Pro Musica Hebraica Brings Classical Music by Jewish Composers out of Obscurity and into the Concert Hall

Recently, Miles Hoffman published an op-ed article on the New York Times about the lack of classical music written by Jewish composers for the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. According to Hoffman the reasons lie in “the familiar ground of Jewish history and experience: religious observance, rabbinic law, social and legal exclusion, systematic persecution, love of tradition – and the complicated psychology of being Jewish in a largely Gentile world.” A response to the article by Susan J. Tolchin mentioned that an organization called Pro Musica Hebraica, has strived to remedy the situation by resurrecting the work of Jewish composers.

According to the Pro Musica Hebraica website, most music by Jewish composers has been preserved in little-known unpublished scores and archival manuscripts. Since 2008, Pro Musica Hebraica has been working to reintegrate Jewish music of the past and present into current mainstream repertoire through an ongoing series of concerts at venues around the United States and abroad. The group draws its inspiration from the Society for Jewish Folk Music, an early 20th century group of young Jewish musicians in Tsarist Russia whose goal was to promote Jewish music is a distinct movement in modern classical music and around the global musical world.

Previous concerts have included music by the composers Joel Engel, Leo Zeitlin, Osvaldo Golijov, and Sergei Prokofiev. Performing artists have included Itzhak Perlman, the Biava String Quartet, and the Apollo Ensemble. (Music player with samples of previous concerts at the end of this post.)

The 2010-2011 season includes two concerts at the Kennedy Center. For ticket information, please click here.

Fall 2010 Concert – Thursday, November 18, 2010

The ARC Ensemble of Toronto with Special Guest Robert Pomakov

The Terrace Theater
The Kennedy Center
Washington, DC
7:30 PM

War and Exile: The Music of Berman, Braunfels, and Ben-Haim

The award-winning ARC Ensemble of Toronto returns to the Kennedy Center with an all-new program devoted to lost masterpieces written during World War II by three singular composers: Karel Berman (1919-1995), Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984), and Walter Braunfels (1882-1954). Berman’s 1944 song cycle, “Poupata,” composed and premiered while he was interned at Theresienstadt, is a stunning, defiantly positive response to his nightmarish path from the Prague Conservatory to the Nazi concentration camp. Of mixed Jewish-Christian parentage, Walter Braunfels found himself steadily excluded from German musical life under the Nazis. Years of isolation led to the dark passion of his string quintet—one of the great unheralded works in the chamber music tradition—presented here in its American premiere. Meanwhile, far away from Europe, the German-born Jewish composer Paul Ben-Haim was busy creating the new sound of Jewish national music in Palestine. The “Melodies from the East” and “Quintet” reflect his own wartime answers to the Nazi menace: proud, overtly Jewish celebrations of the ancient folkloric heritage renewed in the land of Israel. This concert highlights the many paths to exile and musical responses from Europe’s Jewish composers in the threat of Nazi onslaught and wartime chaos.
Spring 2011 Concert – Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pro Musica Hebraica Presents
Mark Glanville, bass baritone
Alexander Knapp, piano

The Terrace Theater
The Kennedy Center
Washington, DC
7:30 PM

A Yiddish Winterreise: Elegy for a Vanished World

British bass baritone Mark Glanville and pianist Alexander Knapp present the American premiere of the extraordinary song cycle, “A Yiddish Winterreise.” Schubert’s classic love poet is reimagined as a Yiddish wedding singer, fleeing the burning city of Vilna. The songs celebrate the richness of Jewish life and culture with love and humor, while exploring the depths of Jewish tragedy and the loss of a monumental European Jewish civilization. The performance takes Yiddish folk songs and turns them into classic German lieder, without stripping them of their original identity and beauty. This startlingly original emotional journey meshes Glanville’s deep knowledge and love of German romantic poetry and lieder with his equal mastery of Yiddish and traditional Jewish music. The pianist, composer and arranger Alexander Knapp, a scholar and expert in Jewish music, has arranged these songs in a masterly stylistic form. “A Yiddish Winterreise” has been met with great acclaim in Britain as a brilliantly creative act of musical memory for our own age.

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