Listening Notes:

By this late date, practically everyone is familiar with the sound of klezmer music; indeed, it has become the generic soundtrack to Jewish culture. Janus-like, it looks simultaneously backwards and forwards by referencing the Old World of Eastern Europe from whence it sprang, and to today's tastes for a one-world music culture.

The sources of klezmer are many: a base of Ashkenazi central and Eastern European wedding music, intermingled with the folk-derived southern European celebratory and dance music of Greece, Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria. Add to this the religious cantorial chants, tropes and melismas of Jewish holy day worship and you have a heady brew of folk and religiously derived music that is oriented to both the secular and devotional.

Today, the genre has become hybridized to such an extent that the original musical sources can be hard to recognize. The music has broken loose from its Eastern European moorings, and in America it has become absorbed into the maelstrom of our eclectic pop music. Seth Rogovoy's outstanding book "The Essential Klezmer" describes the many categories of resurgent and innovative sub-genres of this music. Here are just a few: Jewish jazz, Neo-Hassidic, Progressive klezmer, world beat, reggae klezmer, hip-hop klezmer and - my favorite - shetl-metal (!)

When I was asked to compose a "klezmer cello concerto" for the fabulous cellist Matt Haimovitz, I first had to resolve some issues – musical as well as ethnic/stylistic. To begin with, the cello is not a dominant melodic instrument in 'classical' klezmer; that role is fulfilled by the clarinet and violin. In other words, the soprano voice range, with the capability of sliding and bending the melody is the prime focus. On the other hand, the cello can bend and slide with the best of them, and also is the perfect instrumental embodiment of the religious/cantorial chant. Once I had reapportioned my melodic conception to the cello's lower register, I was ready to compose.

Except… there is no standard klezmer form. Most klezmer songs are really wordless tunes, derived from folksongs. I didn't want my piece to be an arrangement of favorite songs; I wanted to compose a totally original work, in the style of traditional klezmer – rock or jazz influences didn't interest me.

So that the olden style of Eastern European klezmer could be re-created, I've added a few traditional klezmer instruments – mandolin, snare drum, wood block, and especially accordion to be added to the orchestra. I also included an alto saxophone to enliven and brighten the sound. The music is in the form of a 'dance card' – a musical set where the instrumentalists play a series of evolving, progressively faster dances.

My Klezmer Fantasy dance card for cello and orchestra is in six continuous movements lasting about 19 minutes. The two continuous excerpts on my website are the 'Khosidl' and the 'Bulgar'-'Freylach'.

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