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Kleztory brings the traditional music of the ghetto to Toronto Summer Music

​​by David Richards
oronto ON July 23rd 2019

Natalie Ruth Kupferberg, in her book The Mendelssohns, describes the life of the Jew in the historic ghettos of Europe. "Every ghetto dweller was constantly aware of his state of isolation, insecurity, and humiliation - compelled to doff his hat whenever a non-Jew demanded it, subject to  outbreaks of brutal violence, barred by law from nearly all the trades and professions, and, save in exceptional cases, forced to dwell in the most wretched and unwholesome parts of town." Such were the  conditions that spawned  klezmer music.

The Montreal based ensemble Kleztory brought their own brand of klezmer music to Walter Hall last night injecting just the kind of unbridled joy into the large audience that the nomadic troupes would have brought to the Eastern European ghettos and villages in past centuries. The folk music from Russian and Moldavian Jewish traditions is the basis of the music. Klezmer bands provided the music for weddings or any celebrations for that matter. The traditional song Ajde jano, as accordionist Mélanie Bergeron explained it, expressed the music best: ‘Sell your horses, sell your houses and let’s go and dance”.

Kleztory combined the traditional Eastern sounds rooted in minor keys and strong rhythmic foundations with French Canadian folk, bluegrass and jazz for a style all their own. And what a sound and what energy! The audience was clapping rhythmically along with the band in the very first song. At times, I thought I could have been listening to a band from Cape Breton. Nevertheless, the music never lost its authentic klezmer basis.

Airat Ichmouratov displayed wizardry on his assortment of clarinets. He could slide between notes like a trombone and squeal out notes that I didn’t think possible. The lightning speed of his playing brought gasps. In the same way, each of the members of the band took turns out front. Violinist Elvira Misbakhova saved the best for the last when her virtuosic French-Canadian fiddling style took centre stage. Guitarist Dany Nicolas added his own original piece in the dramatic Liteul Biteul. Double bass player Mark Peetsma, the only member of the group from English Canada, added a driving ostinato to the improvisations of the others. His deadpan humour played well with the others. Accordionist Mélanie Bergeron gave both rhythmical energy and distinctive colours, particularly when paired with one of the other instruments.

With Toronto Summer Music’s theme of ‘Beyond Borders’, last night’s concert couldn’t have been more appropriate. After two weeks of mostly chamber music, this was a light-hearted, albeit emotionally touching seventy-five minutes of escape. Bravo Kleztory! Bravo TSM!

Tonight Toronto Summer Music shifts to the Lula Lounge at 7:30 for a performance 

​by the Rolston String Quartet.

Airat Ichmouratov, clarinet; Mark Peetsma, double bass; Elvira Misbakhova, violin, Dany Nicolas, guitar and Mélanie Bergeron, accordian of Kleztory​​