This year’s Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival will reach beyond its traditional emphasis on Yiddish and Eastern European musical roots, expanding its scope to include the exploration of multicultural influences on the music of the Jewish people.
The 2012 festival, called “Cultural Collaborations,” will run from May 20 to June 1, and will open with “Ayre,” featuring clarinetist David Krakauer in a Sephardic song cycle by Osvaldo Golijov.
“Ayre” deviates from the types of pieces typically performed at the festival in that it is a Sephardic song cycle based on Hebrew, Christian and Arab texts.
“In past years, there was an emphasis in the festival on Yiddish and Eastern European sources,” said Aron Zelkowicz, who founded the festival in 2004. “But our long-term vision was to have concerts that were different, and celebrated other segments of the Pittsburgh population.”
While other performances at this year’s festival will emphasize the influence of African-American music on Jewish compositions — with Joshua Nelson performing Kosher Gospel on May 31, and African-American drummer Roger Humphries on June 3 — “Ayre” is a “broader salute to multi-culturalism,” Zelkowicz said.
The composition is based on texts from 15th century Spain, when Jews, Christians and Muslims lived alongside one another, mingling their cultures.
Producing “Ayre,” which includes soprano Lara Bruckmann and members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, allowed Zelkowicz to bring back Krakauer, who has made previous appearances at the festival, meeting with a “very enthusiastic reception,” Zelkowicz said.
Krakauer is one of the world’s leading exponents of klezmer music, as well as a major voice in classical music and avant-garde improvisation. His band, Klezmer Madness, has performed around the world since 1996, and in 2006, he co-founded the multigenre group Abraham Inc., with funk trombonist and arranger Fred Wesley, and Jewish hip-hop renegade and beat architect Socalled. He said he is looking forward to performing “Ayre,” which he helped premier in 2004 at Zankel Hall in New York.
“It’s a very interesting piece,” he said. “It looks back at a time when Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together hundreds of years ago. There are elements of Jewish, Christian and Muslim music, seen through Osvaldo’s (Golijov) wild sensibility.”
That “wild sensibility” includes the use of nontraditional instruments, such as an electronic accordion plugged into a speaker with unusual sound effects.
Krakauer will also perform Alexander Krein’s “Jewish Sketches,” and a Sephardic piece by Pittsburgh composer David Stock. Krakauer said he feels particularly connected to the Krein piece, as it was commissioned by his “teacher’s teacher.”
From 1971 until 1980, Krakauer studied with Leon Russianoff, one of the top clarinet teachers in the United States in the second half of the 20th century. Russianoff’s teacher was Simeon Bellison, the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic from 1920 to 1946, who was also closely associated with Jewish music.
“In his (Bellison’s) native St. Petersburg, he was in a Jewish music ensemble called Zimro that was responsible for the commissioning of many important works of classical music inspired by Jewish music,” Krakauer said. “Among these works are the Prokofiev ‘Overture on Hebrew Themes,’ and the works by Krein that I’ll be playing in Pittsburgh. Bellison was also known for his own arrangements of Jewish music, and can be heard on the soundtrack of the famous 1937 Yiddish movie ‘Green Fields.’”
“I’m always excited to play any music associated with Bellison, because there is a direct line from him to me through my teacher,” Krakauer continued. “He was a consummate musician, and his 1937 recording of the Mozart clarinet quintet always remains a tremendous source of inspiration to me.”
The Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival is a professional organization that raises its funds as a project of its fiscal sponsor, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. PJMF’s co-sponsors include Temple Emanuel of South Hills, Rodef Shalom Congregation, and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Want to go?
May 20, 7:30 p.m., Temple Emanuel, Mt. Lebanon
May 21, 7:30 p.m., Rodef Shalom
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)