A jubilant silver jubilee

The International Safed Klezmer Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary with a top-notch lineup

Hilik Frank (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hilik Frank
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The annual international Safed Klezmer Festival has proven to be a highly popular event over the last quarter of a century, featuring top artists from the genre and, increasingly, adjoining musical areas.
Not surprisingly, the event’s organizers see the silver jubilee as an ideal opportunity for strutting the klezmer community’s stuff, and they have pulled out all the stops to give the public a festival to remember.
Between August 20 and August 22, the Galilee city will host dozens of top acts, including world-famous clarinet player Giora Feidman, singer-songwriter Shuly Rand, rock superstar Berry Sakharof, veteran hassidic clarinet player Hilik Frank and acclaimed jazz saxophonist Daniel Zamir.
The program incorporates more than 100 free shows, which will take place at eight locations around the city, in addition to master classes.
One of the more intriguing elements in the festival is the inclusion of several slots led by women musicians.
Female artists are increasingly making their presence felt in the klezmer field, and this year’s festival lineup features a large ensemble of young female musicians led by flutist Odea Barkan, with clarinetist Nava Aminoff adding plenty of clout with what she promises will generate plenty of smiles and probably get some toes tapping in the process.
It was hard getting hold of Aminoff in the lead-up to the festival, as she spent most of her waking hours in the recording studio in a mad rush to complete a CD before heading north.
“I always get people coming up to me after a show and asking if I have a CD, something they can take home with them to enjoy, so I thought it was about time I did something about it,” she explains.
“The CD has some really fun stuff in it. I am putting in it the things the audience loves the best. We’re talking about klezmer music, Jewish music and music that touches the emotions and lifts the spirits.”
In fact, Aminoff has been improving people’s spiritual wellbeing for some years now and performs at events across the country and abroad before all manner of music consumers.
“Klezmer music is so infectious, you can’t help but feel good when you hear it,” she states, adding that, like the standard line about Jewish humor, you don’t necessarily have to be of the faith to get into Aminoff’s artistic offerings. “I play for non-Jewish audiences, including children, who had never heard klezmer music before. You see that they come to the show in one state of mind and, by the time the concert is over, their spirits have been raised. As the show progresses, you see more and more smiles, and they even start dancing. It’s wonderful to see how the music gets into their blood. Music does something to people inside, in their hearts,” she says.
Aminoff started out on her musical path on recorder but had designs on a more traditional klezmer instrument.
“I and my sister, Roni [who will perform with her in Safed], were very talented as kids, and our teacher at school helped us transfer to the Tel Aviv Jaffa Music Conservatory,” she recalls.
However, there was a bit of sibling rivalry to be overcome before Aminoff could get her hands and mouth on her favored instrument, which she’d seen on TV. “When I got to the conservatory, I was asked what I wanted to play, and I remember seeing a long black instrument – I didn’t even know it was called a clarinet – on television.”
As the older of the two, Roni was given first choice of instrument and, to Aminoff’s dismay, she also asked to learn clarinet. When the younger sibling’s turn came, she was told she couldn’t play the same instrument as her sister. In the end, however, it all worked out for her when Roni’s teacher told her that the shape of her mouth was not suitable for the clarinet. For Aminoff, the rest is history.
She made rapid progress, and at age 12 she was already a member of the adult ensemble that frequently toured abroad. “I was made a soloist, and we played freilich – medleys of klezmer tunes. And everywhere we played the audience, Jewish and non-Jewish, asked for more and more.”
Early successes notwithstanding, it took Aminoff a while longer to make music her career. “When I joined the army, I opted to do something in electronics,” she says. “Yes, I always volunteered to play clarinet at all sorts of events, but I wasn’t quite sure I would be a professional musician.”
She got really serious about music after she finished her army service. “I realized you should try to do what you like in life, so I went to study at the Rubin Academy [of Music and Dance of the Hebrew University] with [veteran clarinetist] Ilan Shull.”
In fact, none of Aminoff’s highquality formal education led her into her chosen artistic direction. ”It was all classical music,” she declares. “I taught myself to play klezmer. When I was 16, my sister bought an LP by Giora [Feidman], called Jewish Soul Music, and I played it over and over again until I knew every note. I also played some of the music from the record with him. That was a wonderful experience.”
In the end, says Aminoff, it’s not what you play but how you play it. “I love the way Giora plays. It is not about his style but his expression, the joy he brings to the music. That’s what it’s all about.”
For more information about the Klezmer Festival: (04) 692-7484/3; 1- 800-800-106; klezmerf.com