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Jane Enkin

Jane Enkin's Review of the Impressive Israel Brass Quintet at the Rady JCC Tarbut Festival

by Jane Enkin, December 18, 2013

At the opening of this entertaining and beautiful concert, Gayle Waxman, the Executive Director of the Rady JCC, thanked the staff of the JCC, the festival volunteers, and then the donors to the Tarbut Festival. I would like to add my gratitude to hers. She said that it's not easy to maintain arts funding, but the benefits are great – as she mentioned, the arts bring us together as a community. With this in mind, it was especially wonderful to see the range of ages in the audience at all the Tarbut events I attended this year.

The Israel Brass Quintet is a group of symphony musicians with impressive skills and an impish sense of humour.

There was a delicate, eery opening to the evening. From the four corners of the theatre we heard the call of a shofar. As the players slowly walked to the stage, the shofars became racous, riotous, stirring. It's so unusual to hear several shofars at once, making a primal, almost animal sound. The audience was wide awake!

By contrast, when the quintet picked up their brass instruments they sounded mellow. They began their all-Jewish program with an Ashkenazi synagogue melody, then delivered the same melody in a New Orleans style.

For their next number, they put down their instruments and sang a contemporary setting of the prayer “L'dor vador” a cappella. This performance was typical of the Israel Brass Quintet's approach: the music was absolutely gorgeous and technically perfect, and there was cute, funny shtick at the same time, in this case poking fun at cantorial showmanship.

The most dramatic “cantor” of the group was their arranger, Yuval Shapiro. He was a scene-stealer throughout the concert, with many wonderful solos on trumpet, including a Spanish-inflected turn during a Sephardi piece.

An uptempo version of the spiritual song “Yedid Nefesh” featured intricate bass lines on the tuba, played by Avital Handler. Nir Erez on trombone, Guy Sarig on trumpet and Barak Yeivin on French horn all played beautifully.

The fusion of musical styles reached a high point when a flawlessly rendered Bach fugue was interwoven with “Oyfn Pripitshik,” in a way that really worked musically.

There was a lot of enthusiasm from the audience when they heard the familiar song. Attempts at audience participation varied. The ensemble got us to clap a challenging rhythm in a Mizrachi piece. Most people did not join in singing an unfamiliar wordless nign, and most seemed not to recognize the popular Ladino songs such as “Adio Querida.” But there was lots of clapping and singing along when it came to “Oseh Shalom” and “Kol Ha'Olam Kulo.” Winnipeg audiences love to sing, as I've noticed often at Mameloshen concerts and Yom Ha'Atzma'ut celebrations.

A very tricky, funny gag involving quick changes from one musical style to another as one player mimed turning the knob on a radio settled into a slow klezmer doyna and then a lively klezmer tune with outstanding playing by Shapiro. This piece really showed the ways in which klezmer music imitates the sound of cantorial and hasidic singing, as the instruments sobbed, wailed and exulted.  We could hear the trumpet singing, as it were, “chiribim, chiribom.” I was left hungry for more klezmer music!

Music by Israeli composers, a piece by the Baroque composer Salamone Rossi and songs from "Fiddler on the Roof" rounded out the program.

Throughout, we were treated to an intimate experience of the very individual voices of each performer and their instrument.

The Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture, with concerts, films, and literature, was a great community-building endeavor.

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