In order to do full justice to this one hour lunchtime concert, I first need to try and explain a few things....
1. What and who is The Michael Kahan Kapelye?
This the Manchester University Music Department's own Klezmer Ensemble. The ensemble is named after the prominent Manchester musician Michael Kahan who performed in both the classical and klezmer genres and was tragically killed in 2008. The ensemble was formed in 2011 by course tutors Ros Hawley and Richard Fay, however the ensembles reforms each year choosing a new set of students to come together and develop this perhaps somewhat unfamiliar style of music, so far removed from classical, to perform regularly throughout the city, especially at The Manchester Jewish Museum.
The current ensemble is - Xander Baker, Katherine Blumer, Eliorah Goodman, Meabh Kennedy, Matthew Lomax, Anna Mitchyn, Jenny Parker, Pip Sayers, Hayley Suviste, Lydia Thompson, Naomi Waverley-Hudson, and Helena Wynn.
2. What is Klezmer music?
The word klezmer is Yiddish and comes from the Hebrew meaning 'those who make music' - whether that be the musical instruments or the players themselves. Originally from Eastern European Jewry, this music has survived thanks to the huge migration of Eastern European Jews to America between 1880 and 1924. However, it is said that the klezmer music of today is infused with American Jazz too and is not the pure music of the original - however that is simply conjecture! The music is played by klezmorim and the music consists mainly of dance tunes to be played at weddings and other celebrations. The style is instantly identifiable by the musicians imitating the human voice making their instruments weep or cry, shout or laugh, and using their hands to clap or click as part of the music.
3. What was the aim of this afternoon's concert?
As part of their ongoing assessment, the students were, in pairs, tasked with choosing, researching, arranging the music and writing the programme notes for each piece. This meant that there would be 6 pieces of music since there were 12 musicians. However, the first piece of the afternoon was one which was just for our enjoyment and was not being assessed!
And so to the concert......
The ensemble took to the stage in their own day clothes; and as much as 'dressing down' was maybe acceptable in this concert, walking on the stage in a pair of socks without shoes was just a step too far, as one member of the ensemble chose to do. Fortunately his musicianship somewhat mitigated this faux-pas.
As is to be expected from a young mixed group such as this, some of the musicians were much more 'at home' with this style than others, putting not just their instruments but their whole bodies and souls behind the music, which is absolutely what is required, whilst others stood rigid and appeared quite frightened and daunted by the whole thing.
Fortunately, they were all very confident and competent musicians and proved to produce some lovely authentic sounds. It was such a pity that placing the small tambourine on the floor - a good idea - didn't actually work in practise.
It was a well-balanced concert with both slow and fast in equal measure, and most of the more recognisable movements of klezmer were accounted for ( I heard Hora, Bulgar, Freylichs, Doina, and Khosidl, but there may well have been others that I didn't know); and the concert ended in Russian! Sayers proving that he is not only a talented musician but can also sing really quite nicely too - and in Russian! Nicely done.
I appreciated the short introductions to each piece by the students themselves, and all of the pieces in the concert were lovely, well thought through, and extremely well played. It was a most enjoyable hour spent in the company of talented musicians / arrangers, and fantastic to hear a whole concert devoted to a genre of music which is often neglected outside of the Jewish community.
Thank you Manchester University for allowing such concerts to exist and opening them up to members of the public. Long may this continue!
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 17th March 2016