New Klezeland a surprise hit

MOURNFUL THOUGHTS: Jonathan Besser's melancholy, cerebral klezmer pieces for piano are a surprise hit.
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ
MOURNFUL THOUGHTS: Jonathan Besser's melancholy, cerebral klezmer pieces for piano are a surprise hit.

New Klezeland

TelstraClear Festival Club, Sunday March 11

Reviewed by Colin Morris

According to my friend Mr Pedia, first name Wiki, the term "klezmer" comes from a combination of the Hebrew words "kli" meaning useful and prepared instrument and "zemer" meaning to make music.

Surprisingly there is more klezmer music in New Zealand than you might think.

Just recently I reviewed an album by an Auckland group Beyondsemble, there is a new CD from Wellington's Klezmer Rebs this week, and The Jews Brothers have three albums.

Did you see this event? Vote for your favourite festival show in the Readers' Choice Awards.

Good news then: a CD will follow in June of the Kugeltov Klezmer Quartet, which made up half of yesterday's group.

For yesterday's performance we were treated to a slightly new form of the music.

My preconceptions about klezmer have pretty much disappeared; instead of predictable Hava Nagila we are treated to a 25 (26 thanks to an encore) tune cycle made up of Jonathan Besser's piano pieces entitled New Klez parts 2-10 (missing parts 1 and 4)) interspersed with Ross Harris's compositions for accordion.

The contrast was truly remarkable.

Besser's tunes would have stood up well if played one after the other, but it made sense to separate them. They have a mournful yet cerebral edge. Bresser explained that he had been depressed when he wrote some of them.

Harris's compositions by contrast were full of joy and vigour.

One of the reasons klezmer music has travelled so well goes back to the old joke: "You never saw anybody running away from the pogroms with a piano under their arm."

In other words this is music for portable instruments, and none more appreciated than the clarinet of Tui Clark - but then that would take away from the superb ensemble playing: Malcolm Struthers' lovely double bass played with the bow, coupled with Robin Perks' plaintive violin in Farbenkt.

Big kudos, too, to Chris Prosser on violin, and Yair Katz on percussion.

According to Max Pasha, it's a Jewish trait to puncture pretention.

That is exactly what Besser did with his frequent asides, which in turn relaxed the full house on a muggy Wellington afternoon.

A surprise hit.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Jonathan Besser's surname.