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Reconnecting to European roots

Quintet revives traditional Jewish gypsy music

Who: Kleztory

When: Sunday, March 5

Where: MY Millennium Place

Tickets: $20/$18/$10

Ironically, the survival of klezmer – a traditional music of nomadic Jews who traveled Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th century – survives in North America, where immigrants longing to reconnect with their homeland kept the klezmer music alive.

"The genre disappeared after the war in the ’40s in Europe," said accordionist Henri Oppenheim. "It only survived in America where immigrants from the 1920s maintained it. It’s basically only survived in America. It’s pretty much an American movement – the revival of klezmer."

Kleztory picks up the klezmer torch, bringing its eclectic instrumentalization to MY Millennium Place Sunday, March 5.

For Oppenheim, tuning into klezmer was about understanding and reconnecting with his Jewish roots.

"My grandmother (from Poland) was the last witness of this history – the war," said Oppenheim of his grandmother who immigrated to Canada with his family in 1997. "She was really sick. Being far from home and about to lose my grandmother was, for me, when the process (of studying klezmer) began. It pushed me back to my roots. As a musician, I started listening to Jewish music. Eventually I met the band four years ago and here I am."

When Oppenheim joined the band, Kleztory incorporated all of the components of klezmer – a gypsy menagerie of music genres including classical, contemporary, jazz, blues and country – via a small ensemble of violin, double-bass, guitar and clarinet. The only thing missing was the Jewish component. Oppenheim joked he was the perfect fit.

Oppenheim, guitarist Alain Legault, bassist Mark Peetsma, clarinetist Airat Ichmouratov and violinist Elvira Misbakhova have performed all over Canada, reviving and replenishing the traditional pastime.

"The melodies are very deep and so joyful," he said. "The melodies are very poignant and there is a lot of lyricism even in the fast pieces. The fast music is minor. It’s sad, fast music.

"Klezmer and the Jewish spirit are about mixed feelings. It means that joy always has some melancholy about it. That is the big strength of the music. It seems when you hear this music, all the roots of western music are there; the harmonies and melodies are all very universal."

This eclectic ensemble of Canadian, Quebecois, French and Russian culture produced its first self-titled album in 2003 then proceeded to record a second album in collaboration with I Musici de Montreal, which was internationally distributed on the Chandos Label in 2004. The group will release its third studio album in November and is currently preparing to perform with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra.

"The symphony experience is something very special, but the pure klezmer way is a small orchestra," he said. "It’s like a plane: A Boeing plane can only go in one direction whereas a small plane can go many places. The intimacy of a small group is very magical."

Tickets for Kleztory, part of the Real Canadian Series, are $20/$18/$10. Group rates available. Call 604-935-8410.