'Lively and soulful': The London Klezmer Quartet
Fatima Lahham interviewed the London Klezmer Quartet, currently on tour in Australia and New Zealand, by email. She says:
I first encountered the London Klezmer Quartet while studying at the Royal College of Music in London; I had set up a concert series in the Museum in order to explore and promote non-canonic Western repertories, and LKQ were invited to do a concert. I was completely captivated by their soulful playing and singing, and the way in which I could see their spellbinding musical storytelling reaching and moving each individual audience member. I was therefore delighted when Ilana emailed me back to say that the ensemble would be happy to do an interview for this special issue of Revoice! Magazine.
How would you describe the music you make to someone unfamiliar with Klezmer?
Lively and soulful eastern European Jewish wedding music. It’s an instrumental tradition - klezmer comes from kle zemer, the Hebrew for ‘vessel of song’ i.e. musical instrument. Nowadays it is also used to mean both the musician (a ‘klezmer’, plural ‘klezmorim’) and the repertoire we play (klezmer music).
How do you select repertoire?
We incorporate melodies that we’ve heard and liked, material found by trawling through old recordings, manuscripts and collections, and tunes we’ve written ourselves, in the style.
To what extent do you follow historical performing traditions, and to what extent do you make your own interpretation of pieces when preparing a performance?
We do a lot more arranging than would have been traditional. Tunes were mainly played for dancing & outdoor celebrations rather than to entertain seated audiences, although there were occasional celebrity performers who took material and prepared it for a listening public. In terms of style, we adhere pretty closely to what we understand to be historically-informed performance practice.
Could you tell us a little about the traditional role of women in Klezmer music, and how you relate to that?
As far as we know, women didn’t often play music professionally although they certainly learned instruments. Nowadays women are at the forefront of the klezmer revival!
How can young musicians get into this style of music?
There are workshops, courses and other playing/learning opportunities now in many parts of the world; in London we have Klezfest in August and a klezmer session on the first Sunday of every month, as well as other events during the year. It’s also possible to have lessons with klezmer musicians, and find not just books of tunes, but a guide to the style in the form of Ilana’s book: ‘Klezmer Fiddle - a How-to Guide’.
Could you tell us a little about how you formed?
Susi, Ilana and Carol met at Klezfest in London (see above) and Indra, initially the bass player but now also the band’s vocalist, joined on LKQ’s first trip to Australia.
Who are your musical inspirations?
So many! In the klezmer tradition, performers like Naftule Brandwein (clarinetist), Abe Schwartz (producer, arranger, violinist) and revival bands like the Klezmatics (a New York-based group).
Where did you all study, and how do you think your studies have shaped what you do today?
All of us started off as classical musicians, and 3 of us had some or a lot of conservatoire training. Having a) had excellent teachers, b) acquired good instrumental technique, and c) knowing how to practice have contributed to every musical activity we are part of (we all play other musical genres as well).
What is your favourite piece or song to perform and why?
Shnirele Perele. The melody was traditionally sung by women on a Saturday morning in synagogue. Our arrangement is inspired by the Klezmatics’ version in Yiddish. It’s a favourite with our audiences as they like the harmonies we sing at the end.
Finally, what would your International Women's Day message be for readers of Revoice! Magazine?
Happy IWD! Last year we marked the day by playing at a demonstration demanding the release of refugee women from detention in the UK. This year I suspect that we’ll be getting over jet-lag and recovering from our 7-week tour of Australia & New Zealand, but we’ll certainly be flagging up & celebrating women’s contribution to our field.