Once again, Musica Reginae (Latin for “Music of Queens) attracted a full house of attendees.
Musica Reginae has produced over 100 concerts, mostly in Queens, featuring young and world-renowned artists performing in genres from classical and opera to chamber and jazz.
The Klez Dispensers originated in 1998 as a student ensemble, after some members of Princeton University’s jazz ensemble set a goal to explore their Eastern European Jewish ancestors’ music.
The lineup features Amy Zakar on violin, vocalist Daniella Rabbani, Alex Kontorovich on clarinet, Ben Holmes on trumpet, Michael Weisberger on saxophone, pianist Adrian Banner on piano, bassist Reuben Radding, Gregg Mervine on drums and vocalist Inna Barmash.
“Klezmer speaks to the soul and it connects with something inside us,” said Zakar. “It is joyous and poignant, and listeners say they feel like laughing and crying along with the clarinet.”
She also recounted the group's early days.
“Alex and Ben attended KlezKamp, the annual festival of Yiddish music and culture, and became inspired by the virtuosity and emotional resonance and excitement of the music played by the venerable klezmer musicians teaching there.”
As a musical tradition of Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, klezmer consists primarily of dance tunes and instrumental showpieces for weddings and celebrations.
“In the United States, the genre evolved as Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived between the 1880s and 1920s and the music intermingled with American Jazz,” said Musica Reginae artistic director Barbara Podgurski.
Klezmer bands and festivals have been on the rise worldwide since the 1970s. Joining various klezmer groups today are world-renowned classical musicians such as Itzhak Perlman.
“Shows often sell out,” said Podgurski. “Crowds have been known to jump out of their seats and start dancing in the aisles, which you would not ordinarily see at a classical music concert.”
Podgurski befriended Zakar in high school at the Manhattan School of Music, where they began collaborating, and recently reconnected through social media.
“I wanted to program a klezmer show for years, and also have at least one program on our series highlight the music of another culture and genre,” she said.
Vocalist Daniella Rabbani studied acting at NYU and then began performing with the Yiddish Theatre.
“I love seeing young children experienced this music for the first time and clapping and singing, as older adults are enjoying this music from their childhood,” she said. “It’s also great how Forest Hills attracts a wide range of ages and backgrounds.”
Plans for the 2017-2018 Musica Reginae concert series include the Lost Dog New Music Ensemble, The Lexington Piano Trio, Tomorrow’s Artists Today featuring child prodigies ages 10 through 17, and “L’Histoire Du Soleil,” a family-friendly show about climate change.
What is bound to become a popular feature is Community Concerts For Kids, with the first taking place on June 10 at 11 a.m.
“This is a kid-friendly version of Musica Reginae’s evening concert series, where we will present three to four free concerts tailored specifically for school-aged children on weekend afternoons,” Podgurski said. “Children will learn about music, instruments, artists, and be able to ask questions and participate in creating music, while meeting other local kids who also love music.”