December 10, 2023
Russian Jewish violinists at the turn of the 20th century created a new musical language combining the latest trends in classical music with traditions of the Eastern European Klezmer. Featuring violinist Steve Greenman, Gretchen Yanover, and pianist Byron Schenkman with works by Joseph Achron, Joel Engel, and others.
“Steven Greenman is a poet of the fiddle… when he plays, the landscape of the Jewish shtetl and the Hasidic courts comes to life”
– Janusz Makuch, Director, Jewish Culture Festival (Krakow, Poland)
Two Pieces, op. 20
Bar Mitzvah Nigun
Mazurka, op. 12, no. 3
Pictures from the East, op. 66, no. 4, arr. by Joseph Achron for violin and piano
Eli Zion for cello and piano
Concert Kale Baveynens for violin, cello, and piano
Freilechs Dance, op. 21
“Guest artist for the night was the marvelous pianist, Byron Schenkman…. his virtuosity, mercurial range and power were all showcased beautifully throughout the evening”
– Carolyn Gregory, Stylus Magazine, Boston
Notes on the Program
By Byron Schenkman
Many of the students at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in the early 20th century were Jewish musicians who grew up confined to the Pale of Settlement, often from families of cantors or klezmorim (traditional Jewish instrumental musicians). Music was one of the few professions available to Jews who wanted to assimilate into mainstream European culture. Under the influence of Joel Engel, widely known as the father of modern Jewish music, a group of those musicians gathered to form a Society for Jewish Folk Music and to establish a Jewish repertory analogous to the other nationalist movements in European classical music at that time.
Joel Engel collected Jewish folk music and adapted it into standard European music notation. Our program begins with one of the pieces he performed at a 1900 event in Moscow that would become known as the first-ever concert of Jewish music. It should be noted that klezmorim were not concert performers; rather they provided music for weddings and other festive occasions. Engel and his followers were distinguished “classical” musicians who incorporated elements of klezmer music into their work. In our own time, violinist Steven Greenman carries that work into the 21st century with new compositions based on klezmer tradition.