Posted by: rlustig1952 | December 12, 2011

Die Musik ist ewige

One of the things I like about singing with Zamir is that we are a repertory choir, so we perform from a large and varied body of music, ranging from Israeli folk songs, jazz numbers, and showtunes all the way to “serious” classical works from Renaissance to contemporary. As a performer, it never gets boring, and there’s usually something that’s particularly appealing or something new to sing.

Even though we are attending a festival focusing on the music of Louis Lewandowski, our artistic director Joshua Jacobsen has put together a set of programs that are very eclectic. At some point I will post the programs (I believe that’s already been done on one of the other tour blogs). Keeping in mind as you read this that I am very much an amateur musician, I would classify the music we will be performing into these broad categories:

  • Music of Lewandowski and his contemporaries: Lewandowski’s music is very much in the mainstream of mid- to late-19th century classical music. His music could very easily be mistaken for Mendelssohn or Brahms, although the Hebrew is kind of a giveaway (he also wrote music using German subtext). What I like about Lewandowski is the emotional directness of his compositions, which allows the performer (and the audience) to really feel that emotional intensity in a very personal way. Listen to the music for which I’ve provided links. Without knowing that the text of Enosh is taken from Psalm 103, often associated with funerals, you can feel the sense of sadness mixed with faith that sustains so many in times of personal tragedy. Or listen to Lewandowski’s version of Psalm 150 (Halleluyoh), and without knowing the text you can feel the pure sense of almost anthemic celebration in praise of God (tell me you don’t want to yell “Play Ball” at the end of it). While his music can be sometimes a bit over the top, it’s always challenging and fun to sing, and as a performer you can’t ask for much more. We’ll also be performing a work by Mendelssohn.
  • Music of 20th-century German Jewish refugees: The Nazi takeover of Germany resulted in a diaspora of German-Jewish artists, musicians, scientists, and intellectuals, and Germany’s loss was the rest of the world’s gain. A host of talented musicians and composers settled in the U.S. and other countries, and their contributions to the cultural life of their new homelands were significant. The Chorale will be bringing the music of these refugee composers back to their homeland, and we will be performing music of, among others, Kurt Weill (of Three Penny Opera fame), Friedrich Hollander (who wrote music for many famous films and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards), Herbert Fromm (who focused on music for the synagogue), and Heinrich Schalit (originally from Vienna). The Shalit piece we’re doing, a setting of V’Sham’ru, is particularly amazing. This is a prayer I’ve sung a million times in a melody that almost sounds like a folk song, very cheerful and sing-songy. Shalit’s interpretation is totally opposite – it somehow manages to tap into the mystical aspects of the text describing the creation of the world and the sense of absolute peace on the 7th day when “God ceased from work and was refreshed”. There’s a great explanation of the piece here, and you can also listen to it.
  • Everything else: Ok, the rest of the repertoire could probably be further classified, but I’m running of out steam. We’ll also being doing a wide variety of music ranging from Hanukkah-themed music (excerpts from Handel’s Judas Maccabeaus auf Deutsch no less, an 18th-century setting of Maoz Tsur from the Ashkenazi community in Venice, a rambunctious setting of a Ladino song Ocho Kandelikas) to a jazz setting of Adon Olam to music of the “hippie” Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. And yes, there will be showtunes, because everyone loves showtunes.

On a more prosaic note, I’ve added some additional links to the other choirs participating in the Festival. I’m particularly looking forward to meeting and performing with my fellow musicians.

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