits – other than the young female violinist who cuts quite a figure in a couple of slinky evening dresses.

In fact, all 15 male instrumentalists have been together since the show started out in 1920, and it shows.

Last week’s show in Bonn, Germany, was polished to the quietest pianissimo falsetto note, and the singer’s and players’ onstage movements appeared to be choreographed down to the smallest step. Raabe regaled the packed auditorium with amusing ditties and asides between numbers, as well as information about the program. The humor was initially of the driest variety but, as the show progressed, the band members got up to some well-rehearsed comic antics, including the gong player’s knocking some of the brass tubes off their frame and scrambling around the stage to return them to their rightful place.

Several of the players turned out to be equally adept on a number of instruments, including violin and trumpet and, at one point, most of the band played bells rather than their main instruments in an impressive comical routine.

Many of the numbers included in Heute Nacht Oder Nie were originally performed by the Comedian Harmonists, an internationally acclaimed all-male German close harmony ensemble that existed between 1928 and 1934.

With its strong Jewish connections and popular dance and film numbers – including “Singin’ in the Rain” – the Raabe-Palast Orchester show should bring in the crowds during its four-date tour here.

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