Breath & Hammer: Krakauer-Tagg


“Krakauer sailed through virtuosic passages before taking off on a passionate, soul-stirring improvisation… Throughout their compelling duo set, Tagg joined prepared piano to electronics in increasingly brilliant applications.”

- Downbeat Magazine

“After the last note of the enchantment had faded, no-one wanted to come out of meditation.”

- Andy Wilding, Fine Music Radio

“The New York-based duo had us in awe from the very first second​...such a passionate and varied performance…”

- What’s On in Cape Town

Grammy-nominated clarinetist DAVID KRAKAUER and pianist KATHLEEN TAGG have been performing together as the Krakauer-Tagg Duo since 2012 in the genre-crossing recital program Beyond Crossover. Now they have created a new project which draws even more on their unique sounds. Breath & Hammer is their latest genre-bending project, which launched in January 2016 at National Sawdust in New York.

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…Krakauer joined with the adventurous South African pianist Kathleen Tagg in an exciting new duo project known as Breath and Hammer. At the peak of their conversation, Krakauer sailed through virtuosic passages before taking off on a passionate, soul-stirring improvisation…Throughout their compelling duo set, Tagg joined prepared piano to electronics in increasingly brilliant applications

– Downbeat Magazine


“The New York-based duo had us in awe from the very first second, and I am still in awe of the immense privilege it was to witness such a passionate and varied performance in this noble, historical venue…After the interval, the music could be described as everything but harmonious – however, we were spoilt with an incredible performance of Klezmer and Jazz-inspired modern pieces.


Both Krakauer and Tagg elicited astonishing tones from their instruments by what can only be described as unorthodox methods. Tagg used cloth and metal jewellery to manipulate the piano’s sound, and even stood up during her performance to pluck its strings, which had the audience in awe. Krakauer, regarded as one of the greatest clarinetists globally, blurred the lines between instrumental and vocal music by making his clarinet laugh, cry and sing in front of our very eyes. As if their talent wasn’t enough, both Krakauer and Tagg have a keen desire for the audience to “participate” in the performance, instead of simply to listen passively, with the result that the audience felt as elatedly exerted as the musicians!

-What’s On in Cape Town




Breath and Hammer is an innovative re-imagining of the traditional clarinet and piano recital that integrates folk and improvisation-based music with classical and avant-garde music, exploding the sound of the duo from the inside out. Krakauer and Tagg use source material by composers as diverse as New York-based visionary John Zorn, Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, classical and Latin jazz star Paquito D’Rivera, and Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, as well as traditional South African music and klezmer, and then create orchestral arrangements using layering and a wide range of sounds from the instruments.


American clarinetist David Krakauer and South African pianist Kathleen Tagg, acting as composers and arrangers, use extended clarinet and piano techniques, utilizing the full range of sounds than can be imagined from both instruments, and collaborate with sound designer Jay Eigenmann to even further expand the scope of sonic possibilities by incorporating electronic effects and layers. Both performers come from a classical background of performing traditional recitals, chamber music, and concerti; however, Krakauer is also one of the leading figures in new klezmer music, redefining that genre by combining traditional klezmer with funk, hip-hop, rap, and electronica, while Tagg has written works of musical theatre, alt-cabaret, and world music, and is also in demand as a performer of avant-garde music.


All of these diverse and seemingly disparate musical influences, wide in cultural and artistic scope, intermingle and are transformed into something entirely new, a hybrid art form that bridges the cultures of the past and new work that looks towards the future.


Beyond Crossover Beyond Crossover is a unique recital program that voyages between classical repertoire, Krakauer’s original compositions and klezmer music. The program moves effortlessly without intermission from Janacek, Brahms, Messiaen, Steve Reich and Debussy all the way to Krakauer’s mad circular breathing improvisations and new duo arrangements of klezmer classics by Krakauer and Tagg.


Krakauer writes: “Ever since the moment I was able to play the clarinet halfway decently I’ve been interested in juxtaposing the making of my own music with interpreting classical compositions. (In that sense I never felt the need to “cross”–I was already “over.”) It was always amazing to see how the two interacted with one another. Constantly working to create my own sounds (whether it be through improvising or composing) has helped me find my personal key to interpretation: first, always striving to be closer to the moment of creation (play the piece as if I had composed it or improvised it); second, seeking to tell a story; and third, creating a dialogue between my ideas and what I perceive as the composer’s ideas.”    

“And how refreshing was it not to hear big works of the classical canon, such as Brahms and Debussy, with a different timbre…Good heavens, the sounds, breath control and passion with which he plays, is something that one does not see every day, nor hear. He started with the Allegro of Leos Janácek’s Concertino, with Kathleen Tagg who consistently played piano brilliantly…” – Die Burger