In the first Boston Massivemuse since concluding its “smashingly successful” Kickstarter, Groupmuse will be presenting blonde bombshell violinist Lara St. John’s CD signing event for her recent album Shiksa at WGBH studios on the evening of January 20th. The event is also something of a celebration of Groupmuse’s success in raising a total of $140,005 from 1478 backers, far and away the biggest classical music Kickstarter of all time and one of the top 25 music ones. According to Groupmuse CEO Sam Bodkin, “After fees and rewards, we’ll bring home about $120k, nearly all of which will go to paying four-and-a-half salaries for the next 12 months, as we bring Groupmuse to sustainability.” The previous BMInt article is here.
Lara St. John had much to say about her provocatively titled CD.
You don’t sound like a shiksa on the recording. On radio the concept of a blonde goddess impersonating a klezmer fiddler might not be so amusing as doing it in person. Have you ever thought of yourself as a shiksa before this recording?
The album is called Shiksa because most of the 14 numbers are of Jewish origins. But there are nine non-Jewish works—everybody needs to work with someone like me, just a random Canadian girl; it’s weird how I have pulled all of these things together.
It’s been a lifelong passion of mine since the first time I went to Hungary, at age 11. I actually lived in the Soviet Union for a year and traveled all over the Balkans, the Caucuses and the Middle East. So I come by this pretty honestly. To be clear, the album is 29% Jewish origin, 15% Gypsy, and 9% Arabic.
So shiksa more generally is to suggest a female foreigner.
Exactly. But the music is so great that I have always had a fascination for it from the outside, but eventually from the inside because I have lived in a lot of these places and I listen to what people do.
How about the execution? Are you channeling any particular older players?
Heifetz and Milstein played Beethoven—nobody’s ever done these pieces before, so I’m not copying anyone. No one has ever played these pieces before on the violin. Some of these are based on songs, especially from Gypsy singers. But this is mostly about voice, which is what the violin is in the long run.
In terms of style, the first piece for instance is a fantasy on the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, almost canonic Gypsy playing. Then the klezmer stuff later on is in a completely different style. The Romanian stuff is different again. For the Romanian material I’m thinking about the hammer dulcimer, and it’s a cimbalom-like hit style. I’ve heard the Armenian ones sung often with really mature voices. That’s another of the styles I have in mind.
All of the cuts on this recording have been written for you and your improvising jazz pianist partner, Matt Herskowitz.
Nine of the songs—of Jewish, Roma and folk origins—have been completely reimagined by contemporary composers Martin Kennedy, Milica Paranosic, John Kameel Farah, Matt Herskowitz, Yuri Boguinia, Serouj Kradjian, David Ludwig, Gene Pritsker and John Psathas. The others have been arranged and improvised by Matt and me.
Will your Poussin Rouge concert on Jan 18th at 7:00 serve as your warmup for the WGBH gig?
Lee- stop, I have to correct your French. Poussin means little chicken. You meant to say Poisson Rouge as in goldfish.
Shiksa is available on Amazon, iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify and more. A taste follows.
We asked Sam Bodkin more about the MassivMuse:
Who’s invited on January 20th?
We’ve invited our whole Boston user base, but that’s thousands and thousands of people, so only the first 150 RSVPs will be there.
What’s it like to do a Groupmuse inside the formal studio? Not exactly your normal livingroom with sofas. How do you create the trademark informality?
WGBH really does go all out for us in terms of fostering the informal vibe that’s grown to be so characteristic of Groupmuse. They put out large carpets on the floor, upon which people directly sit, and the seats they provide aren’t in rows, but rather take the organic shapes that the groupmusers arrange for themselves naturally. But the real key is that we’ve inculcated our crowd with our livingroom vibe over the last few years, so they uphold that culture themselves at this point. If you get a bunch of ’musers in a room, they’ll know what to do.