Klezmer Music is Jewish Music created in (mutual) contact with Slavonic, Greek, Ottoman, Gypsy and later American jazz musicians, using typical scales, tempo and rhythm changes, slight dissonance and a touch of improvisation, the 'Klezmorim' acquired the ability to evoke all kinds of emotions, through a very diversified music. With its artistic copiousness and its distinctive sound, Klezmer music is unique, easily recognizable and widely appreciated, both by 'ethnic insiders' and by larger audiences.
Born in New York City in 1949, the Jewish composer and pianist Jonathan Besser became a resident in New Zealand in 1974, and has mostly lived and worked between Wellington and Auckland. Besser has led his own new music ensembles for many years, and often showcases leading players from both the improvisational and classical orchestral worlds. Besser works collaboratively and is interested in the breaking down of genre boundaries, and finds New Zealand an ideal place to artistically achieve this.
“New Klezeland” is Besser’s most recent project and was produced and curated by Jonathan during 2011 and has its inspiration in the roots of Klezmer. His colleagues, Ross Harris and Chris Prosser have also been independently writing and performing Klezmer music in New Zealand. Klezmer Music is Jewish Music created in (mutual) contact with Slavonic, Greek, Ottoman, Gypsy and later American Jazz musicians. Using typical scales, tempo and rhythm changes, slight dissonance and a touch of improvisation, the “Klezmorim” acquired the ability to evoke all kinds of emotions, through a very diversified music. With its artistic copiousness and its distinctive sound, Klezmer music is unique and easily recognizable.
Of the three composers only Besser is Jewish. Besser introduces the ‘New Klezeland” concert by sharing that you don’t have to be Jewish to write Klezmer music, but you do need to reference the Klezmer traditions and sounds. Ross Harris and Chris Prosser are both fascinated and emotionally connected to European History and Prosser has since discovered some of his own Jewish family background.
‘New Klezeland’ was constructed around Harris’s popular Wellington Klezmer Quartet ‘Kugel Tov’. Besser invited a long-time colleague, Israeli drummer Yair Katz based in Auckland to join the group.
Robin Perks, Violin, Chris Prosser, Violin, Tui Clark on Clarinet, Ross Harris, Violin and Jonathan Besser on Piano, Malcolm Struthers, double bass, and Yair Katz on Percussion.
The 3 improvisers have all produced different sounding Klezmer pieces, each artist maintaining their distinctive individual voices, while bound by a common sound and a desire to collaborate. Ross’s pieces are the most composed and harmonically sophisticated. Ross says, “Klezmer has an enormous flexibility, modes can change suddenly. Harmonies can be quite free, relationships between melody and chord can disobey all the traditional rules – there’s fluidity for composing and performing. I like the lack of jazz sense of macho-ness”. Prosser’s pieces are perhaps the most conventional sounding and most traditional of Klezmer approaches, starting slow gaining in pace, mostly in one scale. Prosser writes, “ the music is characterized by singable melodies and simple chords. Excitement is added in performance with sudden tempo changes and risky improvisation”.
All 3 artists have contributed significantly to music in New Zealand. Besser founded the Besser Ensemble in 1987, subsequent groups followed including the formation of Bravura (2001 -2011). Besser was active in setting up the 1983 and 1984 experimental music festivals in Wellington and awarded the Mozart Fellow in Dunedin in 1984. Besser’s compositions for orchestra have finished as finalists twice in the NZSO Lilburn awards and in 1993 he was awarded the Sheilah Winn Award for services to New Zealand Music. Ross Harris is one of New Zealand’s leading composers, writing more than 200 compositions that include Opera, Symphonic music, Chamber music, Klezmer and Electronic music. Harris has been a finalist in the prestigious SOUNZ Contemporary Award eight times in thirteen years and has won the award 4 times. Chris Prosser is a violinist-composer who writes performance music to record as solo artist and also has an interest in collaboration. In 1972 Prosser won the Bank of New South Wales Chamber Music Competition. Much of Prosser’s work exists in shorthand notation. Interestingly, Prosser (born in England) is much like Besser, both born outside of New Zealand and displaying a keen interest in music from childhood.
Contents: Besser Track 1 - New Klez 3-9-3, Harris Track 2-Bulgarian-Rhythms, Prosser Track 6-Seretonin-Uptake, Besser Track 9 - Ballet-Klez, Prosser Track 15- Drift, Harris Track 21 - Volglenish
* Please note: To listen to the whole suite of nine compositions uploaded to the JoM, press play on the image header above. To listen to each suite use the navigation + and – on either side of the audio window to navigate.
Recorded for broadcast by Radio New Zealand Concert www.radionz.co.nz/concert