Klezmer music is by its nature a joyous high energy form of music, but what do you get when you add in Mediterranean melodies, Romanian surf tunes, covers of cop show theme songs, and a funk groove? You get Boston-based band Klezperanto. They’re set to play Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield on Sunday, July 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Virtuoso clarinetist Ilene Stahl, who founded the group in 1998 with accordionist Evan Harlan, spoke with Valley Advocate staff writer Chris Goudreau about the band’s eclectic mix of influences, the upcoming show at Hawks & Reed, and the band’s passion for traditional Yiddish music.
Chris Goudreau: First off, what I found really interesting about your band with Mediterranean and surf. How did you blend those influences together?
Ilene Stahl: We all like different kinds of music and even musicians who are known for playing only one kind of music have musical interests. The more kinds of music you’re interested in, the richer your life is. And though I have been playing traditional klezmer music for many years, I really wanted to play other kinds of music. But I’m a clarinet player and some of the kinds of music that I wanted to play didn’t include clarinets, like traditional cumbias from the golden age of big band dance era in Columbia which was in the 1950s and 1960s. And some of the music that I’m interested in, which is the musical of my childhood, which is 1970s TV themes, in particular the TV detective themes, does not generally include clarinet. And so, I formed this band with some of my colleagues in Boston, all of whom know each other as current members of Klezmer Conservatory Band or as former or adjunct members of that band. When we get together as Klezperanto, we get together to playing anything but traditional klezmer music.
Chris: What’s a typical band practice like?
Ilene: Typically we get together to rehearse for particular shows. We try to bring some new stuff to every show. Now, this show that’s coming up at Hawks & Reed is special. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and music starts at 7:30 p.m. And at 6:30 p.m., for ticket holders 21 and over there’s going to be a free slivovitz tasting sponsored by Beaver Pond Distillery. Slivovitz is the moonshine of my ancestors. It’s a clear fruit brands, high proof, it’s made of plums. It usually comes for Eastern Europe, but I was delighted to find that there is a local small batch distillery in Petersham, Massachusetts whose making the product here locally … For this particular show, we’re adding love songs to liquor to the mix.
Chris: I know klezmer music is traditionally high energy. Do you amplify that at live shows?
Ilene: Our live shows are very high energy. Yes, traditional klezmer music has a certain kind of high energy. It is the secular party of music for wild wedding celebrations. And yes, we stir that up by adding lots of funky grooves and ratcheting up some tempos. So, people really go wild at live shows. This will be our third appearance at the venue and every show we’ve played there has been sold out and standing room only.
Chris: What’s some of the best reactions that you’ve gotten from people after shows?
Ilene: Well, I am always really happy for people who come because their interested in klezmer music. Those people are generous and loyal fans who know me from my decades of work with the Klezmer Conservatory Band, which includes many recordings and television performances with Itzhak Perlman and all that stuff. I am ecstatic when people who know nothing about klezmer music and didn’t come for that … I just want people to be excited about the music. And I am happy when someone says, ‘I’ve never heard anything like that, but that’s the best show I’ve ever seen.’ And we hear that, I’m happy to say, a lot.