Sunday, December 4, 2016

Veretski Pass Offers up the Jewish Side of the Holiday Season

Seasonal programming in the Old First Concerts series at Old First Church continued last night with Veretski Pass making their third appearance. This is a trio that brings the husband-and-wife couple of Joshua Horowitz and Cookie Segelstein together with Stuart Brotman. The program listed each of them as playing multiple instruments. However, Segelstein seemed to stick with her violin for the entire evening, while Horowitz played only a chromatic button accordion. Brotman took all the bass work with a basy, basically a cello tuned like a bass that can be fitted with a strap, allowing the performer to play while standing.

The group is named after a pass through the Carpathian Mountains located near the western border of the Ukraine. Their music draws upon the shtetl culture of towns and villages that served as centers of Jewish life across Central and Eastern Europe but failed to survive the Second World War. This brings to mind the klezmer style; but, as Segelstein said when Veretski Pass gave its first (I think) Old First Concerts performance, “This is not your grandmother’s klezmer. It is her grandmother’s klezmer.” The Veretski Pass repertoire is the product of considerable ethnomusicological field work and analysis; but, in spite of those academic credentials, the performances are consistently energetic and passionately enthusiastic.

Much of last night’s program was based on the group’s most recent recording, Poyln: a Gilgul (which translates as “Poland: A Metamorphosis”), which was released by Golden Horn Records a little over a year ago. While Segelstein provided some background about the music and its relationship to Jewish culture, she did not make announcements about specific compositions. One reason was probably because each individual performance amounted to a suite of a variety of different tunes, often arising through some very abrupt shifts and frequent endings that felt as if they were breaking off in midstream. Segelstein explained that such a performance practice was not “authentic.” Particularly when the music was for dancing, a single tune could go on at great length; and satisfying the dancers was more important that the musicians’ seeking out new paths for invention. In other words the very setting of Old First was “inauthentic,” simply because this was not sit-still-and-listen music.

Nevertheless, listening to a recording like Poyln definitely gets the juices flowing, even if one is not at some festive ceremony or in a dance hall. Listening to the musicians themselves has an even stronger impact, because the listener is now “in the thick” of the spontaneity of music-making. Unlike the Village Road Trio, which played at the Hotel Rex this past Wednesday evening and involves similar instrumentation, the Veretski Pass musicians do not play from any form of “charts.” The only paper on stage was for the crib sheets Segelstein used to discuss the background for the music they played. One might also say that Veretski Pass’ repertoire is “music of the flesh,” raw in its sonorous qualities, rather than the more formal (even if still lively) “music of the spirit” that emerged when composers like Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály repurposed the results of their ethnomusicological field studies into music for concert settings.

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