Musicians performing at the annual International Safed Klezmer Festival this week.
Musicians performing at the annual Safed Klezmer Music Festival. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Anna Coleman caresses her clarinet, performing a passionate rendition of a klezmer composition in the mystical city of Safed as though she were just beamed up from an 18th-century shtetl.

"A few years ago, I came to hear klezmer music," said Coleman, a 26-year-old native of Adelaide, Australia. "I fell in love with it."

Visiting Israel for the 25th annual International Safed Klezmer Festival, Coleman, it would appear, is in her natural habitat.

Not far from the sound stage at the Saraya - the city's converted 300-year-old palace and century-old clock tower that served as the epicenter of this week's three-day festival - Coleman watches intently as Argentine-Israeli clarinetist Giora Feidman holds court in a lecture hall at the city's new medical school. It is Feidman's ninth year as artistic director of the "Clarinet and Klezmer in the Galilee Seminar and Master Classes," and it's one of the week's hidden treasures. Watching him and a select cadre of award-winning international performing artists talk klezmer technique is akin to watching an all-star team during practice.

"It's incredible, the artists who are here," said Coleman, noting the presence of the German clarinetist Helmut Eisel, a Feidman protege. In the distance stands tango master Raul Jaurena, the Grammy Award-winning South American bandoneon player. "Israel has such an incredible energy," says Jaurena, who has visited Israel no fewer than 10 times.

Flanked by an accordion player and a bass player, the 76-year-old Feidman dominates center stage. But it's his transparent, acrylic clarinet that's doing the talking, filling the room with a klezmer sound that is clearly resonating among a dozen international artists transfixed by him.

Coleman, who says she is not Jewish and only recently discovered her passion for klezmer, is one of those admirers. She first heard Feidman perform several years ago at a concert in Germany.

For Feidman, who has held Israeli citizenship for 55 years, the master classes are not about him, but the colleagues and budding young artists in the seats before him.

"The human race needs spiritual food, and in this case it's music," Feidman told Haaretz. "It's my moral obligation to share my experience with a new generation. If human society cannot learn how to share spiritual food, it cannot survive."

"I never knew that here I could reveal the true meaning of being a musician," says Professor Ilan Schul, a professional clarinetist participating in the master class who serves as president of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. "It's about the soul passing through whatever instrument you are playing." The seminar, he says, is a "an extremely unique and highly mystical experience," one that transcends "notes and scales."

Coleman adds that klezmer is "more free" than other, "rigid" forms, such as classical music. "It has more soul," she says. And while it may seem unlikely that the music of another place and era could touch a young lady from Adelaide, Coleman quickly offers up an explanation: "It's like a musical language," she says. "Like anything else, you hear it and it becomes a part of you. You learn by listening to the great players and you imitate them, and then, hopefully, eventually, you sort of have a voice of your own."