An interview

Ian: So, what is Klezmerish all about?

Marcel: We are exploring the music of immigrants from all sorts of musical and cultural backgrounds who left their homelands to travel the world in pursuit of a better life.

Connie: They took their musical traditions with them and as much as they influenced the music scene wherever they settled, so was their music influenced by the cultures they encountered in their new-found homes. Klezmer music of Jewish immigrants, tangos by Piazzolla (who grew up in Argentina as a son of Italian immigrants) or the gypsy jazz of Stéphane Grappelli / Django Reinhardt (the fantastic collaboration of a classically trained French/Italian musician with a self-taught gypsy guitarist) are all examples of amazing musical fusions and intercultural exchanges.

Tom: And then look at our own Connie and Marcel. Connie’s family left Italy to settle in the UK and Marcel was born in Germany, spent five years of his childhood in France and moved to the UK 15 years ago. That’s traveller’s life, no?

Ian:What makes the group special?

Marcel: Klezmer, tango and Gypsy jazz are only part of our repertoire. Connie wants to introduce us to Italian folk music which has its roots all the way back in the music of the troubadours (the travelling Italian musicians of the 13th century), Rob is sorting us out with some music of the Irish immigrants who settled in the States and brought their traditional fiddle music over and Tom is working on a fusion of our native classical music with Latin jazz – there is so much more to explore! The incredible diversity of the repertoire is pretty unique.

Rob: We all play equal parts in the quartet. No one is purely accompaniment or the main voice but we constantly swap roles. Even Marcel on the bass very often takes the leading part and plays the melody rather than just sticking to the bass line as you would expect. This certainly introduces an unusual sound world. And so does the great variety of instruments we use. Tom uses three different clarinets, B flat, E flat and bass, and even gets his saxophone out for some of the Piazzolla.

Connie: And Rob, another multi-instrumentalist, has all sorts of different guitars (just how many depends on whether his wife allows him to take the camper van to the gig to fit them all in), and plays the violin in some numbers. Quite an amazing variety of sounds.

Ian: You are all classically trained musicians, and not jazzers or folk musicians – how confident are you about going into all these different genres?

Tom:The fusion of our rigorous background as classical musicians with our passion for exploring exciting new musical territories is what makes us special. We met through our ‘day jobs’ in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, but Klezmerish is what happens when we put away our bow ties and let our hair down!

Rob: Yes, we are all classically trained, but Connie for example started her musical education on the accordion (and not on the violin, which she studied later), and her roots are in Italian folk music. Marcel was always interested in the unusual – hence the choice of the bass as his instrument! – and even though his roots are in Western classical music he played for a while in the bossa nova quartet ‘Sarrava’, he ran the salon orchestra ‘Jac Grit’ playing music for ballroom dancing from the early 20th century, and he’s a passionate Salsa Dancer.

Connie: As I mentioned before, Rob is a multi-instrument wizard and whatever instrument or style you hear him playing you will get exited – whether on his violin in the gypsy band ‘Swingology’, playing the ‘James Bond’ theme on the electric guitar in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, or sitting on the front desk of the violas in the same orchestra playing the viola in a Mahler symphony. (And in a little rehearsal break he might teach us a cool jazz groove – quite some talent!) Lastly, when Tom isn’t playing orchestral clarinet he loves playing jazz piano, and he can’t wait to bring some of that influence into Klezmerish.

Marcel: We should mention as well that we are not aiming for perfect copies of the originals or trying to play in ‘authentic’ style. We get inspired by the original tunes but tailor them to our own personal taste, giving them our own twist. All the music is arranged by us and for us.

Ian: Final question: Who is the boss?

Connie: As members of a symphony orchestra we work in an incredibly hierarchical structure. Everything is totally regulated by rules and orders that have to be obeyed.
No such thing with Klezmerish. No boss! All equals.  No rules or regulations. It is all led by the music, and by the mutual respect we have for each others’ talent.

Ian: Anarchy?

Rob: Whatever you call it, it works very well for us…

Klezmerish were interviewed by Ian Stephens, composer, musician and RLPO Programme Editor.