ON TOUR

FINDING TCHAIKOVSKY’S INNER KLEZMER MUSICIAN

By Daniel Treiman

Published December 05, 2003, issue of December 05, 2003.

“The Nutcracker” may be a traditional Christmas favorite, but that has not stopped the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra from adapting it for Chanukah use.

The Boston-based group has been performing its own klezmer interpretations of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet ever since it released its “Klezmer Nutcracker” CD in 1998.

“Many of the great composers of that time, including Tchaikovsky, were drawing upon Russian folk elements when they composed their classical music,” said the six-piece group’s drummer and manager, Eric Rosenthal. “And what we have done is we’ve tried to distill the folk elements back out of the classical pieces. That makes sense of course because klezmer music has Russian roots as well.”

Indeed, translating classical pieces into klezmer is a specialty of the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra. The group’s “Klezmer Nutcracker” CD also features reinterpretations of pieces by Brahms and Mahler. Their latest project is a klezmer version of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” that they are calling “Pincus and the Pig,” with new narration by “Where the Wild Things Are” author Maurice Sendak.

Rosenthal said the band members got the idea to do a klezmer version of “Nutcracker” because they had been performing annual Christmas day concerts for Jewish audiences.

“We just thought it would be nice and fun and kind of interesting to put our own spin on what is essentially an American tradition,” he said.

This holiday season the group is taking its klezmer “Nutcracker” on tour, playing gigs in Atlanta, Washington and Los Angeles, where it is playing a Chanukah family festival at the Skirball Center for the Arts.

“Everybody loves ‘The Nutcracker,’” Rosenthal said.

Rialto Center for the Performing Arts, 80 Forsyth St. NW, Atlanta; Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; $20-$45. (404-651-4727 or www.rialtocenter.org) Skirball Center for the Arts, 2701 N. Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles; Dec. 14, 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.-4 p.m.; $8, $6 students and seniors, free members and children under 12. (310-440-4500 or www.skirball.org) Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C., Dec. 21, 3 p.m.; $30, $25 members. (202-777-3254 or www.dcjcc.org)



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