KlezKanada returns with a retreat that’s also virtual

A double bill featuring a lineup of Canadian Jewish music stars, pianist Marilyn Lerner, singer David Wall and trumpeter David Buchbinder, opens KlezKanada’s concert series on Aug. 23, part of its 26th annual retreat running until Aug. 30.

Composers Lerner and Wall are performing a cycle of their original settings of modern Yiddish poetry, including poems by Avrom Sutzkever, who’s been called the Shakespeare of Yiddish; Avrom Reyzen, whose poetry is known for its adaptability to music, and Peretz Miransky, who came to Canada after the Nazis took Vilna and was widely published in Yiddish newspapers here. 

Lerner and Wall began collaborating in the late 1990s, when they were part of the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, which had kicked off the Canadian klezmer revival in the previous decade. They decided to set the 20th-century Yiddish poetry they both love to music and released 15 tunes on their 2002 album, Still Soft Voiced Heart. Their KlezKanada set is a mix of newer tunes, which they intend to record, and songs from that first recording.

Lerner said interpreting poetry in music is something that is near and dear to her. She described the music she and Wall compose as a blend—a natural blend in some ways—of Yiddish music, jazz, classical Lieder and pop. “It definitely has a Yiddish sensibility,” she said. “That’s what we really like about it.”

Following Lerner and Wall, a trio made up of Buchbinder, accordionist Mark Rubin and bassist Michael Ward-Bergeman play an innovative blend of New Orleans-style jazz, klezmer and Roma music.

Buchbinder met Rubin and Ward-Bergeman recently, while he was immersing himself in the New Orleans music scene. Buchbinder said both of his bandmates live in New Orleans and each of them has a deep relationship with its music. “Mark and I both have deep roots in Jewish music and Michael has roots in many kinds of music, including Romanian Gypsy music and he does play klezmer as well,” Buchbinder added.

Although there’s no historical connection between the music of the Jewish brass bands from the late 1930s and the New Orleans brass band tradition, Buchbinder postulated that there may be some resonance between the two. Describing the trio’s sound, Buchbinder said, “We got the Jewish thing going and it’s a thing that going to weave in and out of the play.”

The connection between Roma and Jewish music is hundreds of years old and includes a shared repertoire. “In eastern Europe, Jews and Gypsies played each other’s music, they played in each other’s bands,” Buchbinder said. “You can even hear it in the melodies they use and in the scales they use.”

Buchbinder and Lerner are also leading online workshops this year at KlezKanada’s retreat. Buchbinder is one of the four instructors of a workshop focusing on advanced klezmer repertoire. He’s also one of the leaders of a workshop in which participants will learn how to work with old recordings and music books.

Lerner invites advanced players to show their work, present a challenge they want to work on or an area they want to explore in the workshop she’s leading, “The Four Sessions Schmear.” She promises to aid, demonstrate, facilitate, listen and abet.

Last year, KlezKanada’s summer’s retreat was solely a virtual affair, with the number of registrations higher than in previous years, a benefit the retreat enjoyed from running an online event.

“We had about a thousand people come from all over the world,” said Sebastian Schulman, KlezKanada’s executive director.

“If I had to pick one thing that really distinguished our programming in our first COVID year, it was that the feeling of community was really palpable. Even through the screen, people felt like they were together and they were experiencing something.”

Again this year, KlezKanada is offering dozens of online workshops and classes on Zoom. Along with basic and advanced instrumental and vocal instruction led by many of artists who are performing at the retreat, the program includes Yiddish language courses, Jewish cooking classes, dance and art classes, sessions on Yiddish theatre and children’s programming. In a visual arts class, participants will learn how to create sukkah decorations.

This year, most of the KlezKanada’s concerts are virtual, with a few special live programs in Montreal, Toronto and New York. Concerts from around the world are streamed daily from Aug. 23 to 29, and after their initial broadcasts, each concert can be viewed until the end of the retreat, at 12 a.m. EDT on Aug. 30.


Sveta Kundish and Patrick Farrell

From Berlin, vocalist Sveta Kundish and accordionist and composer Patrick Farrell perform original settings of verse by 20th and 21st-century women from North America, Europe and Israel. The songs explore the intimate and emotional inner realms of love, longing, motherhood, joy and loss.

A double bill: Klezmer power trio Veretski Pass and Yiddish vocalist Anthony Russell

Veretski Pass, from Berkeley, Calif., has been at the forefront of contemporary Yiddish music development for the last two decades. Their music has origins in the Ottoman Empire. Typical suites contain dances from Moldavia and Bessarabia, Jewish melodies from Poland and Romania, and Hutzul wedding music from Carpathian Ruthenia, seamlessly integrated with original compositions. A vocalist who specializes in Yiddish song, Anthony Russell collaborated with Veretski Pass on the album Convergence, exploring African-American and Ashkenazi Jewish music.

Duo Controverso

Duo Controverso are harpist Annette Bjorling and clarinetist Kurt Bjorling. Producing an original sound and style, they are the world’s premier, and possibly only, klezmer harp and clarinet duo. Their concerts take listeners on a journey through different eras and styles of klezmer and Yiddish music.

KlezKanada Faculty Concert

The KlezKanada faculty concert is a tradition from the early days of the retreat, revived for the virtual era. KlezKanada’s international faculty is a melting pot of talent, and viewers will experience a global sampling of what they have to offer at the concert.

Freed Fellows Concert

A group of rising stars in the world of Yiddish music, arts and culture are featured each year at KlezKanada’s summer retreat. This summer’s Freed Fellows concert includes pianist Uri Schreter, puppeteer Rebecca Turner, clarinetist Susi Evans and accordionist Szilvia Casaranko.

Ice Cream Social Dance Party

The party features Yiddish dances led by KlezKanada’s dance faculty, Avia Moore and Steve Weintraub, with music from KlezKanada’s in-house band.

Zalmen Mlotek

A leading authority on Yiddish folk and theatre music, Zalmen Mlotek is the artistic director of New York’s National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, the longest running Yiddish theatre in the world. Mlotek’s parents were known as the “Sherlock Holmes of Yiddish Songs” and made it their mission to recover as many lost Yiddish songs as possible. It’s no surprise that Mlotek, a singer and pianist, grew up with a strong affinity for Yiddish songs.

For more information, visit klezkanada.org.