GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Dinner and a show took on special meanings Sunday.
The menu had a choice of one – broasted chicken ’n’ fixin’s.
The show was not a movie but music by a showy band.
In the 97-year history of Brown County Civic Music Association, the event was believed to be the organization’s first dinner concert… and first concert at the Riverside Ballroom.
For the Riverside Ballroom, not only was the presence of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band a first, it was possibly the ballroom’s first klezmer band, period.
Klezmer music is a kind of stew from Eastern Europe with all the tastes of a musical spice cabinet from hot to subtle, sprinkled with Yiddish flavors. It takes specific skills to play, probably learned through environmental osmosis – where one lives, and with whom.
This concert originally was scheduled in Ralph Holter Auditorium of Green Bay West High School on March 14, 2020. Refreshing your memory: The COVID-19 shutdown started March 12, 2020. The concert was postponed, and then postponed again.
Sunday, a few printed programs were available. Just a few. They were leftovers that somehow got saved from Civic Music’s 2019-2020 season. It’s not likely that many concerts in 2022 have programs available that are more than two years old and still mostly useful on a few key pages.
The band lineup from what was to be the 2020 concert has similarities, but not entirely. The lineup for Sunday: Vocalists: Lori Lippitz (founder and band leader) and Cantor Pavel Roytman; violin: Alex Koffman (band director); clarinet: Jeff Jeziorski and Bartek (Bartosz) Warkoczynski; trumpet: Ivo Braun; trombone: Robert Samborski; keyboard: Gail Mangurten; bass: Jim Cox; and drums: Justin Kramer.
Celebration was the general tone of Sunday afternoon/evening. First, the dining room was filled with the buzz of conversation. And then the concert in the ballroom for 400 listeners seated at round tables was often whirlwind music with touches of romance or sensitivity.
Lori Lippitz emceed the performance. She explained sources and history of the music and sometimes sang or played an instrument akin to a guitar.
Cantor Pavel Roytman also sang with a robust voice, usually in a language or dialect from Eastern Europe.
And the band from the Chicago area played with all the energy, speed, vigor, humor, soulfulness and skill expected of a klezmer band. Prominent were director Alex Koffman with a bundle of specialized techniques on violin and Jeff Jeziorski and Bartek (Bartosz) Warkoczynski with lightning bolts of clear notes on clarinet.
Some of the choice moments:
+ Cantor Pavel Roytman embracing the romance in a combination of songs, “Sheyn vi di Levone (Lovely as the Moon)” and “My Shtetl Belz.” Some lines from the poetry were translated as a man tells a woman she is “as beautiful as the stars, a gift from heaven.”
+ Alex Koffman singing “Zisse Kinder Yorn (Sweet Years of Childhood)” in a high voice filled with warm and tender remembrance.
+ “Crazy Dreydl,” with some of the players spinning to the music like tops (dreydls).
+ The opening and closing numbers of the band, filled with whoop-dee-doo, sounds and styles from all over and breakneck speed.
To borrow words from milkman Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” the whole event was an expression of “L’chaim, l’chaim, to life!”
NEXT (for Civic Music): Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, Oct. 8, The Weidner.
THE VENUE: The spacious Riverside Ballroom Crystal Ballroom is the heart of the 1936 Art Moderne building on Green Bay’s east side. Performances are on a raised stage on which rock ‘n’ roll legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper performed a famed concert Feb. 1, 1959, the night before they died in an airplane crash in Iowa. In the lobby is a special display, a living remembrance, of color photographs from that night at the Riverside along with Holly memorabilia that captures the era. Much was donated by Gregory J. Kochiss. Seating is at round tables on the ballroom floor. The ballroom features high, sweeping, laminated wood beams with streamlined, curved decoration at the base of each beam. Hanging from the ceiling are Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Imagine the Green Bay Packers holding practice inside the ballroom. That happened a few times, according to a Packers Heritage Trail plaque outside. Nearby flows the East River, thus the name Riverside Ballroom.