′King of Klezmer′ Giora Feidman turns 85 | Music | DW

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Renowned ‘King of Klezmer,’ Giora Feidmanwas in high spirits in a recent video on his official Facebook page.

He was autographing copies of his latest book, Klang der Hoffnung. Wie unsere Seele Frieden findet (Sound of Hope. How our soul finds peace) that was released to commemorate his 85th birthday. Co-authored with Christoph Fasel, the book offers insights into his remarkable life and philosophy of intercultural humanity.

“It is part of music. If I can share it, someone can learn something from it,” he explains in an endearing mixture of English and German in a video promoting the book.

This is in addition to a CD that the sprightly octogenarian has released entitled Giora Feidman & Klezmer Virtuos – 85. Indeed, Feidman is a true virtuoso who moves effortlessly from one style and genre to another, from klezmer to tango, jazz and classical music, 

Feidman is living proof that one can find a silver lining to the current COVID pandemic. “For me personally, the virus was a welcome opportunity. I have time. I record music,” the award-winning clarinetist recently told the German Press Agency.

This period, however, was not without its sorrow. “It hurts,” said the Israel-based musician about having lost friends and colleagues to COVID-19.

When klezmer meets Schubert

Giora Feidman was born on March 25, 1936, in Buenos Aires, and inherited his family’s passion for music.

a man wearing glasses plays the clarinet

Giora Feidman: “The clarinet is the microphone of my soul”

His parents were Jewish immigrants from Bessarabia in present-day Moldavia and southern Ukraine. They had fled devastating Jewish pogroms in the region in the early 1900s.

Some of his ancestors were “Klezmorim,” or wandering musicians who performed in predominantly Jewish villages and small towns (Schtetl), particularly at weddings, banquets and dances. The emotions expressed by their music ranges from melancholia and desperation to serenity and lust for life.

Giora Feidman became the fourth generation to pursue his family’s rich musical tradition. His mother sang Yiddish songs, and his father taught him the basics of playing the clarinet.

“Music translates emotions,” his Polish teacher used to tell him. He later went through a formal musical training, where he discovered not only Klezmer, but also Schubert and Mozart.

Israel calling

At age 18, the highly gifted Giora was hired as a clarinetist at the Teatro Colon, the most renowned opera house of South America. But he did not want to stay in Argentina. Like hundreds of thousands of other Jews, he felt the calling of the newly founded state of Israel.

In 1956, he left Buenos Aires to accept a position at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Just a few days after his arrival, he had his first solo performance there.

Feidman, who did not speak Hebrew, Yiddish nor English upon his arrival in Israel, simply absorbed the atmosphere there: “It’s only once I arrived in Israel that I realized how important Jewish music was going to be for me. I could not have predicted back then how much this music would affect my life, and my career as a musician.”

The klezmer music renaissance 

This was the beginning of a remarkable career. None other than Leonard Bernstein became one of his sponsors and admirers.

Giora Feidman spent almost two decades playing clarinet for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra before moving on to a solo career in New York where he played klezmer.

At first, his manager and later wife, Israeli composer Ora Bat Chaim, had a hard time booking concerts for him: “They told me over and over again that there was no audience for an artist – no matter how talented – who would fill the entire evening program with Jewish music only. How totally wrong they were!”

Thanks to Giora Feidman, klezmer music has reached new heights of popularity all over the world. Beyond the concert halls, he has also contributed to musicals, operas and films.

man typing on typewriter while another man stands looking at the page

His soundtrack music for “Schindler’s List” won an Academy Award

‘Schindler’s List’ and world fame

In Germany, Feidman became famous in 1984 when stage director Peter Zadek asked him to star in the musical Ghetto by Joshua Sobol, alongside the Israeli actress and singer Esther Ofarim.

Then Hollywood noticed him. In 1994, along with the violinist Itzak Perlman, he played the Oscar-winning music of Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama, Schindler’s List.

Despite his passion for klezmer music, Feidman can play all genres. He constantly creates new fusions of jazz, soul, classical music or tango, the music of his hometown Buenos Aires in Argentina. He couldn’t care less about musical boundaries or boundaries between peoples.

In 2001, he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in Germany for his particular efforts to reconciliate Germans and Jews. In 2005, he performed at the World Youth Day in Cologne attended by Pope Benedict XVI, as well as 800,000 people. 

Last year, several of his concerts had to be shelved due to the pandemic. Undaunted, he gave short performances via Facebook and Instagram on Easter Sunday last April much to the delight of his fans.

Despite the accolades and adulation, Feidman remains humble. “I consider music to be spiritual nourishment,” he once said. “Without this nourishment, we simply couldn’t survive.”

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