“I was playing Irish music, Argentine tangos, Italian tarantellas, but I always had the sound of Yiddish in my head,” says Lisa Gutkin. The echoes of the Ashkenazi dialect, says the Brooklyn-born violinist and singer-songwriter, came from the childhood summers she spent among Yiddish-speaking friends and family at her grandmother’s bungalow colony outside Peekskill, New York.
She did not embrace the music of her heritage until the 1990s, when Matt Darriau, a fellow musician in the Celtic band Whirligig, introduced her to some early klezmer recordings. “I fell in love,” Gutkin says. “It was not the modern kitschy tunes my grandmother and her friends were listening to. It can be joyous, it can be slow and sad. I could really express myself through it.”
This weekend, Gutkin and Darriau, as members of the world music ensemble The Klezmatics — along with Richie Barshay, Frank London, Paul Morrissett and Lorin Sklamberg — will move concertgoers at Adelphi’s Performing Arts Center on Sunday with their emotionally charged and edgy interpretations of a secular genre that draws on devotional cantorial music, an eclectic mix of European folk styles and even the rhythms of jazz, bluegrass and punk.
“It combines older sounds with the Broadway pop sensibility of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ There are strains remindful of a mournful Irish ballad, Romanian Gypsy music, Woody Guthrie’s political songs,” Gutkin says.
In part, the diverse influences of klezmer evolved from the untrained musicians’ wanderings, though its foundations rested in Eastern Europe’s Yiddish communities, where the klezmer bands got the parties — for a wedding, a bris and other “simchas” — going.
Since the Klezmatics’ emergence some 30 years ago from New York City’s then-burgeoning East Village music scene, the group has not only channeled its Yiddish roots and spirituality but its connection to a more immediate past. The Klezmatics’ 2006 Grammy-winning album, “Wonder Wheel,” blends previously unpublished lyrics by Guthrie with original music composed by the klezmer players. “It fits in with the history of our grandparents, their unionism and interest in social justice issues,” says Gutkin, whose song written with Guthrie’s words, “Gonna Get Through This World,” had been described by Pete Seeger as “a piece of genius.”
The Klezmatics, who have released 11 albums, also list among their collaborators violinist Itzhak Perlman, Israeli singing icon Chava Alberstein and Joshua Nelson (aka The Prince of Kosher Gospel).
Gutkin believes the broad appeal of the Klezmatics’ music is that their story of honoring and celebrating their culture and traditions — while also being part of a larger, more inclusive and evolving community — is a common one. “We want to pull our roots into our modern-day life,” she says. “The deeper I get into it, the more right it feels.”
WHEN | WHERE 3 p.m. Sunday, April 8, Adelphi University Performing Arts Center, 1 South Ave., Garden City
INFO $40-$45; 516-877-4000, pac.adelphi.edu