Classical and klezmer

Clarinetist David Krakauer highlights the CMF’s final week

Peter Alexander | Boulder Weekly

Boulder`s Colorado Music Festival (CMF) at Chautauqua wraps up this week with several programs. Two led by CMF Musical Director Michael Christie — Sunday (Aug. 1) and the Festival Finale concerts Thursday and Friday (Aug. 5 and 6) — stand out for their adventurous diversity.

Both programs feature serious works from 19thcentury Vienna, representing the festival’s classical roots. But they are paired with two culturally and spiritually grounded works from the world-music wing of the festival, featuring returning soloists who have crafted unique musical profiles.

On Sunday, the first Viennese work will be the Requiem in D minor of Anton Bruckner. In a wonderfully contrasting cultural juxtaposition, music by the arch-conservative Austrian Catholic Bruckner is paired with the remarkable “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” by Osvaldo Golijov, an Argentine-born son of an Eastern European Jewish family.

The soloist for Golijov’s score is the clarinetist David Krakauer, known equally for his skill in classical music and his virtuoso performances of the traditional Jewish celebratory music known as klezmer. Krakauer’s previous CMF appearance was in 2007 with his “Klezmer Madness” ensemble, which has spurred a vibrant resurgence of the expressive and propulsive klezmer style.

Golijov is a world-music phenomenon in himself.

He grew up surrounded by European classical music played by his mother, the distinctive klezmer style of his Jewish ancestors and the tango of Argentina. He also studied contemporary composition in the United States and has collaborated with (among others) the kaleidoscopically adventurous Kronos Quartet, the Romanian Gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks, the Mexican Rock group Café Tacuba and Indian tablas virtuoso Zakir Hussain.

“Eight centuries ago, Isaac the Blind, the great kab balist rabbi of Provence, dictated a manuscript in which he asserted that all things and events in the universe are the product of combinations of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet,” Golijov explains. “Isaac’s lifelong devotion to his art is as striking as that of string quartets and klezmer musicians. In their search for something that arises from tangible elements but transcends them, they are all reaching a state of communion.

“The movements of this work sound to me as if they were written in three of the different languages spoken by the Jewish people throughout our history. This somehow reflects the composition’s epic nature. I hear the prelude and the first movement in the most ancient, Aramaic; the second movement is in Yiddish, the rich and fragile language of a long exile; the third movement and postlude are in sacred Hebrew.”

Thursday’s and Friday’s Festival Finale concerts will pair the Fifth Symphony of the Hungarian/Jewish/ Viennese Gustav Mahler with “Kalkadungu” by William Barton and Matthew Hindson, a work inspired by Barton’s Australian native cultural traditions.

Barton grew up learning the traditional music of his indigenous people in Australia, as well as western instruments and styles. As the soloist in “Kalkadungu,” he will perform vocals, the electric guitar and the didgeridoo.

Like Golijov’s score, “Kalkadungu” draws on a deep cultural history. It is based on a song Barton wrote at 15, inspired by the culture and landscape associated with the Kalkadungu people of Australia.

“The history of the Kalkadungu … and European settlers is by no means a happy one,” the composers write. “The Kalkadungu tribe were renowned as fierce and determined warriors. They maintained a 15-year guerilla campaign against [the settlers]. The unfortunate conclusion to this conflict took place in 1884 with the combined attack by the Queensland Police on the Kalkadungu tribe. … As many as 200 tribespeople were killed in this battle, and according to some accounts, the bleached bones of the dead could be seen lying on the ground up to 50 years later.”

The five movements of “Kalkadungu” evoke the fierce history of the tribe and mourn the loss of the tribal culture. Barton’s song, and his electric guitar solos based on it, represent the modern descendant of the Kalkadungu thinking back on his people’s loss, while the didgeridoo enters for the final movement, a reflection on the contemporary relationship between native and European peoples in Australia. In spite of the bloody history, the score ends in a hopeful mood.

By anyone’s standards, these are remarkable musical and cultural explorations. Even if klezmer music, electric guitar and didgeridoo are not your usual cup of tea, these two programs can be recommended just for the sheer adventure of it all.


On the Bill

Aug. 1, 5 and 6 will be at 7:30 in the Chautauqua Auditorium. A full
calendar and details on all CMF programs are available at