August 2015 Convention
Washington, D.C.

Tradition! Klezmer

Adrianne Greenbaum’s event at this year’s convention featured the musical tradition of Eastern Europe through klezmer—its origins date back to the 16th century; the flute joined the tradition in the 1800s—by interweaving elements of performance, audience participation, and dance. In addition to music, Greenbaum provided ensemble pictures of the period as visual evidence of the interdisciplinary nature of klezmer.

Adrianne Greenbaum

photo by Alice Dade

The presentation’s theme was “A Traditional Wedding,” with Chris Norman serving as official Badkhn, wedding master of ceremonies. Greenbaum and members of her ensemble—David Greenberg, violin, and Jodi Beder, cello—arranged all of the pieces. The first set was performed on a 19th-century Cloos flute, an 11-key simple system flute that was characteristic of klezmer flutists of that period. The first set of pieces featured a Kale Bezeten followed by a Boyberiker Hora, a Wedding Hora. The Wedding Hora is a traditional tune from Moldova, Ukraine, transcribed by German Goldensteyn, a clarinetist and musicologist. Goldensteyn brought klezmer music to the U.S., arriving in 1994 with almost 1,000 unknown Klezmer tunes that he had transcribed over the years. Goldensteyn also provided the last work of this set, Freylekhs; here, Greenbaum showed us some real fireworks, performing amazing double tonguing on an 1828 piccolo without breaking a sweat.

The middle portion of the workshop focused on teaching the audience a Klezmer tune. Greenbaum introduced the Donya, which is intended to tell a story. The character of this work is improvisatory. The five opening notes are G-A-B flat-C sharp-D with D as the focus of this modality. Greenbaum then invited flutists to improvise over a drone to truly experience the modality and its possibility. The leading tone, C sharp, is described as the crying note and functions to ornament the D. The scale continues with D-E-F-G. Greenbaum again invited flutists to improvise with the complete scale over the drone again centering the improvisation around D. She continued her performance with Tish Nign, which Greenbaum described as “table music”—music performed socially among friends. Greenbaum characterized it as truly evocative of this music. The final work of this set was Concert Sirba by Ruzicka of 18th-century Poland.

Greenbaum's Klezmer music session has been a popular feature in many NFA conventions.

photo by Alice Dade

The final set of began with an improvised Doyna performed by Greenbaum with audience participation. This work featured the improvisatory nature of this music but also is characterized by the mournful quality of the notes and inflection of particularly melancholy pitches. Greenbaum introduced the last three works of her program: Dobriden, which she arranged, Volekh, and Sirba, both traditional tunes. The Sirba is a Romanian couple or line dance in a fast 12/8. She closed out her program with Freylekhs, calling again for the audience to join in. Her program provided classic klezmer featuring a variety of instruments to match the mood and character of each piece. She also masterfully captured the dance traditions that accompany this musical style. Her high-energy program highlighted her amazing flexibility and charismatic performance, which was a highlight of the convention.

—Paula Gudmundson