Best known for his Oscar-winning music on "Schindler's List," the phenomenal clarinetist Giora Feidman turns 80 on March 25. Still as active as ever, he'll be celebrating with a German concert tour in April.
"What else can I do," reacted the star clarinetist Giora Feidman when asked, 10 years ago, why he kept on doing exhausting tours. "To be a photographer, you have to carry around a heavy bag of equipment. If you want to be a journalist, you need a pen and paper ready with you. And as a musician, I have to be on the move with my clarinet."
Ten years on, his credo still hasn't changed. Untiringly, the musician continues to travel around the world with his three passports, and just keeps performing and performing. Actually, performing is an understatement in his case. He truly brings his instrument to life: It jubilates, yearns, whispers and moans. The tones dance to dizzying heights and suddenly drop, to end in lament. From klezmer and tango to jazz or classical music, Giora Feidman moves effortlessly from one style and genre to another, while enchanting audiences in Berlin, Sydney or Tokyo.
When klezmer meets Schubert
Giora Feidman was born on March 25, 1936, in Buenos Aires, and was wrapped with his family's passion for music right from the crib.
His parents were Jewish immigrants from Bessarabia, present-day Moldavia and southern Ukraine. They had fled pogroms there towards the year 1905. Some of his ancestors were "Klezmorim," or wandering musicians who performed in predominantly Jewish villages and small towns ("Schtetl"), particularly at weddings, banquets and dances. The emotions expressed by their music range from melancholia and desperation to serenity and lust for life.
Giora Feidman became the fourth generation to pursue his family's rich musical tradition. His mother sang Yiddish songs, and his father taught him the basics of playing the clarinet.
"Music translates emotions," his Polish teacher used to tell him, asking him to comment newspaper articles on his clarinet. He later went through a formal musical training, where he discovered not only Klezmer, but also Schubert and Mozart.
At age 18, the highly gifted Giora was hired as a clarinetist at the Teatro Colon, the most renowned opera house of South America. But he did not want to stay in Argentina. Like hundreds of thousands of other Jews, he felt the calling of the newly founded state of Israel.
In 1956, he left Buenos Aires to accept a position at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Just a few days after his arrival, he had his first solo performance there.
Feidman, who did not speak Hebrew, Yiddish nor English upon his arrival in Israel, simply absorbed the atmosphere there: "It's only once I arrived in Israel that I realized how important Jewish music was going to be for me. I could not have predicted back then how much this music would affect my life, and my career as a musician."
The renaissance of Klezmer music
This was the beginning of a remarkable career. None other than Leonard Bernstein became one of his sponsors and admirers.
Giora Feidman spent almost two decades playing clarinet for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra before moving on to a solo career in New York where he played klezmer.
At first, his manager and later wife, Israeli composer Ora Bat Chaim, had a hard time booking concerts for him: "They told me over and over again that there was no audience for an artist - no matter how talented - who would fill the entire evening program with Jewish music only. How totally wrong they were!"
Thanks to Giora Feidman, klezmer music has reached new heights of popularity all over the world. Beyond the concert halls, he has also contributed to musicals, operas and films.
In Germany, Feidman became famous in 1984 when stage director Peter Zadek asked him to star in the musical "Ghetto" by Joshua Sobol, alongside the Israeli actress and singer Esther Ofarim.
Then Hollywood noticed him. In 1994, along with the violinist Itzak Perlman, he played the Oscar-winning music of Steven Spielberg's Holocaust drama "Schindler's List."
Despite his passion for klezmer music, Giora Feidman can play all genres. He constantly creates new fusions of jazz, soul, classical music or tango, the music of his hometown Buenos Aires in Argentina. He couldn't care less about musical boundaries or boundaries between peoples.
In 2001, he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in Germany for his particular efforts to reconciliate Germans and Jews.
In 2005, he performed at the World Youth Day in Cologne attended by Pope Benedict XVI, as well as 800,000 people.
He's long been a world star, but he's remained humble. He lets his clarinet speak for him - he couldn't imagine living without it. His next tour in Germany is planned for right after his 80th birthday - another good reason to celebrate with him.