The Joel Rubin Jewish Music Ensemble was founded in 1994, the first such group dedicated to the performance of the classical Eastern European Jewish instrumental ("klezmer") repertoire. The ensemble consists of seven professional musicians from the United States, Hungary and Italy and forms a link with the multi-cultural tradition of the turn-of-the-century Eastern European Jewish orchestras. The Joel Rubin Jewish Music Ensemble therefore combines the skills of Jewish, Rom (Gypsy) and non-Jewish artists: in addition to the Italian master accordionist Claudio Jacomucci - equally at home with the tangos of Astor Piazzolla, the contemporary music of Luciano Berio or Jewish music - and the charismatic cimbalom virtuoso Kálmán Balogh - scion of one of Hungary's most prominent Rom musical dynasties - Rubin is joined by László Major, Sándor Budai, Ferenc Kovács (of the Dresch Quartet) and Csaba Novák from Budapest, all of whom bring extensive experience with jazz, traditional Eastern European and urban Gypsy music to the ensemble.
Today largely forgotten, the music of the klezmer virtuosi was shaped by Western classical aesthetics from the early 19th century onwards, and had a significant impact on both the development of Russian art music and the performance practice of classical music in the 19th and early 20th centuries. With its Eastern modes and influenced by the richly ornamented, improvisational vocal style of the synagogue, the music of the professional Jewish instrumentalists was traditionally played at weddings and celebrations, and the hasidic courts. Like classic Yiddish literature, the music of the klezmorim was the culmination of a flourishing Yiddish culture over the course of a millenium, with roots in the medieval Rhineland and containing remnants of ancient modes of expression. Improvisation and ornamentation in klezmer music are based on an archaic technique known as centonization (from the Latin cento , patchwork), and bear striking similarities to those of ancient Torah cantillation and Gregorian chant, as well as Baroque music. It is therefore no surprise that the elegance and musicality of the Joel Rubin Jewish Music Ensemble evokes memories of world-famous virtuosi such as Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz and Emanuel Feuermann, all of whom stemmed from klezmer dynasties. With their spiritual interpretations of majestic wedding processionals, bridal laments, contemplative table songs and exuberant dances, the seven outstanding musicians of the Joel Rubin Jewish Music Ensemble capture the magical character of this music and achieve a stunning synthesis of old world aesthetic and modernity: a unique and unmistakable Jewish voice in contemporary musical life!
American clarinetist and composer Joel Rubin is the last in a long line of traditional Jewish virtuosi which reaches from the Russian cimbalist Michael Joseph Gusikow - held in such high esteem by Mendelssohn and his contemporaries - to the late klezmer giant Max Epstein (1912-2000). One of only a handful of students of the internationally celebrated solo clarinetist Richard Stoltzman as well as of the noted clarinet pedagogue Kalmen Opperman, Rubin attended California Institute of the Arts and graduated from State University of New York at Purchase. After having performed with chamber and improvising ensembles such as the New York Philomusica and Ragdale, he has specialized in klezmer repertoire and performance practice since 1980. Rubin, "an important figure in the rediscovery of the Ashkenazic musical tradition" (Jewish Herald-Voice) and a spiritual father of the former Folk Arts Institute of the New York YIVO Institute, taught several generations of klezmer revival clarinetists, one of whom is David Krakauer. Rubin has become the idol of hasidic musicians in Israel who are carrying on the Eastern European klezmer tradition within their communities. But his phenomenal playing technique and elegant aesthetic were are also admired by the "Kings of Klezmer", Dave Tarras and Max Epstein, who saw Rubin as his true artistic heir. Rubin's albums are considered to be masterpieces of the classical klezmer style: Beregovski's Khasene was rated by Gramophone as "absolutely first-class"; Bessarabian Symphony has been called "a major document of the … 'klezmer revival'" (Ethnomusicology); "Forget Mendelssohn if you're looking for the ultimate disc of joyful wedding music", exclaimed the Boston Phoenix about Zeydes un Eyniklekh with the Epstein Brothers Orchestra.
Himself a descendent of Russian klezmorim, Rubin has worked with many of the finest traditional performers from Eastern Europe, Israel and America, including the Epstein Brothers - whom he "discovered" for the world at large - Musa Berlin (Israel) and Leopold Kozlowski ("The Last Klezmer", Cracow, Poland). Between studio gigs in New York with Branford Marsalis, appearances in packed synagogues in San Francisco, and hasidic yeshivas in Jerusalem, Rubin mesmerizes concert audiences throughout the world with his breathtaking solos, be it in renowned halls, at the Ra'anana Festival in Israel in front of an audience of over 8,000, or on the main stage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Recent performances have included the Berlin Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Kammermusiksaal am Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, Cité de la Musique in Paris, the Zürich Tonhalle, and Burghof Lörrach. The ensemble's live national broadcast of its program Beregovski's Khasene in DeutschlandRadio (Nov. 1996) was one of the most successful concert broadcasts in recent memory, bringing this out-of time and yet very modern music to a wide audience for the first time.
Joel Rubin, clarinet * Kálmán Balogh, concert cimbalom * Claudio Jacomucci, concert accordion * Ferenc Kovács, trumpet * László Major, first violin * Sándor Budai, second violin * Csaba Novák, string bass
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