Joel Rubin Ensemble

Joel Rubin Ensemble Budapest 2006

Recent concerts: Yiddish Summer Weimar Festival Week (2015); International Festival of Sacred Music, Fribourg, Switzerland, Les amis de la musique juive, Geneva, Switzerland (2014)

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.

Band members include:

Joel Rubin (USA), clarinet, has long been considered by many to be the leading performer of Jewish instrumental klezmer music in the world today, earning accolades from sources as diverse as klezmer giants Dave Tarras and Max Epstein, international clarinet soloist Richard Stoltzman, avant garde composer John Zorn, and Nobel Prize Laureate and poet Roald Hoffmann. He studied with Stoltzman and Kalmen Opperman, attended the California Institute of the Arts and received a BFA from the State University of New York at Purchase. Rubin has concertized throughout Europe, North America and Asia since the 1980s. In addition to appearances with traditional performers such as the Epstein Brothers, Moshe “Moussa” Berlin, Seymour Rexsite and Miriam Kressyn, Leon Schwartz, Sid Beckerman, Pete Sokolow, Danny Rubinstein, Ben Bazyler, and Leopold Kozlowski, he was the founder and clarinetist of some of the most internationally respected klezmer ensembles, including the pioneering revival group Brave Old World. Rubin’s albums Midnight Prayer (Traditional Crossroads), Beregovski’s Khasene (Beregovski’s Wedding), Bessarabian Symphony, Zeydes un Eyniklekh (Grandfathers and Grandsons) and Hungry Hearts are considered to be masterpieces of classical Eastern European and American Jewish music. His music can be heard in several films, including the recent L’armée du crime (France, 2009), and the award-winning documentary portrait A Tickle in the Heart (Germany/Switz./USA 1996) about the Epstein Brothers Orchestra.

Kálmán Balogh (Hungary), is one of the greatest cimbalom virtuosi in the world today. Stemming from one of the most famous Roma musical dynasties in Hungary, he began his studies with his uncle, Elemér Balogh, at that time the most respected Hungarian cimbalom soloist. Balogh completed his classical education in 1980 at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, where he studied with Beatrix Szöllösy and Ferenc Gerencsér. In 1987 he received second prize in the Aladár Rácz cimbalom competition. Balogh’s featured performances in André Heller’s Gypsy Show, Magneten, brought him tremendous international success in the early 1990s. He has led the Gypsy Cimbalom Band since 1994, is a member of The Other Europeans, and has performed and recorded with American saxophonist David Murray as well as with many of the leading classical, folk, jazz and rock ensembles in Hungary, including the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Márta Sebestyén and Muzsikás, and the Ökrös Ensemble.

David Chernyavsky (USA), violin, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia (then Leningrad). Currently a member of the San Francisco Symphony, Chernyavsky was previously a member of the internationally acclaimed St. Petersburg Quartet, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Assistant Concertmaster of the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. He holds a Masters degree from the Juilliard School in New York City and an undergraduate degree from Indiana University, where he was a student of Nelli Shkolnikova. While at Indiana, he was the winner of the Indiana University School of Music Violin Concerto Competition. He has also attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied with Alexander Yuriev and Vladimir Ovcharek, first violinist of the Taneev quartet. Chernyavsky has been a prizewinner at the European Competition in Musical Performance (Lions Club International, Deauville, France) and at the Second Open Competition of Young Violinists (St. Petersburg). He has concertized throughout Eastern and Western Europe and the United States, and was concertmaster of the Spoleto USA Festival Orchestra during the 2001 and 2002 summer seasons. Chernyavsky began to perform Eastern European Jewish instrumental klezmer music in 1993 while a teenager in St. Petersburg and has released the solo recording The Klezmer Violin (St. Petersburg, 2001).

Claudio Jacomucci (Italy), accordion, is one of the leading contemporary musicians in Europe. He studied with Jean-Luc Manca, Vladimir Zubitsky and Mogens Ellegaard, and received his diploma with a Gold Medal from the Conservatoire National de Grenoble in France. Jacomucci has won awards at numerous competitions, including first prizes at the Grand Prix International in St. Etienne, France, at the Trofeo Mundial (CMA) in Cuenca, Spain, the Concorso Internazionale Città di Castelfidardo in Italy, as well as Arrasate Hiria in the Basque Country. He has collaborated with many composers, including Luciano Berio, Franco Donatoni, and Gyorgy Kurtag, and performed numerous premieres of pieces dedicated to him. He has appeared as a soloist in Luciano Berio’s opera Outis at Milan’s La Scala since its world premiere in 1996. In recent years, Jacomucci has appeared as soloist and collaborated in various projects with the dancer Kathleen Delaney, orchestras and chamber ensembles. His most recent solo recordings are Works by Johann Sebastian Bach (Blowout Records) and Wonderlands (Adatto Records), which received the Orpheus Award for best classical accordion CD in 2008.

Ferenc Kovács (Hungary), trumpet, is one of Europe’s great improvising musicians. He studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. Also an accomplished violinist and composer, Kovács has performed and recorded with American musicians Roscoe Mitchell, Archie Shepp, John Zorn and David Murray. He is the leader of the string ensemble Magony, and is a member of the celebrated groups the Mihály Dresch Quartet, Djabe and the Gypsy Cimbalom Band. He was a founding member and musical director of the Budapest Ragtime Band for fifteen years.

Mark Kovnatskiy (Germany), violin, has performed and taught at the International Master Classes and the International Klezmer Festival in Safed (Israel), Yiddish Summer Weimar (Germany), the Ashkenaz Festival Toronto, KlezKanada, KlezFest London, KlezFest Kiev and KlezFest Saint Petersburg, the Festival of Jewish Culture Kraków (Poland), Yiddish Fest Moscow (RUS), Helsinki Klezmer Festival (FI), and Klezmore (AUS), among others. Mark performs with the Hamburg Klezmer Band, the Semer Label Reloaded Project, the European World Music Ensemble, as well as with the Alan Bern, Queen Esther Trio, Fialke, Merlin Shepherd Kapelye and Aaron Alexander’s Midrash Mish Mosh (USA).?A native of St. Petersburg, he emigrated to Germany in 2004. He is the artistic director of theYiddish Fest MoscowIn 2009 and was also the musical director of the KlezmerFest in Hamburg (2009). His Klezmer compositions have been played by groups from all over the world.

Csaba Novák (Hungary), string bass, is one of the finest Romani musicians in Budapest. He was a member of the famous Rajkó Gypsy youth orchestra and has accompanied many of the leading Roma musicians, including Sándor Lakatos, Mihály Lakatos und Ernö Kállay Kiss. Novák also performs with the Gypsy Cimbalom Band, The Other Europeans and Ferenc Kovács’ Magony.

Steve Greenman (USA) violin, is recognized internationally as one of the finest practitioners of traditional East European Jewish klezmer violin. He is also one of the foremost composers and teachers of traditional klezmer violin music. His current project Stempenyu’s Dream involves a CD recording of his original Jewish and klezmer violin compositions, a series of concerts of the music and a future publication of the material. Steve is a co-founder of Khevrisa and has performed internationally with other notable klezmer ensembles such as the Klezmatics, Budowitz, the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Kapelye and Di Tsvey (the Greenman/ Rushefsky duo).

Sándor Budai (Hungary), second violin, is one of the great prímások (Gypsy violinist-bandleaders) of Hungary. He plays with Ferenc Kovacs’ Magony, has been a member of Kálmán Balogh’s Gypsy Cimbalom Band and the famous Gypsy youth orchestra Rajkó, and has led orchestras in many of the famous cafés of Budapest.

Pete Rushefsky (USA), tsimbl, is Executive Director of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, a New York not-for-profit dedicated to preserving and nurturing the performing arts traditions of immigrant and ethnic communities. He is also a leading revivalist of this small Eastern European Jewish hammered dulcimer, one of a handful of young klezmer musicians to use field and archival research in recreating a performance style for the instrument. Rushefsky performs and records with some of the leading performers of contemporary klezmer and Yiddish music, including violinists Alicia Svigals and Steven Greenman, flutist Adrianne Greenbaum, clarinetist Michael Winograd, and vocalist Rebecca Kaplan. A popular instructor at KlezKamp and KlezKanada who has performed across North America and Europe, Pete is also the author of a pioneering instructional book on adapting the American 5-string banjo for klezmer. He is a well-known lecturer on klezmer and other traditional musics and has a number of published articles to his credit.



“absolutely first-class” (Gramophone)

“unique” (Spiegel-extra)

“Rarely does one learn so much and at the same time receive so much joy from the vital renditions of melodies of the 19th and early 20th century: worldly and full of the joy of dance … Virtuosi like cimbalist Kálmán Balogh and special guest violinist Steven Greenman made the appearance by Rubin’s Jewish Music Ensemble in the Kulturforum [in Fürth] a delicacy.
(Nordbayerische Zeitung)

“Rubin’s clarinet soars up to the top, opens up spaces, stings, shrieks, suffers, laughs – expressivity artistically brought into form, a balancing act between the deepest abyss and the heavens above. Add to this Jacomucci’s accordion, earthy, rather introverted… The melody instruments are framed by the orchestra, which creates a steadily pulsing carpet of sound. On top of this foundation emerge detours, melodic bridges, repeat structures which continually increase in intensity. This signalizes a readiness to abandon oneself, it is formed ecstasy, transmits large (and small) feelings and, yet, keeps the fragility of being and the self in the present. The sounds and melodies of the Jewish Music Ensemble are epic stories transformed into music.”
(Badische Zeitung, Lörrach, Germany)

“a program which shined with scholarly professionality, instrumental nuances from bitter to sweet, and through the evocation of a specific time and its sequence of events in a way in which – especially in this genre – is seldom to be heard. With an ensemble in which each individual has already proven himself many times over, Rubin creates a mood which can only emerge when one has dedicated himself exactly in this sincere and unpretentious way to the interpretation of mystical ‘nigunim’ (melodies) and rhapsodic improvisations.”
(Israelitisches Wochenblatt, Zürich)

“an exceptionally impressive evening, during which Joel Rubin and his Jewish Music Ensemble held the undivided attention of the audience for a good two hours. … The interpretations of the Jewish Music Ensemble proved to be klezmer music of the first order: at times quiet and lamenting, at times effervescently vital, rich with nuances and sparkling in its many facets, all offered up with a delicate agogic together with a large dynamic range, without however ever becoming an empty artefact. Last but not least, the ‘minstrel-like’ (in the best sense of the word) musicianship of this ensemble must be mentioned, which can hardly be described using common musical terms – the inner workings cannot be captured with descriptive words alone, but rather emanate from the music itself. And this might just be the highest compliment one could pay Rubin and his musicians. With all of the ensemble spirit which welds these musicians together, one finds – in addition to Rubin himself as clarinetist – first-class soloists in the ranks, such as the prize-winning accordionist Claudio Jacomucci or Kálmán Balogh on the cimbalom, both of whom strongly impressed especially with their intricate nuances. … He commands his clarinet breathtakingly … in perfect ensemble with his musical colleagues.”
(Oberbadisches Volksblatt, Lörrach, Germany)

“It became ever clearer that all seven musicians possess an unbelievable ability to raise the dynamic intensity of the music and to allow themselves to be carried away by their sheer joy of playing from a feeling of chamber music-like care to faster tempi and ever freer variations. … ‘Care’ must not necessarily mean that the sparks are not flying ‹ on the contrary: to listen how clarinetist Joel Rubin, trumpeter Ferenc Kovács, violinist László Major and accordionist Claudio Jacomucci trade off solos and fit their dynamics to each other, is a sheer pleasure. Certainly, the clarinet is the central instrument, and Rubin shows with contemplative melodies and surprising glissandi, piercingly high, almost screeching tones and then again sparkling trills and runs, how naturally he commands his instrument and the technique demanded by the music. Unquestionably, the powerful musicality and the soft brilliance of the melancholy melodies which Jacomucci coaxes out of his instrument echo in your ears for a long time afterwards. … What American Joel Rubin and his ensemble create with their many subtle nuances is the magical power of remembrance – apparently exactly because he doesn’t allow himself any personally showy musical effects, but rather performs totally at the service of the music itself.”
(Basler Zeitung, Switzerland)

“Joel Rubin played his brilliant-sounding C-clarinet virtuosically and brought forth from it not only sounds of lamentation, sighing and moaning, but also of jubilation and boisterousness. The two other ensemble instruments – the impressively differentiated accordion playing, and the splendidly precise and magnificently sonorous cimbal – left lasting impressions.”
(General Anzeiger, Bonn)

“Rubin and Jacomucci were in command of virtuosic ornamentation with trills and glissandi like it was their mother tongue; … their honest musical expression spoke directly to the enthusiastic listeners.”
(Tagesspiegel, Berlin)