«Jewish Observer»
December 2001
5762 Tevet

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A real talent possesses many qualities. One of them is to make something new or surprisingly new from what we already know well. This is what I felt when I heard the well-known klezmer melody "Where were you before?" at "Klezmerfest-2001". It was performed by "Kharkov klezmer band". The sparking and tempo melody did not hover but flew in the hall. It appealed to you to leave you seat and go dancing. This is the majestic power of art. In one of the festival days I spoke about it and other things with Stanislav Raiko, leader of the band.

- Our band was born in spring 1999, - began Stas. - It was formed at the Kharkov Jewish center "Beit Dan" sponsored by "Joint". The task set up before our group was very simple - to revive klezmer music as an important component of Jewish culture. At first, we were three. Today we are five. Me, double-bass player Abas Zulfigarov, accordion player Valeriy Polonsky, clarinet player Gennadiy Fomin and solo singer Mikhail Krupnikov. I would like to emphasize that four of us have high musical education. For two and half years of our existence we have toured many cities of Ukraine, visited Moscow, Peter and Tallinn. Exciting trips were to Hungary and London.

- As far as I know these tours differ greatly from Ukrainian klezfests.

- Yes, they do. Only already known players are invited to our festivals. The idea of the London forum was almost the same of the USA "Ashkenazi klezcamps". What is it? In fact, it is a big joyful camp (about 500 people). You can come to the camp with your family and join Jewish musical culture. But America is America. Modern klezmer music there is strongly mixed up with jazz. Listen to any American klezmer melody and that we were training in Evpatoria with virtuoso clarinet from England Merlin Sheperd. So, the London festival was, by spirit and the number of participants, like an American one, but music was performed in the traditional Ashkenazi style. Our Evpatoria seminar is a forum of professionals. The London festival was attended also by amateurs who came for pleasure and paid for their accommodation themselves.

- Probably, klezmer music requires high level of musical training?

- You know, it may sound paradoxical, but classical musical education sometimes has even a negative impact. Its canons press upon you very much. Klezmer music is based on improvisation. This is why it stands close to jazz. However, no doubt, any high-class music is impossible without high - performance skills.

- Do you think the Yiddish culture has any development prospects? There was time when it seemed disappearing at all.

- Klezmer music is a part of Yiddishkait. Once I was told about the famous writer Bashevis-Zinger. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize he was asked: "Why do you write in Yiddish, it is dying?" The famous writer answered: "They have been speaking about its death for 500 years already. Let them go on speaking". One can't say about it better. I might have asked this question myself if I didn't visit the London klezfest. When I saw 500 people united by one idea - to play Jewish music and sing songs in Yiddish, when I saw the overcrowded hall though the tickets were not cheap, the question died itself. I don't think the Yiddish will ever disappear. I hope that Jewish music will be more and more popular. It gets popularity in Israel as well.

- Do you mean Tsfat?

- Yes, the festival there is very interesting. Restructuring is observed in Israel now. They came back to the Yiddish culture. I think everything goes well. Yiddish will never die.

- What are the plans of you band?

- Our closest plan is to make a compact disk, though, I think, we should not hurry with this disk, we have to reach a new level and then make a compact disk. Second, I am interested now in translations of Soviet songs in Yiddish, say, "Evenings near Moscow" and others.

- We do remember that there were many Jews among the best Soviet composers and song-writers. There is as opinion that they used to borrow the melodies of their people for their work.

- I tell you even more. There is the song "A little of wine" written by the man who made "Cheburashka". His name is Vladimir Shainsky. This is one of the most popular songs in the United States. All think that is afolk song. Moreover, sometimes one may hear Jewish notes in, say, Azerbaidzhan music. This is a question. The answer is very simple. As there was no Jewish culture, as well as the Jewish question in the Soviet Union, the Jewish composers had to write music for other people. What could they write? They wrote the songs heard from their mothers.

- If you are invited to the next klezfest, will you come?

- I feel that I know enough to work at the festival as a teacher. I have got some experience and hope everything will be all right.

The organizers of klezfests in Ukraine Yna and Boris Ynover told me that Kharkov band is one of the best groups not only in Ukraine but also in Europe. I believe this when I recollect how the guys from Kharkov played my favorite song "Where were you before?"

Interviewed by Mikhail Frenkel

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