Orit Wolf wants to spread the good word – the good music word, that is. Then again, it’s not just about the music. That theme runs through all her onstage work, in her instrumental work, and through word of mouth – her mouth – as her recent TEDx presentation amply attests. The fact of the matter is that Wolf wants us to open our ears, our minds, our hearts and just about everything else we have, and do the best we can with what we’ve got.
Wolf is the brains and creative power behind The Music of the Jewish Streets show, which is to take place at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem on Wednesday (8:30 p.m.). The general intent of that becomes clearer when you catch the subheading – A Klezmer Celebration with Jazz Interpretations. The general idea of the English-language show is to present the audience with the music, the feel and the fiber of klezmer music, and how the joyous and sometimes surreptitiously angst-evoking sounds of the street players of Eastern Europe tell the tale of life and death and much betwixt.
Wolf will be joined in Jerusalem by the Di Gasn Trio of clarinetist Gal Klein, Yanush Horowitz on accordion, and Meidad Cohen on bass, with pianist Tal Zilber and violinist Yoni Battat completing the instrumental lineup. The show repertoire will cross broad tracts of musical endeavor, including songs in Yiddish and Ladino; and – judging by the players’ vast range of stylistic experience, which, in addition to klezmer, takes in classical music, jazz, salsa, folk and Middle Easter music – the Beit Avi Chai audience is in for an intriguing evening’s entertainment, with some enlightenment thrown in for good measure.
FORTY-FOUR-YEAR-OLD acclaimed pianist, composer and educator Wolf has been in the business of making classical and other musical strains more palatable and attractive to people of all ages for some time now.
“This all began from my series at the Tel Aviv Museum called On a Personal Note, she explains. “The idea is to present classical music in a different way, in a new way, in a multidisciplinary format, to make it more accessible.”
That, she says, involves sharing not just her knowledge with the public, but also conveying the way she feels about her craft, and sharing the spirit behind what she and her fellow professionals have been doing for centuries. “What I do at the museum is not a lecture. I go on the stage and I have a conversation with the audience. We converse about an idea, with different topics.” That can include getting a little intimate and bringing others right into the blood and guts of the preparation machinations. “I can talk to the audience about what happens at the rehearsals, which can be funny and challenging as well. I really share with the audience the world I come from.”
Wolf says that approach is also central to The Music of the Jewish Streets project, and believes she will have the right people for the job on stage with her in Jerusalem on Wednesday. “Di Gasn, in Yiddish, means ‘the street.’ They all studied music at the academy of music in Jerusalem, and each one of them – the accordion, clarinet and bass players – understood themselves that they need to bring another dimension into their work.”
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All the threesome needed to do, says Wolf, was to stay home. “They were all born in Israel, but they come from Polish and Romanian families, so they can feed off the streets, the life, and share the world they – their families – come from with the audience.”
Klein, Horowitz and Cohen were ready to roll. “They started to improvise with the freilich [happy] sounds they heard in their childhood from their parents. I think it works really well for them.”
It wasn’t just a matter of reviving the emotive tunes of yesteryear from the Balkans and other parts of Eastern Europe. The twentysomething musicians brought the material bang up to date, with their own personal baggage, personality and take on life.
Wolf says the final product is simply irresistible, and believes the Beit Avi Chai audience will have the time of its life. “We play original scores based on freilich, on folk tunes. The concert is just crazy. It is captivating in the way it is really a mixture of the young people playing the original tunes – this beautiful trio – with the piano, transcriptions for the piano, made especially for me.” It is a go-for-broke madcap music outing. “There is also Yoni Battat, from Boston – he’s only 25 and he has an amazing career. He really gets into the medleys with klezmer and ladino music and other stuff.”
There’s more. “The jewel in our crown is Tal Zilber. He is a pianist who broke through the boundaries of classical music quite a while ago. He did a PhD in Boston on improvisation, across all the styles there are. He’s amazing.” Zilber brings his diverse talents and experience to the Jewish music field. “He took some of the timeworn chestnuts, like ‘A Yiddishe Mama’ and ‘Assinu Shalom Aleichem’ and ‘Avinu Malkeinu,’ and he arranged them for two pianos in a Latin-Cuban style.”
The stylistic synthesis lies at the core of the forthcoming show. “Ladino and klezmer, for example, are very different, but that is the magic of the concert we do,” Wolf notes. “We don’t just come to play folk music that people know and love. We take that music and take it to a place of innovation. This is the core idea of this project. We go from the roots, the original roots of the Jewish world, everything we grew up with, to a different place. It is a very generous aesthetic. It is rich and creative. It is original.”
There are subtle nuances to be found within a single genre, too. “We take two nigunim [melodies] from the Balkans and two from Poland. We are talking about rhythmic differences, subtle differences in rhythm, depending on whether you come from the Balkan region or from the shtetl. It is fascinating. You have different accompaniment and different tempos.”
The members of the Beit Avi Chai audience may be able to detect some of those gray areas, but if your ear is not that well calibrated, or the music is simply unfamiliar to you, enlightenment will be on offer.
“I will talk about these things, at the concert, too,” says Wolf, adding that the discourse will be anything but didactic. “We will discuss all of that.”
Above all, if you make your way over to Beit Aviv Chai on Wednesday evening, Wolf says you can expect to be right royally entertained. “There will be a lot of humor in the show. We might be in the middle of a piece, and then someone will suddenly call out ‘Orit, do a solo!’ or ‘Yoni, give us a solo!’ And someone might start whistling, and we’ll start dancing. We really move on the stage. That’s the experience of the street. We might be performing in a 21st-century concert hall, but we want a feel and a sense of the street.”For tickets and more information: (02) 621-5900.
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