NEW BRITAIN - Although listeners kept it mainly to foot-tapping and head-bobbing, klezmer music drove a dancing itch through a crowd at the New Britain Museum of American Art Sunday.
Over 100 people packed the Stanley Works Center for the NBMAA’s Sunday Music Series, featuring a lively quartet from the New Britain Symphony Orchestra, called Zev and the East Side Klezmer Connection.
Clarinetist Walter “Zev” Mamlok interspersed the musical program with anecdotes about klezmer’s origins and the Ashkenazi Jews who brought it to the United States. During the great migration between the 1880s and the 1920s, the style would take on a life all its own, blending with American jazz and other sounds.
“It’s the celebratory music of Eastern European Jewish culture,” Mamlok explained. “It’s dance music.”
Jewish families have come to play klezmer whenever an occasion arises, he added, whether it’s a wedding or the reconciliation of quarreling uncles.
The two main rhythms are “Bulgar” and “Freylekh.” Both were played, with several selections from Russian klezmer artist Dave Tarras, who Mamlok described as “probably the best clarinetist ever.”
“He would play with his back to you so you couldn’t see how his fingers moved,” he said. “He couldn’t read a note of music but boy could he play.”
Mamlok breathed deeply before putting his lips to his clarinet. Audience members recognized many pieces, shouting familiar phrases they heard, grinning all the while.
Popping their heads in only to step inside and listen for a song or two were West Hartford residents Dan and Laila Kain and their son Christopher, who was visiting from Boston.
“We came to see the Pendergast exhibit upstairs but as we walked by we were just enchanted,” Laila Kain said.
“It’s wonderful,” Dan Kain added. “It’s a peek into that whole other world.”
Senior Manager of Visitor Experience Programs Jeffrey Mainville walked around the audience, snapping photographs during the performance.
“Our Sunday music series is usually only an hour but they told me they’re playing till 4:30,” Mainville said. “This is great.”
NBSO Secretary Cynthia Carlson and Music Director Walter Gibson stood at the back of the room.
“There are always good turnouts for our mini concerts,” Carlson pointed out.
The NBSO has more events planned for its 68th concert season. Its Young Peoples’ Concert is set to be performed for over 1,800 fifth grade students from across the region at Central Connecticut State University April 4.
The NBMAA will celebrate another ethnic group this Friday, March 16 with its St. Patrick’s Day Museum after Dark event, featuring Irish music, dancing and food.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, @schmittnbh or firstname.lastname@example.org.