Instruments of change

‘Clarinet and Klezmer in the Galilee’ comes to Jerusalem in honor of the program’s 10th anniversary.

Helmut Eisel saxaphone 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Helmut Eisel saxaphone 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
‘Klezmer is not music,” says Giora Feidman.
“People think that klezmer is a kind of music, but no, klezmer is the vessel and music is the language.”
Feidman, who has been spreading the joys of klezmer throughout the world for more than 40 years, is the artistic director of “Clarinet and Klezmer in the Galilee” – a series of international master classes for clarinetists and other musicians that has been taking place in Safed for the past 10 years. This year, in honor of the program’s 10th anniversary, it will be held in Jerusalem, though a festival and master classes will also be held in Safed on similar dates.
Born in Argentina, Feidman made aliya in 1957 at the age of 21 and was a clarinetist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for 18 years, before leaving in the early ’70s to focus on klezmer and perform in other countries. He has made more than 40 albums and performs in hundreds of concerts every year. The revival of klezmer, both in Israel and overseas, owes much to the talent and inspiration of this maestro.
“The Creator sent us music,” he stresses. “I am the instrument of the music God sent to us. The body is the instrument of the song, to express in the language they call music. The musical instrument I play is the microphone of my soul.”
There will be 55 talented musicians attending the master classes in Jerusalem from August 5 to 11.
Participating from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance will be its former president, Ilan Schul; renowned saxophonist Prof. Gersh Geller; and accordion virtuoso Emil Aybinder. Joining them will be guest musicians Prof. Philippe Cuper, solo clarinetist of the Paris Opera; Helmut Eisel of Germany, a klezmer clarinetist and longstanding colleague of Feidman’s; Federico Mondelci of Milan, one of the leading saxophonists in his generation; and other highly acclaimed musicians from New York, Spain and Germany.
Klezmer, which originated as the musical tradition of the Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe, is no longer the domain of Jews alone. Performed by Jews and non-Jews alike, its magical tunes captivate people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. In fact, 20 percent of the musicians participating in the Jerusalem program are non-Jews from abroad.
“Music is a prayer without religion,” says Feidman.
“Musicians all over are playing Jewish music.”
Music is also a force that brings people together, he says. “There are so many things that separate people. Yet people are fighting and singing the same song.”
This is true regarding the divisions among Jews as well, he continues. “There is no religious or secular, there is only the Jewish people. You can prove this through music – they all sing the same songs.”
Listening to the notes floating out of his clarinet is a mesmerizing, uplifting experience. For him, music is spiritual n o u r i s h m e n t that a person cannot live without, and he shares this message wherever he goes. He has attracted many fellow musicians in his travels, from a wide range of religious, cultural and musical backgrounds, and he engages them in musical conversations in which everyone contributes something.
This year’s master classes will take place at Beit Avi Chai and other venues in the capital. From August 5 to 7, the classes will be open to the public, free of charge; tickets are limited and will be distributed an hour before each event. Jerusalemites will also be treated to concerts throughout the week, four of them at Beit Avi Chai.
In addition, there will be a “Kabbalat Shabbat” program in the Great Synagogue on Friday afternoon, August 9, when IDF head cantor Lt.-Col. Shai Abramson will add the melodic tones of his voice to the instruments of Feidman, clarinetist Hanan Bar-Sela, and the master-class participants. Two days later, Abramson will be joining Feidman, guest musicians and the program participants in an invitation-only concert at Yad Vashem in memory of klezmer musicians who perished in the Holocaust.
Eisel, from Saarbrücken, Germany, has been making music with Feidman for 23 years. His grandfather taught him to play the clarinet as a young boy, and he started with jazz and classical music at the age of 14. When he met Feidman years later, he gained a whole new understanding of music.
“I love this music,” he says enthusiastically. “I love the scales and the rhythms. All my life I was searching for a way to speak with my instrument, to tell my listeners’ stories, not just to play what is written on musical sheets. Giora Feidman taught me a lot about the meaning of kli zemer [musical instrument, literally ‘vessel of song’] – not to ‘make’ music, but to ‘allow’ music, to be a channel for music. This was really fascinating for me and inspiring for my own understanding of music. It helped me to develop my personal way of playing the clarinet.”
Eisel has participated in eight out of the nine previous “Clarinet and Klezmer in the Galilee” programs, and will be playing his clarinet alongside Feidman for the 10th-anniversary program.
“When I first came to Israel in 1992,” he continues, “I fell in love with this beautiful country and people. But in one respect I was shocked: Nobody knew klezmer as concert music. Today, I can work with young people from Israel and all over the world to find a common musical language. And sometimes, one of the Israeli students says: ‘Hey, I know this! This is a part of my culture!’” Feidman emphasizes that the upcoming performances in Jerusalem are not his own performances – they are the performances of the participants in the week-long seminar. In fact, he doesn’t think of them as performances at all. He believes it is important to teach young musicians that music is not for performance or competition – it is, rather, for sharing.
“The musician is a pipe to humanity, to express the creation,” he says.
For information and tickets: or (02) 621-5900.