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Arts & Culture Break out the Violins: Musicians, Fans Head to London’s Klezfest

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London is set to host its first festival dedicated to klezmer, the “Jewish jazz” that grew out of the Jewish celebration music of Eastern Europe.

The event, KlezFest, runs from July 1-4 at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, home of the Jewish Music Institute, which organized the festival.

About 150 participants are expected to join a faculty of 40 for workshops on literature, language, humor, history, folklore, and, of course, music. There will be master classes, workshops and performances.

Faculty will include American klezmer stars such as Michael Alpert of Brave Old World and Deborah Strauss of the Klezmer Conservatory Band.

They will be joined by leading British figures of the Yiddish and klezmer scenes, plus two bands from Ukraine and one from Russia.

In addition to musicians, teachers will include filmmakers, actors, dancers, historians and experts on Yiddish language.

The festival is a sign of the popularity of klezmer in Europe, Barbara Rosenberg, one of the organizers, told JTA.

Once considered a dying art form, klezmer has been revived in the past few decades and now enjoys a wide following in the United States and Europe.

Lucy Skeaping, a British broadcaster and musician who performs with the klezmer group Burning Bush, said the revival is due to several factors: a general interest in older music, including Renaissance and Baroque; enthusiasm for “world music;” and the desire to identify with Judaism.

“It’s a way of doing something Jewish without having to do the whole ritual and going to synagogue,” she said.

The first night’s performance brings together bands from east and west, with Russian and Ukrainian musicians joining faculty members from the United States and Britain.

Like much of KlezFest, the evening will also link generations: The Kharkov Klezmer Band is made up of young musicians, while two members of Khaverim are in their 70s — and the third is 80.

“These are people who heard Yiddish and klezmer at home when they were growing up,” Rosenberg said of the older musicians.

But, she said, most of the registrants are young people.

Geraldine Auerbach, director of the Jewish Music Institute, got the idea for the festival while attending last year’s KlezKamp, a similar event held annually in the New York area.

“Geraldine saw KlezKamp in December and was blown away. She wanted to do the same thing here,” Rosenberg said.

The interest in klezmer is a way of connecting with a past that was not valued in the 1960s and ’70s, Skeaping said.

“The whole of old culture was ignored,” she said. “Now we’re interested in old things. We’re discovering it all late in the day.”

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