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Joel Rubin Ensemble

Joel Rubin Ensemble

The Joel Rubin Ensemble was founded in Berlin in 1994, the first group dedicated to the performance of the classic eastern European Jewish instrumental klezmer repertoire of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It grew out of Rubin’s work with his earlier bands Brave Old World (1989-1992) and Rubin & Horowitz (1992-1994). The music of the ensemble is an expression of Rubin’s long-term meditation on the Russian-Jewish musical legacy. It is not, however, an attempt to recreate 19th century performance practice or otherwise hearken back to the topos of life in the Jewish shtetl; rather, the group brings together some of the world’s great improvising musicians to explore how Jewish music could sound at the beginning of the 21st century – music from another time and place, but thoroughly grounded in the present. The band creates its own sonic universe, full of depth, virtuosity, playfulness and introspection. The kaleidoscopic soundscape filters the many historical layers of traditional Jewish music through the lenses of the multifarious musical backgrounds of the band’s members, ranging from classical to Gypsy to free jazz to contemporary art music. Here the interaction of a great improvising jazz ensemble melds with the delicacy of a chamber music group and the drive of a hot wedding band at the cusp of klezmer, Roma (Gypsy) and other Eastern European traditions.

The band appears in varying combinations of two to eight musicians. Over the years, band members have included Hungarian Rom cimbalom virtuoso Kálmán Balogh, Italian accordion wizard Claudio Jacomucci, master klezmer fiddlers Steve Greenman, Mark Kovnatskiy and David Chernyavsky, as well as violinists Sándor Budai, László Major and Anastasia Chernyavsky, trumpeter, violinist and jazz composer Ferenc Kovács, bassist Csaba Novák, American klezmer revivalist Pete Rushefsky on tsimbl, trombonist Ryan Zawel, and monster improvising cellist Hank Roberts. By drawing its members from the United States, Russia, Hungary, Italy and Germany, and combining the skills of Jewish, Romani and non-Jewish artists, the band forms an aesthetic bridge between the multicultural tradition of the urban turn-of-the-century eastern European Jewish orchestras and today’s postmodern landscape.

Performances have included the Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, Cité de la Musique in Paris, the Zürich Tonhalle, Muziekcentrum Vredenburg in Utrecht (Holland), Frankfurter Hof, Burghof Lörrach, Symphony Space and John Zorn’s The Stone in New York City, the Institute of Musical Traditions in DC, the International Klezmer Festival in Fürth, Germany, and the International Festival of Sacred Music in Fribourg, Switzerland. The ensemble’s live national broadcast of its program Beregovski’s Khasene in DeutschlandRadio (Nov. 1996) was one of the most successful concert broadcasts in recent memory, bringing this out-of time and yet very modern music to a wide audience for the first time.


Joel Rubin - clarinet

Mark Kovnatskiy - violin

Kálmán Balogh  - cimbalom

Claudio Jacomucci - accordion

Csaba Novák  - contrabass

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