The Zimro Story

In 1917 a group of Russian Jewish musicians set out from St Petersburg on an intrepid journey lasting two long years. They were called Zimro. A group of six classical musicians (string quartet, clarinet and piano), Zimro was formed by one of the foremost clarinettists in Russia, Simeon Bellison. They toured Jewish communities throughout Eastern Europe and the Far East, visiting the far flung corners of Russia, Siberia, China, Japan, Indonesia and Alaska before ?nally arriving in America in 1919, where they met up with their close friend and colleague, the composer Serge Prokofiev. He wrote them a sextet, Overture on Jewish Themes, which they premiered at the Bohemian Club in Chicago in 1920 and at their Carnegie Hall debut in New York City in 1921.

Zimro’s newly commissioned work from Prokofiev, the Overture on Jewish Themes, was based on two Jewish melodies taken from one of Simeon Bellison’s personal notebooks. In these books he collected melodies with a Jewish identity. Bellison had been active in the Jewish folk music movement in Russia from as early as 1906 and Zimro performed several works with simple, evocative Jewish melodies at their heart.

In the 1990s Neyire studied with the highly respected New York clarinettist David Weber who in turn had been a student of Simeon Bellison in the 1930s in New York City. Neyire also plays klezmer music (Eastern European jewish celebratory and dance music) having performed with the Besht Tellers, a Jewish storytelling theatre company, in London’s West End. She also toured the Far East, Australia and Israel with them as well as sojourning by train through Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Former Yugoslavia) performing for Jewish communities, large and small.

Through these experiences Neyire became fascinated by classical music that draws on traditional & folk music for inspiration and in 2008, motivated by the Zimro story of her teacher’s teacher Bellison and his adventures through Russia and the Far East, Neyire, Paul and Daniel founded the Zimro Trio.

From Prokofiev’s Diaries:

2 February 1920

…the Bohemian Club, a club of musicians, who had organised a reception for me on the occasion of the first performance of my “Overture on Jewish Themes”. It was a closed event, members only, about 80 people.…then our “Zimro” lot performed the Brahms clarinet quintet, which was serious and boring;variations by Gnessin, which were the same and my “Overture”. The “Overture” sounded really fine, sometimes a bit shrill (for future performers: the clarinet shouldn’t shriek and the piano shouldn’t hammer), but after the previous dead numbers, however good quality they were, [my piece sounded] so lively and fresh that the auditorium came to life and gave me a vociferous ovation. The “Overture” was encored, after which I played the 3rd sonata as an extra to the programme.

(extract kindly found and translated by Gerard McBurney)