Clarinetist discusses Paris attacks ahead of Bay Area concerts

By Jesse Hamlin | Thursday, December 3, 2015

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David Krakauer, the blazing clarinetist whose klezmer-based music is suffused with the sounds of Duke Ellington and Sidney Bechet while naturally flavored with funk, classical minimalism and hip-hop, was sitting in his Paris hotel room Nov. 20 — a week after the terrorist attacks — telling his Facebook readers that his show the next night at La Cigale, the famed concert hall in the Pigalle district, was being canceled because of security concerns.

“My musicians and I are absolutely heartbroken,” wrote Krakauer, who was playing in Germany when the attacks took place.

He intended to play the Paris date as planned and, with his sextet, had gone on France Musique public radio five days after the attacks to play music from its movie-themed “Big Picture” show in advance of the concert.

“It was very moving, very powerful,” Krakauer recalls. “We were all in a heightened state.”

The La Cigale concert was canceled the next day.

He got back to New York last week, and arrives in the Bay Area mid-month for a string of cross-cultural holiday dates with the New Century Chamber Orchestra and the San Francisco Girls Chorus at venues in Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco and San Rafael from Dec. 17-20. It’s billed as a “Chrismukkah” celebration, with traditional yuletide carols and Jewish wedding dances, Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and Krakauer’s solo “Synagogue Wail,” a raw incantation whose intensity and sonorities summon the sound of the shofar and John Coltrane.

The clarinetist wanted deeply to play for French audiences last month because “I feel there’s a way that we as artists need to react.”

“I’m not going to be stupid and put myself or the public in undue danger, but there is a stance to take here,” he explains. “I don’t want to burrow into a hole. I have a message about building bridges that’s secular, that’s about sharing cultures.”

He embraces what Leonard Bernstein once said: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music even more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” The quote was posted online the day after the Paris attacks by Selmer, the storied instrument maker whose Parisian clarinet shop is a block from restaurants where people were slaughtered. Krakauer organized a concert for young clarinetists there in late October.

A jazzer at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts, Krakauer went to Juilliard and performed in the classical realm for a decade. He found his voice in the late ’80s, mastering and creating something personal with the music of his Eastern European Jewish ancestors.

At Juilliard he became friends with violinist and New Century leader Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. She loved Krakauer’s string arrangements of klezmer tunes when she heard him perform them with an orchestra in Rome and invited him to play them here.

“I adore Nadja’s playing,” says Krakauer, whose family celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah and who digs music from both. “I love playing as a soloist with orchestras. In certain pieces I’ve instructed the string players not to play all the notes on the page, to choose their own and improvise. They enjoy that.”

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