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Klezmer Dances for Clarinet, Strings, Percussion, and Tuba

Apr 1, 2015

Charlotte Symphony to Present "A Night in New York," including Klezmer Music and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

By Gene Kavadlo

As I approached my 40th season as principal clarinetist with the Charlotte Symphony, it occurred to me that I should do something special to mark what many would consider a milestone year. I suppose I could streak across the stage during a concert, but that's already been done by players more prominent than myself; and, besides, at my age, who'd be interested? For many years, I've had an avid interest in klezmer music; perhaps there would be a way to celebrate the occasion by combining my love for playing in the orchestra with my love for klezmer?

Several years ago, I discovered a collection called Hassidic Tunes for Clarinet and Piano, by Lev Kogan, a composer born in the USSR. He studied with Aram Khachaturian and emigrated to Israel in 1973, where he became one of Israel's prominent composers. The music looked interesting, so I purchased the collection. As I read through the ten tunes, I felt that they had an authentic klezmer quality to them; some of them freylekhs (joyous dance melodies), some nigunim (wordless melodies); all very engaging. I wondered, in fact, if they were authentic Hassidic melodies arranged by the composer, or if Lev Kogan had composed the melodies himself. I wrote to him and asked him that very question. He was kind enough to write back, and assured me that he had composed all the music in the collection. That made it all the more interesting. I made arrangements of a few of the pieces for my quartet, VIVA KLEZMER! (, and they have always been a big hit with audiences.

I had considered doing a klezmer piece with the orchestra during my 40th season, but, although there are a few pieces in that genre, I didn't feel that there was anything out there that has a truly "freygish" feel (the mode common to much klezmer music.) What if I could have several of the Kogan pieces arranged for clarinet with orchestra, and perform them during my 40th season? That would give me a chance to make a klezmer splash with the orchestra and our audience, as well as add an exciting showpiece to the "klezmer clarinet with orchestra" genre. I had to convince my conductor, Christopher Warren Green, that this project was worth pursuing.

Fortunately, CWG was on board with showcasing me during my 40th season. The klezmer idea appealed to him as well; especially since it was something different, and it would attract an audience that he wanted to make a connection with - Charlotte's Jewish community. The project was green-lighted; I contacted Alan Kaufman, a talented Charlotte musician who knows the klezmer style and could do a good job with the orchestration.

I selected five of the Kogan pieces that I felt would work nicely to form a suite. Kogan had not named the individual pieces, so I gave them names based on the dance style that each represents: Freylekh, Khosid'l, Nigun, Kolomeyke, and Bulgar. Additionally, I felt it would be nice to begin the suite with an unaccompanied clarinet Doina, a rhapsodic fantasy with an improvisational character - but this Doina would have thematic hints of the Freylekh to follow. The first, second, and third movements of the suite would likewise be connected with a clarinet Doina, and the connection between the third and fourth movement would be a double cadenza between the clarinet and solo violin. I wrote the doinas and double cadenza, but definitely encourage improvisation. We titled the piece based on the instrumentation: Klezmer Dances for Clarinet, Strings, Percussion, and Tuba.

Article in Charlotte Jewish News

A sneak preview of the piece will be performed at the Providence United Methodist Chamber Music Series on March 8 at 7 PM, where we will perform a chamber music version of the Klezmer Dances. Admission is free.

The Klezmer Dances will be performed on the Charlotte Symphony's "KnightSounds" series at 7:30 PM on April 17 and 18 and I hope it will become a piece that other clarinetists will enjoy playing with orchestra. It will be part of a program entitled "A Night in New York," which will include Rhapsody in Blue. All in all, a good night for clarinet.