A beloved violinist, a king, and a princess

All playing in Chicago in November

HedyNov2022 image

Itzhak Perlman, the world-renowned classical violinist, will soon be heading to Orchestra Hall with a Klezmer program, that irresistible music of Jewish origin. Meanwhile, November will mark the return of The Lion King , that enduring Broadway musical sensation, as well as the screening of the hugely popular 1987 film, The Princess Bride, with its score played live by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And if you read this on time, you will definitely want to head to the Harris Theater for a concert of a new work by composer Osvaldo Golijov. 

Klezmer music to get you dancing 

It was back in 1995 that PBS approached Itzhak Perlman about hosting In the Fiddler's House , a special program about klezmer music, That traditional sound of Eastern and Central European Jews is probably most familiar from its performance at weddings and other events, at which it invariably drives people straight to the dance floor.

Over the years, klezmer (a combination of the Hebrew words for "vessels of song," meaning musical instruments) has also absorbed aspects of Greek and Middle Eastern music, as well as jazz. And it can be heard in everything from Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. 1," to works by such 20th century Jewish-American composers as George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein - and jazz bandleaders Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw - to pieces by that non-Jewish Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich. It also is an essential element in such Broadway musicals as Fiddler on the Roof and Oliver!, and you can detect many visual references to klezmer musicians in the paintings of Marc Chagall. 
All that said, in a recent phone conversation with Perlman-who was born in Tel Aviv in 1945 and moved to New York at the age of 13 to study at Juilliard-he admitted that while he had probably heard klezmer recordings on the radio as a child in Israel he was primarily focused on classical music. 
"It was years later, after getting that PBS invitation, that a klezmer group asked me if I'd like to jam with them just for fun," said Perlman (who won an Emmy for his CD recording of "In the Fiddler's House.") "So for a few days I went to Poland, where my father grew up, had delicious matzoh balls and kreplach at a Jewish restaurant owned by young non-Jewish Poles, began listening to wonderful old recordings of klezmer music, and decided to host the program. 
"A klezmer band can have a very varied group of instruments-from violin, clarinet, and flute to bass, trombone, drums, accordion, and the cimbalom, a stringed instrument played with two sticks. There is a strong element of improvisation involved which I always find fascinating, and while I do have sheet music, I only use it as a guide. The basic tune is a skeleton to build on. And if there is a jazz influence-which is less Jewish and more bluesy- you can tap into different emotions. There also is a lot of variety in how we can end a piece." 
At the time we spoke by phone a couple of months ago, Perlman was still not entirely certain about who his fellow musicians for this concert would be, although he would certainly be turning to his frequent collaborators- music directors Hankus Netzky (who leads the Klezmer Conservatory Band of Boston), Andy Statman (of Brave Old World, an American and German band), and musicians from both ensembles. 

The essential elements of klezmer have a long history, but the form arrived in the U.S. along with the Eastern European Jewish immigrants who came in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was notably popular in the 1920s, faded during the World War II era, and then enjoyed a rebirth in the 1980s. 
"Its popularity goes through cycles," said Perlman, "and I'm not quite sure why and how this happens." 
Asked if he uses a particular violin when playing klezmer, he explained: "I have two violins [one of them a Stradivarius], and sometimes I use one that I can connect a little microphone for amplification, because then I don't have to worry about being heard if there's a bass and drums in the band."

When asked if dancers would be part of the Orchestra Hall program Perlman laughed and said: "The audience will supply the dancers, something I highly encourage. I've played klezmer concerts in many classical settings, and I want the audience at Orchestra Hall to just get up and dance in the aisles." 
This one-night-only concert of "In the Fiddler's House" (at 7 p.m. on Dec. 4) will be performed at Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan. For tickets, visit cso.org or call 312-294-3000. 

'The Lion King' will roar again 

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the arrival on Broadway of Disney's astonishing musical, The Lion King, whose Tony Award-winning direction, and wildly inventive costume and puppet design, was the creation of Julie Taymor. 
Born into a Jewish family in Newton, Mass., in 1952, Taymor began to travel the world starting in her mid-teens, and she has clearly drawn on the many different forms of theater she saw all along the way. If you've seen The Lion King, you will never forget the parade of actors transformed into exotic animals who move down the aisles of the theater at the very start of the show, and you will immediately sense those international influences. 
Over the years the musical has been seen by 110 million people in more than 100 cities in 20 countries. And just in time to celebrate its 25th anniversary a touring production of the show will work its magic on the stage of Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, where it will run from Nov. 17, 2022 through Jan. 14, 2023. For tickets, visit broadwayinchicago.com. 

A film score goes live 

The Princess Bride, the 1987 film adapted by William Goldman from his 1973 novel, spins a wild and crazy fairytale romance in which sweet and innocent Princess Buttercup must be rescued from the loathsome clutches of Prince Humperdinck. Also featured are a pirate, a giant, a wizard, and some monsters.

As it happens, Goldman was born into a Jewish family and grew up in Highland Park, and Robert Reiner, the film's director, also from a Jewish family, grew up in the Bronx. Many cast members are Jewish as well, including Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal, and Fred Savage.

Conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mark Knopfler's score for the film will be Richard Kaufman. The screening and live accompaniment will take place at Orchestra Hall on Nov. 25, 26, and 27. For tickets, visit cso.org or call 312-294-3000. 

 A writer inspires a composer 

In 2006, David Grossman (the 2018 winner of the Israel Prize for Literature), learned that his son, Uri, a tank commander in the Israel Defense Forces, had been killed in action on the last day of the Lebanon War. And in his 2014 novel, Falling Out of Time, he dealt with the grief of parents in the wake of their children's death. 

Now, inspired by Grossman's novel, Osvaldo Golijov, the brilliant Grammy-winning composer (born in Argentina to Romanian-Jewish parents) has written a new work, "Falling Out of Time: A Tone Poem in Voices." Described as "a story in voices that narrate a profound journey of grief and solace...and a quest to comprehend a loss with no name," the work will be performed by an international touring ensemble of 13 performers coming to the Harris Theater for Music and Dance on Nov 3. For tickets, visit harristheaterchicago or call 312-334-7777. 


  Hedy Weiss, a longtime Chicago arts critic, was the Theater and Dance Critic for the  Chicago Sun-Times  from 1984 to 2018, and currently writes for  WTTW-TV's website and contributes to the  Chicago Tonight  program.  

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