, Salem, MA

February 20, 2014

Klezmer meets classical

Symphony by the Sea explores many styles of klezmer in upcoming concerts

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — Symphony by the Sea will explore the rich tradition and many moods of klezmer music next week at concerts in Marblehead and Newburyport.

“This is going to be great,” said conductor Donald Palma. “The first half is heart-wrenching, deep-down digging, emotional stuff. And the second half is crazy wild.”

The program, “Commemorate: Religious and Folk Traditions in the Concert Hall,” will open with works by composers Max Bruch and Ernest Bloch, along with a selection from John Williams’ score for the movie “Schindler’s List.”

The orchestra will then be joined on four songs by Guttmann’s Klezmer All-Stars, who will also play several selections on their own.

“This program evolved in my mind as a contrast between a concert music version of religious experience and this folk tradition of the music,” Palma said. “People will hear this klezmer coming out of this other music, and vice versa, very strongly influencing one another.”

The Klezmer All-Stars, a quartet that includes a bass, violin, accordion and percussion, plays klezmer in folk style.

“Klezmer was village music in the shtetls in Eastern Europe and Russia and the Ukraine, but mostly in the east,” Palma said. “It was performed among the Jewish community and would borrow elements of Gypsy music and folk music.

“Now it borrows from pop and jazz. It’s still evolving.”

In Bruch’s “Kol Nidre,” written in 1881, audiences will hear the influence of religious music on klezmer.

“‘Kol Nidre’ is sung during religious services; it’s a traditional melody that came out of the synagogue,” Palma said. “Bruch was a German Protestant, but he was very good friends with the chief rabbi in Berlin, who exposed him to a lot of liturgical music. Bruch was taken by this and set it to an orchestra.”

Palma, who is also a founding member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, will play the solo part from “Kol Nidre” — which was written for cello — on double bass.

“For bass players, our solo repertoire is not expansive, and we often steal from cellists,” he said. “I’ll play the piece, for the most part, in the pitch it’s written. In a few moments, I have to transfer it down.”

The composition by Ernest Bloch, who like Bruch was born in the 19th century and died in the 20th, is “From Jewish Life.”

“Ernest Bloch was Swiss-born,” Palma said. “He was Jewish, and most of his pieces were based on Jewish tradition.

“That will feature a young Israeli cellist named Daniel Mitnitsky. He came here to do graduate studies at the New England Conservatory.”

Mitnitsky’s performance will be followed by music from “Schindler’s List,” the 1993 film about the Holocaust, which featured Itzhak Perlman on the soundtrack.

“Williams wrote the score, and he excerpted it into a three-piece suite,” Palma said. “We have a young violinist named Liesl Schoenberger. She’s a young professional who attended the Conservatory, and she’s recently been appointed a violin professor at UNH and plays with a chamber orchestra called A Far Cry.”

Klezmer’s appeal to different kinds of musicians, working in completely different times and settings, is evidence of the music’s range and power, Palma said.

“We put together a mix of different styles and figured out what would work best with orchestra,” he said. “The music is very strong and speaks on many levels to anybody.”