MONTREAL — Can klezmer and chamber music mix? Distinguished cellist Denis Brott says not only yes, but goes one further: the two genres are more than compatible; klezmer is a type of chamber music.
That’s why the founder and artistic director of the Montreal Chamber Music Festival has included a program called Klezmer Craze in this, the 19th edition of the festival, which runs from May 8 to 31.
The evening of May 23 will feature Vira Lozinsky from Israel, whom Brott considers the best klezmer singer in the world today. This will be her premiere solo performance in Quebec.
She will be joined by four other Israeli artists, led by renowned accordionist Emil Aybinder and including violinist Pavel Levin, double bassist Stas Vaulin and guitarist Gal Levy.
The festival will, in fact, have a distinctly Israeli flavour this year, showcasing some of country’s best younger talent – and it all takes place in a downtown church.
Besides Lozinsky, the Israel Connection series includes two concerts devoted to Schubert, May 14 and 15. Brott will join the young Israelis, pianist Inon Barnatan and violinist Giora Schmidt, on both nights.
On May 21, Schmidt and another violin virtuoso, Itamar Zorman, perform together works by Leclair, Moszkowski, Prokofiev and Sarasate.
Born in Moldova in 1974, Lozinsky was the grand prize winner of the International Jewish Music Competition in Amsterdam with the Emil Aybinder Ensemble in 2012. Her alto voice is described as “powerful, warm, expressive and pure.”
After immigrating to Israel at age 16, she earned a BA in musicology and Yiddish literature at Bar-Ilan University, and is a graduate of the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music.
Aybinder was born in Kishinev, Moldova in 1949 and has been living in Israel since 1990.
He and Lozinsky collaborated on an album of new Yiddish songs entitled Wunderweg/Wondrous Way, which was nominated for the 2012 Independent Music Awards best album prize in the world music category.
Brott wants to dispel the perception that chamber music is stuffy and narrowly defined, something only an older audience of fixed tastes can appreciate.
“Chamber music is the most democratic of art forms,” he insists. By that he means there is no conductor and one musician plays one part, unlike in a symphony orchestra where there may be, for example, a dozen violins.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each musician is there to serve only the music and their colleagues. There is no ego; it’s totally collaborative. Each has his or her own part and every part is important,” he said. “Chamber music is a conversation among equals.”
Klezmer belongs in a festival of this kind just as much as jazz does, says Brott, who won over the skeptics when he included that genre in past years.
“The best proof that we are dispelling that stuffy image is that our audience members under 30 has grown,” he said.
The festival is unusual in that there are opportunities for the audience to meet and talk with the musicians during their time at the festival, not just listen to them.
The venue is St. George’s Church, 1101 Stanley St., across from Windsor Station. The historic Anglican church is ideal, Brott says, both for its acoustics and majestic architecture. A special stage is installed turning it into a veritable concert hall and its approximately 475 seats are cushioned, he adds.
Schmidt played at the festival last year and was instrumental in making the connection with the other Israeli musicians, all of whom Brott describes as reflecting the high calibre of musician the country is producing these days.
Born in Philadelphia in 1983 to Israeli musicians, Schmidt has appeared with many orchestras around the world and collaborated with such stars as Itzhak Perlman and Yefim Bronfman.
Fellow violinist Itamar Zorman was the winner last year of the Avery Fisher Career Grant and, in 2011, of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia.
He has performed as a soloist with the Israel Philharmonic, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and the Tokyo Symphony. He is currently studying with Christian Tetzlaff at the Kronenberg Academy in Germany and plays on a 1745 Pietro Guarneri violin from the private collection of Yehuda Zisapel.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1979, Barnatan is now based in New York and spent three seasons with the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center and has toured internationally.
He was recently named the New York Philharmonic’s first “artist-in-association,” in recognition of his talent as an emerging artist.
The Israel Connection series is sponsored by the Israeli Consulate, the Azrieli Foundation, the Sir Jack Lyons Charitable Trust and the Alex U. Soyka Foundation.
For more information, visit festivalmontreal.org or phone 514-489-7444.
Brott is already at work on next year’s 20th anniversary edition. It will be devoted to commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the Holocaust through a “celebration of life.”