On a glorious sunny evening, more than 60 people, including Arran residents and visitors from England, the US, and Israel, as well as Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow, gathered at the spacious Whiting Bay home of Barb and Bart Taub to hear Lev Atlas weave his special brand of magical music. The Russian-born virtuoso was able to make time between two European tours to enchant the audience on Arran with his exquisite violin playing, woven around mini-lectures on classical and klezmer music.
After SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski welcomed everyone and congratulated those responsible for setting up the new Arran Jewish group on such a spectacular turnout, organiser Sharon Shenhav introduced Lev, who is the principal viola at the Scottish Opera Orchestra, teaches strings at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and has won both the International Shostakovich Competition and the Borodin Quartet Competition.
Lev charmed the audience with his stories of growing up Jewish in the Soviet Union, where it was almost impossible for Jews to attend university, so parents anxious to obtain opportunities for their children handed them a violin. Lev told how he sneaked out to play with local children one day, and broke his collarbone. His father informed him that the rest of his bones would also be at risk if he didn’t manage to practice at least four hours a day. Lev practiced!
Klezmer, from the Hebrew words meaning “instrument” and “song”, is often described as being as close to the human voice as possible, conveying both joy and sorrow, and it is an increasingly popular form of joyful music often heard at Jewish weddings and celebrations. As Lev illustrated with a movement of a Tchaikovsky violin concerto, the traditional melodies of klezmer music influenced classical composers such as Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Bartók, and, together with folk music, motifs from Russian, Gypsy, and other Jewish sources, influenced composers of jazz and other modern styles.
When asked why there were so many Russian Jewish violinists, Lev explained that in 19th century Czarist Russia, Jews were not permitted to own land or practice a profession, and were restricted to working in menial jobs such as shoemaking. When the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music was established in the middle of the 19th century, it opened its doors to Jewish students, and almost every Jewish family sent a son to study there as it was an opportunity to have a career. While many of the students were mediocre, a significant number excelled and developed international careers as soloists.
Although his main instrument is the viola, it was his vintage violin that Lev played, and he held it up, inviting us to see how the top was mottled and bumpy with wear. “It looks like lizard skin,” he said. Clearly, that violin had been played outdoors in all weather, an essential accompaniment to weddings, funerals, and other life events.
At the end of his performance, Lev invited the enthusiastic audience to join in an impromptu chorus of the Russian folk song, Kalinka, and there was added treat when local musician Tim Pomeroy, who is also a world class sculptor, ended the evening by singing a number of folk ballads, and explaining their history.
Before the concert, the audience enjoyed a delicious buffet supper courtesy of SCoJeC. After the event, hostess Barb Taub commented that she had learned that chairs are “a nice option, but not a necessity” – after her living room was full, people filled up her porch, and there were still some left over to sit on the stairs!
"Thanks to you and all involved for such a lovely evening." said one member of the audience, "The music, food, and company were delightful." and "Thanks to Lev for a wonderful evening of music in lovely surroundings." added another.
After this spectacular success, the new Arran group are planning their future activities. These include another concert and house party in September with US pianist Deborah Nemko, Professor of Music at Bridgewater State University and faculty member of New England Conservatory, who has spent time as a Fulbright Scholar learning the songs of musicians who were murdered by the Nazis. She will perform a concert of music in the time of Anne Frank in Arran in September, and there will also be an encore performance by Lev Atlas next summer, and a klezmer ceilidh to be held at Whiting Bay Hall.
We invite all music lovers as well as dancers to join us for these future events. To book and for more info contact email@example.com or book online for the Deborah Nemko concert.