What do Itzhak Perlman, Tevye, Fagin, Betty Boop, early jazz, Yentl, Millie (as in “Thoroughly Modern”) and UC Irvine have in common?
They’ve all been klezmerized!
And so will Segerstrom Concert Hall Jan. 17, when the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, under the banner of its Eclectic Orange series, presents Perlman as part of a dectet in a program of klezmer music. “In the Fiddler’s House” is named after Perlman’s Emmy-winning 1995 PBS special and CD (which spawned a sequel, “Klezmer 2”).
Klezmer — which is derived from a combination of two Hebrew words meaning “vessels of song” (i.e., musical instruments) — is a tradition of Eastern Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews, who eventually came into contact with early 1920s jazz to produce an American version.
One can hear strong strains of klezmer in those jazzy, black and white Betty Boop cartoons, as well as throughout the scores of “Fiddler on the Roof” (especially Tevye’s songs), “Oliver!” (Fagin’s songs), “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (the wedding scene) and “Yentl.” The Klezmorim, a kleztmer revival band, made the music popular again in the ’70s and ’80s.
“This kind of music is so much fun,” Perlman said. “There’s a lot of emotion — happy, sad — very accessible. A lot of history is involved, concerning the Jews of Eastern Europe … and it’s not always the same instrumentation. When you think of klezmer, you first think of the clarinet, then the violin. But there are different mixtures of instrumentation; it evolves all the time.”
Twenty-four years after his special, he’s embarking on a klezmer tour that, in addition to Costa Mesa, will take him to San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Escondido and Los Angeles.
“I grew up in Israel listening to this music on radio,” he said, “so it’s always sounded very familiar to me, but I never played it.”
“PBS wanted me to host a program on klezmer music, so I began talking to the participants,” he said. “And they started saying, ‘Read with us, jam with us,’ even though I told them I never played this music before. So I did — and I fell in love with it. It’s like riding a bike, because the music was already familiar to me.”
Hearing Perlman — the virtuoso classical violinist with multiple Grammy awards — perform klezmer was no shock to his legion of fans, he said.
“I’ve done things not in my day job — a lot of crossover, country, jazz and so forth,” he said.
Despite the more modern forms of klezmer others perform, Perlman prefers the Old World versions.
“Some groups evolve to include Greek, Middle Eastern,” he said, “but I’m more comfortable with the old fashioned way of playing klezmer music, sticking to the Polish, the Hungarian, Eastern Europe in general.”
Joining with Perlman in that more-Eastern European approach are members of the Brave Old World and Klezmer Conservatory Band, two traditional klezmer groups.
“The music begs for people to get up and start dancing,” Perlman said. “If you feel like doing that, go ahead. But if there are no aisles handy, then jump up and down, holding hands. That should do it.”
Michael Rydzynski is a contributor to Times Community News.
IF YOU GO
Who: Itzhak Perlman, violin
What: “In the Fiddler's House,” a program of klezmer music presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County under its Eclectic Orange banner
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 17
Where: Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: Tickets start at $48