Klezmer Reinvigorated: Fusing Old and New

Vienna sets the stage for a mix of traditional and modern acts at its annual fifteen-day KlezMore Festival this November

Roman Grinberg at the seventh KlezMore Festival in Vienna | Photo: Grinberg

So you want Balkan rhythms? Men in bowler hats playing accordions? How about melancholy music that makes you want to look wistfully off into the distance and murmur about “my lost homeland”?

How about all of the above, at the seventh KlezMore Festival taking place in Vienna from Nov. 6-21 and for those not in the know, klezmer music is a traditional form of Jewish music played at weddings. The genre has its roots in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, but it really took off in the milieu of Jewish immigrants who came to America in the early 20th century. The style has become increasingly popular in the last few years, as globalization and the opening of borders has led to the genre being exported and experimented with across the world.

As the organizer of the event, Friedl Preisl, explained, the festival is not just about the traditional form of klezmer music, but also to showcase its more avant-garde forms, showing that it cannot be categorized and that it is not an exclusively Jewish form of music. Many of the acts are a mixture of traditional and avant-garde klezmer music, which is where the name KlezMore derives from.

The event first took place in 2004 and came about through a desire to reinvigorate the klezmer scene in Vienna. Although there was a Jewish cultural festival every year on Judenplatz, this was a very traditional affair and did not really develop the genre. Friedl Preisl felt that, by bringing in bands from different countries, and bringing together both known and unknown artists, the genre would be given a kick, thus a new life.

One of the highlights is scheduled to be on Sunday, Nov. 14, when the trumpeter Frank London from the Klezmatics will be playing with the Austrian band Freylech. This plan epitomizes the festival’s intention to mix traditional and modern forms, as the Klezmatics are famous for combining klezmer with more contemporary styles of music, whilst Freylech stand at the other end of the spectrum.

Also on the list are the jam sessions, which will take place every Monday of the festival in Café Tachles (Karmeliterplatz 1). Everybody is invited to take part and, if energy levels permit it, some of the professional musicians may also join.

But this is not everything the festival has to offer.

One event, which is definitely worth seeing, is the film Jüdisches Glück (Jewish Luck), which will be shown on Sunday Nov. 14 in the Metro Kino. The production was made in the USSR in 1927 and tells the story of Menachem Mendl who tries hard to become a marriage broker. This is a silent movie and live accompaniment will be provided by the well-known Austrian violinist Daniela Fischer.

And for those of you who have asked themselves “what’s that cemetery there?” while going past Nußdorferstraße on the U-Bahn, there will also be a guided tour of the Währinger Jewish cemetery (also on Nov. 14). It is usually closed off to the public and the tour promises to provide a look into a forgotten part of Vienna.


More information at www.klezmorevienna.at. Tickets can be bought both in advance and on the night of the event.

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