When violinist Richard Schmoucler founded the Sirba Octet in 2003, he created an entirely new sound. With arrangers Cyrille Lehn and Yann Ollivo, five fellow musicians from the Orchestre de Paris, a pianist and a cimbalom player, he formed a unique ensemble with a fresh perspective on klezmer, Yiddish and gypsy music.
- Richard Schmoucler, violin & artistic director
- Christian Brière, violin
- David Gaillard, viola
- Claude Giron, cello
- Bernard Cazauran, bass
- Philippe Berrod, clarinet
- Christophe Henry, piano
- Iurie Morar, cimbalom
In collaboration with the Orchestre de Paris, the Sirba Octet performed Un violon sur les toits de Paris, (A fiddler on the rooves of Paris), at the Théâtre Mogador, a concert which they developed into their first acoustic album, A Yiddish Mame, released in 2005 under the label Ambroisie (Naïve). With Slavic and Yiddish nuances, this anthology of Eastern European melodies is drawn from Schmoucler’s own memories of happy family gatherings.
Significant artistic partnerships
In 2007, as part of the Festival d’Île-de-France, the Sirba Octet worked with Isabelle Georges, the multi-talented singer, dancer and actress known as a ‘triple threat’, to produce Du Shtetl à New York. An array of music from the shtetl and standards from the golden age of American musical theatre, via jazz, ragtime and lullabies composed by second generation immigrants, the show charts the journey made by millions of Eastern Europeans from their shtetls, or villages, to New York, melting pot of musical influences from all over the world. The show was inspired by Fabienne Rousso-Lenoir’s documentary Du Shtetl à Broadway and celebrates heredity and inheritance, an important foundation of the Yiddish community.
The Sirba Octet continued to work with Isabelle Georges on Yiddish Rhapsody, a show based on traditional Yiddish music but accented with elements of jazz, salsa, musicals, rock and samba. Commissioned by the Orchestre de Pau Pays de Béarn, conducted by Fayçal Karoui, Yiddish Rhapsody was unique in its staging of the octet alongside a 50-piece orchestra and was therefore able to perform orchestral as well as chamber music. The show became their third album with Naïve, and was performed with the Orchestre Lamoureux at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the Orchestre de Trier in Germany, the Liège Royal Philharmonic, the Tonkustler Orchester at Festspielhaus and at Musikverein in Vienna.
Their albums have received critical acclaim in the press, winning notably a ‘10 de Répertoire-Classica’ for Du Shtetl à New York, the European Association for Jewish Culture prize and a Choc de Classica for Tantz! The group was also the subject of a documentary by Alain Duault for France 3 entitled A day with the Sirba Octet and Isabelle Georges. In 2011 the Sirba Octet and Isabelle Georges were selected by the Victoires de la Musique Classique to appear alongside the Orchestre des Pays de la Loire conducted by John Axelrod.
Appearing regularly at leading festivals in France and abroad, the Sirba Octet have performed at many prestigious venues including the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Musikverein in Vienna with longer runs at Théâtre Mogador, l’Européen, La Cigale et à l’Espace Pierre Cardin à Paris. In 2012, they took part in the Festival Radio Classique at the Olympia with Isabelle Georges and, in 2013, they appeared at Musiques en fête aux Chorégies d’Orange which was broadcast live on France 3.
Thanks to their talented arranger Cyrille Lehn, the Sirba Octet are constantly enriching their repertoire, adding pieces that range from the most famous to the lesser known. Lehn worked with the group on a project for which they were joined for the first time by Catherine Lara. This new adventure led to the album Au cœur de l’âme Yiddish (The Spirit of the Yiddish), released on Sony in November 2012. Captivated by their world, Catherine Lara chose eight of her most acclaimed pieces to record with the Sirba Octet. In April 2013, they performed the album live for two concerts at l’Alhambra in Paris.
Sirba Octet’s orchestral show was one of the highlights of their 2015 season. For Sirba Orchestra! they once again worked with the Orchestre de Pau Pays de Béarn conducted by Fayçal Karoui with a guest appearance from Nicolas Kedroff, the talented balalaika player. The show comprised a series of performances at the Palais Beaumont in Pau in June 2015 that were broadcast live on Radio Classique. Focussing on Yiddish and Slavic music, the show is a window on the lively and moving musical traditions of Eastern Europe. The group will take the show to the Orchestre de Bretagne and the Orchestre Royal Philharmonique de Liège in 2017.
Latest release – Tantz !
In October 2015, the Sirba Octet released their fifth album Tantz! on La Dolce Volta record label. In November 2015, following the album release, the group gave five concerts at l’Espace Pierre Cardin. Tantz! is a journey into music you can dance to, led by the masterly musicians of the Sirba Octet and their exceptional rendition. This remarkable ensemble, midway between classical and klezmer music, has revived the traditional music of Eastern Europe, creating new arrangements based on the principals of more scholarly music. This musical masterpiece lets you wander through doina, hora, sirba and other klezmer and gypsy style dances. Linking Romania, Moldova, Russia and Hungary, Tantz! makes an expressive journey, flitting across borders and expanding horizons. The great, iconic violinist Ivry Gitlis wrote a foreword for the album and endorses the project.
Classical World Music
The vigour, intensity and originality of the Sirba Octet’s arrangements bring to life the familiar tunes of Eastern Europe – a body of music characterized by the wanderings of a whole population, in which sentiment and creative flair are bound together. Unparalleled outside of the conventional circuit, the group skilfully unite genres and combine both orchestral and chamber music. Sirba Octet’s unique vision puts them in their own league as they pioneer a new genre – Classical World.