«Jewish Observer»
August 2002
5762 Elul

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July 28-August 2 Kiev hosted an international Kleizmer music festival "Di kale shemt zikh take, ober hanoe hot zi" - "Bride is bashful but satisfied".

I think this witty wedding saying can well characterize feelings Jews experienced in the Soviet times listening to their folk melodies. The key word of the phrase is namely "bashful".

It is different, Barukh ga Shem, today. An overcrowded hall of the Kiev Children's musical theatre freely and gladly welcomes each turn of the final concert of Kleizmer music festival "Kleizfest in Ukraine-2002". That evening there was something to hear. The first part of the concert presented a premiere in Ukraine of a unique program "Ghetto Tango" performed by one of the best world singers in Yiddish Adrianna Kuper and her fellow-countryman Zalman Mlotek. He is a pianist, art director of the Jewish theatre "Folksbine" in Broadway. The history of our nation is full of tragic pages, but it is possible to sing about them is such a way the audience tends not only to cry but be proud, as well. Adrianna reached this singing about a ghetto drama.

After the intermission, during which Kiev Jews and guests from all over Ukraine exchanged opinions and latest news, began a festivity - flashing, infatuating, inviting to dance. A combined orchestra conducted by a virtuoso clarinetist from London Merlin Shepard set the tone. It was succeeded by solo turns, instrumental trios, quartets and quintets.

I'd like to remind here "Kleizfest" is not a contest but a seminar to include master-classes by world famous musicians I've already mentioned at the beginning of my story. Absence of competition creates a unique atmosphere of comradeship and cooperation. To crown it all, "Kleizfest" is also a school of Yiddishkite. Master-classes in music, singing and dancing alternate with Yiddish learning classes and most interesting lectures on the Jewish culture.

Though, can simple words "seminar", "class" convey a festive atmosphere reigning in the boarding house "Dyubek" near Kiev from dawn till almost next dawn when improvised concerts-sessions would come to their end? I simply didn't stop admiring at the inexhaustible energy of both youth and "aksakals" during these unforgettable feasts of improvisation. I purposely give no names not to offend somebody. I will say one thing - everybody was perfect, masters and beginners. They created the atmosphere of a fiest, which, as a good writer used to say, is always with you. Though, "Kleizfest" evokes not only festive thoughts. When a pretty lady-compere was on her way to the footlights to announce a concert's beginning, I suddenly recalled a musical anecdote of the Soviet times. At a concert dedicated to another jubilee of USSR's formation a compere announces', "...performs quartet "Druzhba narodov" ("Friendship of nations"). Ivan Pertov - Russia, Petro Kolovorot'ko - Ukraine, Dzhemal Dzhaparidze - Georgia, Moisei Goldshtein - double-bass!"

At present, our musicians have an opportunity to perform with ensembles of Jewish names, to play Jewish, not a "friendship-of-nations", music. Moreover, this year's "Kleizfest" was attended by Alexander Ivanov from the Samara ensemble "Alia". He was a conservatoire's course-mate of Bashmet and Spivakov. You should have seen the pleasure this virtuoso violinist performed Jewish melodies with. We have entered the times when representatives of other nations perform Jewish music. This is great. Despite the fact the mentioned times were not so simple, at times utterly difficult.

I once came across an interesting phrase in Yevgeny Yevtushenko's memoirs, "In Russia even anti-Semite dances "seven forty" with great pleasure". I don't know about anti-Semites... But I repeatedly saw this dance enthusiastically performed by ill-assorted companies. Let "seven forty" be not a peak of the Jewish musical culture and not to the taste of its subtle specialists, but the main thing is different. Namely music, Kleizmer one including, in the modern world may become a bridge of understanding for people of different nationalities.

We have repeatedly discussed this with Yana and Boris Yanover who for three consecutive years apply all their efforts to make "Kleizfest" in Ukraine a high-level one. We resumed our talk during the recent festival.

- How would you characterize a year between two "Kleizfests", - I asked them.

- During our meeting after the previous "Kleizfest" we talked we were much eager artists - festival participants could show their skill in many other towns of Ukraine and beyond it. We succeeded, to a certain extent, in presenting best artists in Kiev. These were "Kharkov Kleizmer band" and "Khaverim" from Simferopol, ensemble from Zaporozhje and Lev Feldman's orchestra from Chernovtsy. But, unfortunately, those were not solo concerts but turns or parts of concerts timed for various community events and Jewish holidays. We would like to organize full-scale tours and hope to succeed in this.

Over the last year we also created an Internet site dedicated to Kleizmer music.

- How many new participants showed up at the present "Kleizfest"?

- At about one third of all participants. We are very satisfied these were young artists who are keen on folk music and songs in Yiddish. And we are very grateful to people and organizations having again rendered us their support. In the first turn, this is our general sponsor - Fund for development of Jewish communities in Russia and Ukraine and its director Martin Horvits. We are grateful to new sponsors - Jewish agency "Sokhnut-Ukraine", press and culture department of US Embassy to Ukraine, "Joint" and charitable foundation "Good news". We are also much grateful to our informational sponsors highlighting "Kleizfest" and our interfestival work - newspapers "Einikait" and "Jewish observer".

We managed to issue an audiocassette with best turns of "Kleizfest-2001". After the previous "Kleizfest" we organized a big concert in Tallinn on the invitation of local Jewish community. The Kharkov band and an astonishing singer Marina Yakubovich represented our "Kleizfest". We bring many thanks to Timur Fishel and our Estonian friends who had organized this trip.

This spring in Chicago we met with famous Kleizmer musicians and discussed an opportunity for our artists to arrive in America. God bless, we shall succeed. In any case, a constant participant of our festivals - the quartet "Ashkenazim" - has already performed in the USA.

We also want to thank you, Mikhail, for your publications about "Kleizfest" not only in Ukrainian but in Israeli and American press, as well.

- "Kleizfest" appeals to the participants by its contest-free nature and, consequently, friendly atmosphere which is especially manifested during sessions. But wouldn't you like to also hold a contest? In the first turn, for young musicians and singers?

- "Kleizfest", as you know, is not a mere festival and seminar. It attracts high-class musicians playing in serious orchestras, soloists.

Though, some of them have only recently begun playing Kleizmer music. They are eager to learn the experience of masters specializing in this genre. Age range is big - from 16 till 80 years. If we decide on a contest, we shall assign participants to different age groups. Probably, we shall come to this...

The founder of Hasidism, a wise and righteous man Baal Shem-Tov taught one shouldn't commit oneself to fasting, wearing rags etc. He was against ascetic practices affirming joy and vivacity are more pleasant to God than ascetism, depression and despair.

"Only through simkha we can achieve unity with God", - Besht used to say. Kleizmer music gives us namely such simkha - joy.

"A khisorn-di kale iz tsu shein. - The bride has a defect - too pretty". As for me, this "defect" is fully inherent in a merry feast named "Kleizfest".


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