When superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman and celebrity cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot appeared at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in February, their musical director was hardly at the top of the bill. That is par for the course for Hankus Netsky, who helped mastermind Perlman and Helfgot’s “Eternal Echoes” project. For more than 30 years, Netsky, 58, has been a quiet but powerful force affecting nearly every corner of contemporary Jewish music.
As the founder of the Klezmer Conservatory Band in 1980, Netsky takes pride of place among the first generation of klezmer revivalists, who brought the genre back to the forefront of Jewish cultural consciousness. As a composer and musician, Netsky has created numerous albums as well as film, radio and musical scores. And as a researcher and ethnomusicologist, Netsky has written widely on music history, and as an avowed improvisational musician, he has helped push Jewish music into the future.
Perhaps most importantly, Netsky’s position as chair of the contemporary improvisation department at the New England Conservatory of Music has allowed him to mentor generations of Jewish musicians, who often attend the school specifically to study with him. The large number of young jazz and classical instrumentalists who have devoted their talents to innovating Jewish repertoire over the past few decades is a testament to Netsky’s influence.
In addition to his students, Netsky has found a wider audience for cantorial music in recent months, at packed venues like Barclay’s Center and Los Angeles’s Hollywood Bowl. His name might not be in lights, but that doesn’t mean his music isn’t heard.