Itzhak Perlman Plays Up Klezmer Music

In the Fiddler's House

At Radio City Music Hall, New York. Also at Mann Music Center, Philadelphia, July 29; Saratoga, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Aug. 6.

Classical purists may sniff, but violinist Itzhak Perlman is reaping the greatest commercial success of his career with an unlikely project: "In the Fiddler's House," a recording of traditional and contemporary klezmer music in which he collaborates with four of the leading klezmer bands from around the country.

The album, which has been at the top of the classical crossover charts for months, spawned a recent public television special and is currently the focus of a summer tour.

Klezmer (the Yiddish pronunciation of the Hebrew word for musical instruments) is a wonderfully soulful and melodic form of music that is currently experiencing a rebirth in vitality. It is the traditional music of East European Jews, although it reveals many other influences, such as Russian, Romanian, Turkish, and Gypsy music. As the show's title may suggest, the violin or fiddle is an essential element in the instrumentation.

On both the album and the tour (which is being recorded for a live release in the fall), Perlman collaborates with the leading lights of klezmer music: the Klezmer Conservatory Band, a 12-piece orchestra; Brave New World, a four-piece ensemble led by fiddler Michael Alpert; the Klezmatics, who add modern instrumentation and rock and jazz rhythms; and the Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra, whose leader plays the clarinet and mandolin with equal virtuosity.

During the show, Perlman seemed delighted to be playing, and the audience at Radio City Music Hall shared his enthusiasm.

Singing and clapping at times, the violinist took center stage and led the groups through music that ranged from mournful to rocking. The latter was provided by the Klezmatics, or "Jews with horns," as they refer to themselves. One of their more raucous numbers even featured a drum solo.

Late in the show, the Klezmer Conservatory Band exhorted the audience to stand up, and soon the aisles began to fill with swarms of joyous people dancing the hora. For a few minutes, Radio City Music Hall resembled the world's largest bar mitzvah.

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