It had to happen. Saxophonist/composer/bandleader/producer John Zorn, that vanguard of the avant garde, has finally produced a family record under his Tzadik Radical Jewish Culture imprint. Pincus and the Pig: A Klezmer Tale
features the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra and narrator/author Maurice Sendak, best known for his children's book Where the Wild Things Are
, performing a Yiddish interpretation of Peter and the Wolf
, with music based on Sergei Prokofiev's classic orchestral piece. The result is a highly entertaining record that, without wanting to sound trite, is truly fun for the entire family. And educational to boot.
Introducing the charactersPincus, the clarinet; the bird, the piano; the duck, the trombone; the cat, the banjo; the grandfather, the tuba; the pig, a combination of tuba and trombone; and the hunter's (now Cossacks') shots, the drumwe are quickly swept into the story of the boychick Pincus, who goes out to the meadow watched by a bird who sits "kvetching away, 'Oy Vay, Oy Got en Himmel! Surely Chozzer that devil pig and his gang of shmutsik wild swine will pound poor Pincus into chopped liver!'" Fortunately for those of us who don't speak Yiddish, not only is the entire text of the story included in an accompanying booklet, but a glossary as well, plus a page of stickers for the kids. But half the fun is catching onto the story and the meaning of these Yiddish words, many of which are completely discernable through Sendak's humorously grandfatherly reading of the story. The story parallels Peter and the Wolf, although the captured pig is, of course, taken to a non- Kosher butcher, don't you know?
Musically the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra does a terrific job of adapting Prokofiev, changing Peter's theme into a Russian dance that serves as Pincus' theme. The cat's Middle Eastern-inflected theme and the grandfather's tuba, now a Romanian hora, manage to capture the essence of the original, while at the same time bringing a new meaning to the entire suite.
Much as the shorter Peter and the Wolf is paired with orchestral pieces, Pincus and the Pig is paired with "Scheherezade," a Brahms waltz, an Erik Satie miniature and a rousing version of "Mazzesinsel Strut," loosely based on a segment of Mahler's Symphony No. 5.
Such an ambitious endeavour is nothing new for the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, which has released, amongst other things, The Golden Dreydl: A Klezmer Nutcracker for Hannukah, and is featured on the soundtrack to Woody Allen's last (arguably) truly great film, Deconstructing Harry. But by collaborating with Sendak, the group has created a work that is not only of interest to Jewish familiesalthough they will certainly warm to the record instantlyit is of interest to any family who wishes to gain an insight into Eastern European Jewish culture in a way that is clever, engaging and thoroughly entertaining on a number of levels.
Personnel: Maurice Sendak (narration), Glenn Dickson (clarinet), David Harris (trombone), Brandon Seabrook (banjo, mandolin), Michael McLaughlin (piano, accordion), Jim Gray (tuba), Eric Rosenthal (drums)