Joel Rubin

Dateline: 11/20/98

Joel Rubin is best-known as probably the best virtuoso clarinet player in the Klezmer genre. Or perhaps as a member of Brave Old World, whose self-titled album was recently re-released on CD as Hungry Hearts, and features many hard to find clarinet solos from Klezmer of the early part of this century. But then, maybe Rubin is most noted as an ethnomusicologist studying early Jewish music, mushc of which he documents at the Jewish Cultural Programming and Research with his partner Rita Ottens, an ethnomusicologistin her own right.

I recently asked Rubin some questions about his career as a Jewish musician, and as you'll see, there are many different facets to this man's music.
Paula: How do you define your role as a Jewish musician?

Joel: I don't really see my self as a Jewish musician per se. I happen to be Jewish, and the music I play is certainly Jewish in content (Joachim Stutschewsky called it the most Jewish music the Jews have got!) -- but I am first and foremost a musician and an artist in this diverse world. I was playing Beethoven, Schoenberg and Cage long before I got involved in Jewish instrumental music from Eastern Europe ("klezmer"). I also spent years playing Greek clarinet styles.

Paula: How has Jewish music changed since you started your career, until now?

Joel: I try not to pay too much attention to the trends in Jewish music and concentrate on what I feel is my own way of expressing myself within the musical framework. I personally do not believe there is any such thing as "Jewish music". There are hundreds of traditions which have been developed by Jews throughout the world over the course of two millenia. Klezmer music is one of them, and even klezmer has developed and grown over a period of four or five centuries -- and in the past century expanded into all sorts of different directions --, so that I am reluctant to use this terminology at all. Paula: What do you see as the future for Jewish music?

Joel: Did Beethoven think about the future of German music? Again, I am really mostly concerned with developing my own music. As I think that a question as to what the future for Jewish music will be really amounts to seeking an answer as to what the future of Judaism will be, I am leaving the prognosis of the future of Jewish music to the idealogues. By the way, nobody in Israel would ask a question like that; here in Germany where I am currently residing people seem completely obsessed with this question.

Paula: What Jewish/Klezmer acts are around now that you think are particularly hot, and why?

Joel: At the moment, I've mostly been listening to contemporary chamber music by Morton Feldman, John Cage, Barbara Monk Feldman, Giacinto Scelsi and others, as I am very interested in abstract composition patterns which relate to another favorite topic of mine, abstract paintings, which I collect. I also find traditional and classical Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Armenian and Persian music inspiring for their craft, spirituality and serenity, qualities which are sadly missing in a lot of the Jewish/klezmer music of recent decades. Other than the wonderful historical recordings of cantors, klezmorim and Yiddish theater singers I enjoy Hasidic field recordings from Israel. A lot of those musicians are friends and colleagues during many years of field research and jamming in Israel.

Paula: What projects are you working on right now that you would like to discuss?

Joel: As I am in the very last stages of my dissertation on early twentieth century klezmer clarinet style I unfortunately don't have much time for all the other projects that I am supposed to be doing. But I am putting together a new program for the next recording my Joel Rubin Jewish Music Ensemble. It will be a continuation of the work I did on my last recording, Beregovski's Khasene. Forgotten Instrumental Treasures from the Ukraine (Schott Wergo 1614-2), drawing upon unknown klezmer and hasidic music from the Ukrainian Jewish collections. There will be guest artists from Russia and Israel.

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