Musicality is the central value of the Chicago Klezmer Ensemble and it is this value that they have discovered in the Jewish klezmer repertoire and style. While many Jewish-American klezmer music groups have subordinated musical taste to ethnic nostalgia, this ensemble looks to the essence of the musical structures underlying klezmer music and takes these as the starting point. For that reason they are both extremely "traditional", reflecting pre-immigration East European Jewish musical style, and "avant-garde", creating original arrangements and successful new compositions. The fact that the band is not predominantly Jewish has allowed them to view the sources of klezmer music objectively without nostalgia or intra-ethnic polemicizing.
Although klezmer music underwent some developments in America, on the whole life here in the first half of the twentieth century was not conducive to the preservation or development of this music, and so it is only by going back to its Old World sources that a musically coherent picture can be drawn.
To understand the performance of the Chicago Klezmer Ensemble contemporary listeners must realize that in pre-immigration times klezmer music had a dual function, both as ecstatic dance music and as sophisticated music for listening. In Europe only the best and most sought-after klezmorim were capable of creating such a performance. In America little need was felt for this sophisticated style, which would have competed with other forms of popular and classical music more accessible to Jews here than they had been in Eastern Europe. American klezmorim were reduced to playing dance music for the immigrant community, and even before the Second World War they were losing even this possibility. Few if any of the masters of the sophisticated klezmer style ever immigrated to America, so the grandchildren of the immigrants cannot be expected to be familiar with their music today. The Chicago Klezmer Ensemble has entered the gap and taken this elevated European klezmer style as the basis for its own performances. They have gone a long way toward removing klezmer music from the ethnically parochial and into the universal artistic sphere. For this they deserve and are attracting an increasingly wide audience among lovers of klezmer music.




Sweet Home Bukovina (1998), RIENCD13
Early Recordings 1987-1989 (2001), RIENCD26




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