Perlman and colleagues set Symphony Hall rocking with “Eternal Echoes”

March 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm

By Keith Powers

Itzhak Perlman and colleagues performed “Eternal Echoes,” a program of traditional Jewish music Sunday night at Symphony Hall.

The klezmer party and the cantorial world came together in unexpected harmony Sunday evening, as the Celebrity Series presented Itzhak Perlman together with practitioners of both at Symphony Hall. Judging from the hundreds of people dancing in the aisles of the normally staid venue, the klezmer music won out, but in cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, the spirit offered a powerful voice as well.

The performance, entitled “Eternal Echoes” for the recent recording that Perlman and cantor Helfgot have created of this music, featured the famed violinist and cantor with the Klezmer Conservatory Band, directed by Hankus Netsky, and members of Boston Musica Viva. Conductor Russell Ger stepped in when the complexity of the music demanded a leader.

More than a dozen selections mixing klezmer instrumentals, Yiddish folk tunes, and religious vocal settings were interspersed throughout. Netsky acted as host, at least while Perlman would let him. The rambunctious violinist continually regaled the audience with remembrances of his musical childhood, bad puns and off-the-cuff remarks about his stage-mates and the program.

Everyone was miked, so the sound, as they say, was “meh.” But the musicianship, anchored by Netsky’s prodigiously talented klezmer ensemble, was of the highest order. The band lit into Bukharester Bulgar before the stars took the stage, with clarinetist Ilene Stahl, as she would all evening, playing up a storm and roiling the crowd.

With that wedding tune out of the way, the stage was set for Perlman and Helfgot to join in. A riveting version of the classic Retse, hearkening to the khanzones tradition of the greatest pulpit singers, showed Helfgot at his best. A heroic tenor in the classic mold, Helfgot sings in the tradition of great artists like Jan Peerce, who moved easily from operatic repertory to the popular and spiritual vernacular.

There was some movement in the aisles in the first half, but nothing like what transpired after intermission. Starting the second set with Der Heyser Bulgar—“heyser” might mean ‘hot,’” Perlman pointed out, “so it’s okay to dance”—the audience erupted into an infectious line dance, snaking around hoi polloi and filling the room with energy. Stahl and Perlman traded licks from across the stage like rock stars, improvising multiple choruses just to keep the dancers going.

A mood was set, and not even Perlman and Stahl muffing solos in Trisker Rebn’s Khosid (neither seemed to know when to play and when to lay out) could change it. Helfgot raised the roof with Mizmor L’Dovid, a famed setting of the 23rd Psalm, followed by the obligatory Yiddishe Mama, set here as a trio with Helfgot, Perlman and Netsky on piano, touching even the hardest hearts in attendance.

Not even Ger could stop the ensemble during the encore, a medley including Adir Hu and Moshe Emes—his “let’s wrap this up” gesture was entirely ignored, and the band played happily on.

The next presentation of Celebrity Series of Boston will be the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski conducting, with Vadim Repin, violin, 8 p.m. Friday at Symphony Hall.; 617-482-6661.

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