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Klezmer duo keeps their audience captivated

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Jonno Lightstone, left, and Brian Katz.

The Holy Trinity Church in Toronto was the perfect setting for the Jonno Lightstone/Brian Katz Klezmer Duo’s performance recently. The spiritual essence of their music seemed to find its home within the church walls. The high ceilings, stained glass windows and spacious architecture of the church complimented and adorned the music as much as the music and its spirit did for the church. The acoustics of the room allowed Lightstone’s clarinet and flute playing to ascend, and flow through everyone in the building.

The duo demonstrated a masterful ability to compliment each other’s musical prowess, trading the musical spotlight from one to the other the whole way throughout. Katz’s piano and guitar playing were not just fantastic in their own right, but also their ability to take the back seat while accentuating the emotive melodies being played by Lightstone.

Despite the challenging nature of their style of klezmer music and the moment-to-moment unpredictability of the whole performance, Katz and Lightstone captivated the audience the whole way throughout.

With Katz’s only instruction being, “Don’t try to sing this well”, it didn’t take much for everyone’s singing in the room to echo throughout the building.

Almost as quickly as they had the audience ready to start doing the traditional hora, Katz and Lightstone had them once again entranced in the more intimate klezmer songs in their repertoire.

While many people may associate klezmer music with films like Fiddler on the Roof and Jewish weddings, Katz and Lightstone are not just your typical klezmer, “Havah Nagilah” music type of ensemble. Yes, they perform simchas, and yes, they enjoy doing so, but according to them, there is a lot more to klezmer music than what people understand at first glance, and perhaps this is part of the reason as to why it will continue to live on as an art form.

On one hand, klezmer can get an entire hall dancing and celebrating, but as they displayed during their encore “Redemption Song” their music can be haunting and brooding, leaving their audience unsure as to whether they should be weeping or dancing. 

“The openness of the music itself is what makes it so great. It allows for the entire range of human emotions. That’s the joy of it. People really want to feel that range of different emotions.” Katz explains.

Since Katz first embraced this style of music, he has infused his own different musical approaches to compliment the more traditional style of klezmer music.

“At first I thought people would be throwing eggs,” he says. Instead, Katz has become one of the foremost internationally-acclaimed klezmer musicians, and he and Lightstone have progressively used their wide repertoire of styles to paint old fashioned klezmer music in a new light, reinventing the genre over and over again.

“That is what music has always been, anyway. Styles all blend together to form new ones.”

While it may be a little challenging for  the North American mainstream to get behind an eclectic blend of European and Mediterranean Yiddish songs, Katz and Lightstone both see their concert attendees from all across cultures experience a strong affinity for the music they play at their performances.

“One bar we played at complained not that we weren’t selling enough tickets, but that all the people at the show were sipping chamomile tea instead of booze,” Katz says.

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They both spoke of playing to audiences all across the world, many of whom without any idea as to what klezmer music was, and how the entire room could be radically transformed. When asked if it was the music’s ability to borrow and infuse styles from across all different cultures and geographical regions they both nodded in agreement.  “It’s immediate, it’s visceral,” Lightstone says. “There is something about it that is universal.”

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