The roots of Klezmer music are lost in Europe’s middle ages but the music attests to the tenacity of Jewish cultural traditions. in fact, the music has. over the centuries. continued to evolve and every so often enjoys a boom and becomes fashionable, both within the Jewish community and in the nation outside.
The sacred aspect of Jewish music is represented in the music of the Cantor, whose repertoire consists of songs usually included in religious service and sung in Hebrew. while the secular music includes song and instrumental music. but performed in Yiddish.
That which is now called Klezmer is a direct descendant of that long line of Jewish informal music-making which crossed over to the United States from Europe in the great migrations of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The arrival of the phonograph at the time of American Jewish consolidation gave rise to the first huge wave of popularity to this exciting hybrid form. saw the clarinet take over as the lead instrument from the already established violin. and captured on disc the first of the great American Klezmer Orchestras which would continue to be hugely popular in the 20s and 305. Nearly 700 recordings of Klezmer music were issued in the US up to World War II.
it wasn‘t until 19705 California. and the acoustic/folk/roots revival, that a younger generation of musicians rediscovered and continue to reinvent the form.
The bulgar is an energetic dance. and England's Flying Bulgars are essentially a band to dance to; but the ears catch the cheerfully complex melody. brassy sononties. intricate rhythms and the elements of African music. blues and jazz which categorise them as end-of-the~ millennium Klezmer. (Norman Chalmers)
The Flying Bulgar K leaner Band play The Ferry on Thurs 5.
20 The List 22 April-5 May I994
mammal Making more of minimalism
Kenny Mathieson looks at an outbreak of minimalism in the Mayfest classical programme.
Minimalism has come a long way since the early experiments of La Monte Young and Terry Riley in the 60s. and has developed — especially in its tnore extended. ﬂeshed-out forms -— into what is arguably the only contemporary classical style of composition to have achieved wide-ranging audience appeal.
Philip Glass and Steve Reich led the way with everything from rock-style ensemble promotions to operas which have achieved the unusual distinction of entering the repertoire. In the record shops. Gorecki's heavily minimalist— influenced Symphony No 3 sold in van- loads. while Michael Nyman‘s soundtrack for The Piano is currently shifting units to beat the band.
Mayfest will feature several examples ofthe form. and incidentally serve to illustrate how it has both expanded — notably in harmonic terms — and developed a sophisticated musical vocabulary. Gavin Bryars (Mon 2. sec feature) and the ‘Phenomenon‘ concert. featuring the City of Glasgow Philharmonic Orchestra in Mike Oldﬁeld’s marginally minimal Tubular Bells alongside Gorecki's aforesaid Symphony No 3 (Sun 15). will reveal very different aspects of the music.
The most high-profile minimalist. though. will be the American composer John Adams. who tnade an even more conspicuous Edinburgh Festival appearance with his opera Nixon In China in 1988. He has been chosen to conduct his own works in the prestigious concert celebrating the 150th anniversary of what is now the
Chorus of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra at the Glasgow Concert Hall (Thurs 5).
Adams emerged a full decade after Glass and Reich. but he is usually bracketed with those two in the ‘big three‘ of minimalist music. although each has evolved a quite distinct voice within a broadly shared language.
That ‘minimalist' tag is as useless as most of the piecemeal terminology which has been allowed to attach itself to musical forms when it comes to describing the kind ofexpanded textural and orchestral writing with which they now work. but there is no doubt that their music employs the principal constituents associated with the style. notably repetition and the use of tonal harmony.
Adams began to find his own distinctive voice with Shaker Loops (1978. re-scored for orchestra in 1983). in which he played with the idea of trills and loops inspired (if in rather parodic fashion) by the ecstatic shaking and trembling practised by the Shaker sect. His work has branched off in a multiplicity of directions since then. from the synthesised rock tunes of Voodoo Zephyr (1993) to f ull-scale operas Nixon in China and The Death
' of Klingho/fer. based on the hi-jack of the Mediterranean cruise ship 5.5.
John Adams: expanded minimalism
His Glasgow programme includes the orchestral fanfare 'I'rontha [.ontano and two more substantial vocal scores. Harmonium (198]). a setting of poems by John Donne and Ernin Dickinson scored for a massive orchestra and choir. which employs its steady pulse and harmonic repetition in a then- unprecedentedly expansive context. and The Wouml-l)resser (1989). a work for baritone and orchestra based on texts by Walt Whitman.
These are both among his darker. more serious works. and it will be interesting to see what the RSNO and Chorus make of them. Orchestral players (and conductors) can be sniffy about these works. or simply unable to find a feel for the idioms. and in my own experience the minimalists have not been well-served by Scottish orchestras and ensembles. At least on this occasion they will have a conductor who understands exactly what is going on in the music. The rest is up to them. and attitude may be everything.
John Adams conducts the RSNO and Chorus in a concert of his own music at the Concert Hall on Thurs 5. The programme also includes a new commission from Scottish composer Alasdair Nicholson. to mark the
Chorus 's I 50th Anniversary.
Blues for you
Is it pop or is it classical? Is it high art or just wiltully arty? The work of a pseud or merely a pseudo-pseud? Consider ‘Bracetrult’, the third track on The Bathers’ third album, ‘Lagoon Blues’. To the swell ot violins, Chris Thomson takes us on a ioumey from St Ives to the Western Isles, along the way managing to retigure the unremarkable crescent he calls home in Glasgow’s west end Into exotic ‘Cape St Vincent’. Cupid makes an appearance. So does Astarte, the Syrian version of Venus. The song ‘Fennlna Fair’ is inspired by Audrey llepbum’s ‘Sabrina Fair’ and by Thomson’s appreciation for ‘Marquez, the magical realists, Isabel Allende’. ‘Pissolr’, meanwhile, could be about love won and love Iost;-it.could be about cold turkey in Parisian public conveniences. Whatever it’s about,
Love and Money's James Brant Thomson is adamant that ‘Plssoir’ is a better title than ‘Cludgie’.
And so it continues. ‘Lagoon Blues’ Is richness bordering on dizzying opulence, an exotic vision of ‘European cityscapes’. It is a tuturlsm
that reeks of history, romance and ‘the
classics’. Thomson allows that ‘it does invent its own world, and hopefully a better world. It’s an invention of Italy crossed with some of the better things about Scotland.’
Pretentious, Iui? Ilon. Just cultured - ‘But I’m certainly not one of those one-dimensional characters, a delicate aesthete in his little garret. l have had my time in the bookies . . .’
How this magical soundscape ot cellos, violins and Thomson’s broken and blue voice will survive out in the open air is as yet unclear. But even it only hall of his head-spinning ideas survive the transposition to the stage, it’ll be worth it. As will the rumoured mini-Friends Again reunion (Friends Again were the semi-legendary band that launched both Thompson and love & Money’s James Grant) that lust might take place after headliners Love & Money’s set. Stand by for one superlative evening . . . (Craig McLean)
The Bathers support love 8: Money at The Beck’s Tent on Sat 30. #1