Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

Klezmer in Kraków

Every trip has an unexpected delight.  Ours was the night we went to hear the Klezmer band.

We were in Krakow, a city that tends to charm from the first instant.  We were expecting to hear a classic Klezmer band, probably older guys in traditional dress, with a lively clarinetist, and a raft of familiar Jewish classics.

But that’s not what happened.

In fact, I was initially disappointed as the four musicians of Tempero came out on the stage at the Isaac Synagogue.  They were young, casually dressed, and looked as if they were headed to a Blues Festival.  I checked my ticket to make sure we were at the right concert.

Then they started playing.

Klezmer band in Krakow

The opening violin strain was so tender, we were transported us back to the 19th-century shtetl. Then the percussionist swept his brush across tiny chimes, and the village came to life. We were dancing through a Chagall painting.

The masterful accordionist sound, at first, like a full orchestra and, then, like a shepherd’s pipe. His virtuosity cannot be conveyed, unless you’ve witnessed this kind of classical accordion playing before. The bass player, well, he played with the kind of musical calculus you find only from jazz greats.

And so they went, from tune to tune. Some selections were traditional, others original, but each unfolded in ways that surprised us. The ensemble was so tight our mouths gaped. The “experienced” Klezmer lovers in our Smithsonian group were shaking their heads in disbelief and delight at the originality of the settings. Torrents of musical joy poured from that stage.

It’s rare to say that you hate when a concert has to end! But this was one of those times. So we did the next best thing: we danced our way across the square in the Kazimierz district, right into a great restaurant, Arial, where our Old World Europe party continued. Stirred up by the music, we devoured dish after dish of Jewish classics, made even tastier by traditional décor and excellent service. The night was perfect.

Smithsonian Journey’s agendas give travelers precious blocks of free time to explore events of special interest. And this was one such event that stole our hearts. Come to Old World Europe and hear the music for yourself!