Music for Writers: Krakauer The Klezmer On 'Isaac The Blind'

Image - iStockphoto: pinhn
Image – iStockphoto: pinhn

Boys Who Have Seen Stonehenge

Klezmer struck me as the voice of my grandmother in music. So even though I consider myself to be an atheist, I’m deeply culturally plugged in as a Jew. For me the “spiritual” aspect is a sense of this deep cultural connection that goes back thousands of years, and a sense of awe related to that. (Like being at Stonehenge in a way).

I’ve just told David Krakauer, perhaps the best-known clarinettist performing today, that my Methodist-minister father took me for my first visit to Stonehenge when I was about 13 — because Daddy, always more theologian than pulpit barker, wanted me “to feel spirituality.” It worked, and defined for me the fact that Methodist mysticism usually involves tourism.

And Krakauer? “I went to Stonehenge ‎when I was about 12 or 13, as well, and it made an incredible impression on me.”

So having bonded with the bliss of the boulders — and exchanged gasps that we’re missing each other by about two days in Frankfurt, a stop on his European tour — we quickly get down to talking about the man’s extraordinarily exuberant work in Osvaldo Golijov’s 1994 The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.

David Krakauer | Photo: GMD Three
David Krakauer | Photo: GMD Three

It’s the centerpiece of a new album, Dreams and Prayers, from the Boston-based string ensemble A Far Cry on Crier Records.

You can hear the album free in this week’s Album of the Week offering from Q2 Music, the 24-hour free stream of contemporary composition, an international service of New York Public Radio’s WQXR.

The album also includes A Far Cry’s very effective interpretations of:

  • A Hildegard von Bingen invocation, O ignis spiritus paracliti, in a spartan, affecting arrangement for violins;
  • A commission from US-based composer Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, VECD; and
  • The Heiliger Dankesang from Beethoven’s Quartet Opus 132, in a lush new arrangement by A Far Cry.

If you’d like to listen as you read, here is the Q2 Music Soundcloud stream for your use, free of charge, while the CD is the Album of the Week.


What you’re going to hear holds, perhaps, special meaning for writers, in that Isaac the Blind was just that, a writer. Rabbi Yitzhak Saggi Nehor, lived from roughly 1160 to 1235 and was a writer in Kabbaleh, Jewish mysticism. As the Argentine composer Golijov (heard frequently on Q2 Music’s programming), tells the story:

[Isaac] asserted that all things and events in the universe are product of combinations of the Hebrew alphabet’s letters: ‘Their root is in a name, for the letters are like branches, which appear in the manner of flickering flames, mobile, and nevertheless linked to the coal’. His conviction still resonates today: don’t we have scientists who believe that the clue to our life and fate is hidden in other codes?

And in the five sections of The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, you hear what Golijov understands as the attempt of musicians, “reaching a state of communion,” something with which many writers today are familiar with, as well.

For Krakauer, it’s a chance to perform in a way that he says is:

One-hundred percent me. Completely “unchained.”

I play Isaac the Blind with the same freedom and exuberance that I utilize in my work with my band. I always joke with Osvaldo telling him that I play all the notes he wrote plus give him 30 percent more. I add a fair amount of ornamentation (including little ghosted sobs between the notes…krechts in Yiddish), and bring the whole concept of klezmer phrasing and inflection to the table. The piece is written for “klezmer clarinet” and string quartet, so that’s the mandate for performance.

Nobody could be better up to such a mandate.

Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

Writing on the Ether: Music For Writers: Krakauer The Klezmer On ‘Isaac The Blind’

Originally published by Thought Catalog at



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