The holidays and their music, Part II
By David Amos
SAN DIEGO–In the last issue, I talked about the music we hear for the Christmas holidays, where Hannukah fits in (or doesn’t), and on the larger picture, the place of Jewish Music in the concert hall.
While we accept with pleasure the presentation of non-Jewish religious music as part of the classical music repertory, I have sensed an incongruous uneasiness among Jews when it comes to their own music and heritage for sharing with the at-large mainstream concert audiences. Even in Israel, there is this unwarranted sense of an inferiority complex as to the place of serious Jewish music, even to Israeli listeners.
You may argue this, but even the wonderful Israel Philharmonic Choir, sings almost exclusively the great Christian masterpieces, and shies away from supporting music on Jewish subjects as being, somehow, of lesser quality and weight. I have talked to dozens of people, Israelis and American Jews, and their observations and responses have confirmed my concerns and conclusions.
Although there is a vast number of world class Jewish composers today, their compositions of works on Jewish subjects are somehow, not regarded in the highest esteem, by some enigmatic definition and rationale.
One possible answer to this is that because of the limitations on Jewish composers in earlier times, compositions on substantial Jewish subjects did not appear until well into the Twentieth Century, when all concert audiences started to reject all new music because of its modernism and dissonance. Not a good, logical artistic reason, but nevertheless, it is reality.
So, the scene is set: What we are faced with today, is the talent of many Jewish composers, a treasury of music already composed (or waiting to be composed) ready to be heard and enjoyed, a welcoming time for Gentile audiences to be exposed to the grandeur of our history and traditions, and on the negative side, the moderate reluctance of all audiences to give of their time to listen to new music when they could go to concerts or hear recordings of beloved chestnuts by Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Fiddler on the Roof.
Fortunately, on the other hand, these times are very good for commissioning professional and community orchestras, having new works performed (if well presented, with education and relevance), published, recorded professionally, promoted, and played by classical music radio stations worldwide.
Everything is in place, except for the important catalyst: Money. While composers, music critics and musicologists easily see the logic and benefit of the need to commission, to perform in concert and record the infinite choices of music in Jewish subjects, it would take a sponsor with the necessary vision to underwrite this noble project to leave a legacy for today and future generations.
Through my experience and knowledge in this area, I have been fortunate to have encouraged many a composer, Jewish and Gentile, to compose music inspired by Judaica. Many of these works are weighty, relevant, educational, and pleasing; they have been enjoyed by audiences worldwide, and in the local scene, wherever I have had the opportunity to present such works. For even wider exposure, I have also been fortunate to have the pleasure of conducting world class orchestras in commercial recordings of such music, which not only have been praised by music critics, but also enthusiastically received by the very musicians who played in the recording sessions. Record companies are very interested in marketing new music of relevance and quality.
There are so many areas to be explored. Music related to stories in the Bible, in Jewish history, folklore, Israel, the Holidays, political events which have changed the world, the Holocaust, (where could you best preserve its memory in an assertive, instructive way for presentation to the general public?), American Judaism, the Liturgy, famous people in history, etc. My obvious medium is the symphony orchestra, but there are infinite possibilities with solo voices, opera, chamber music choirs, and narration. Or, some interesting combinations of any of the above, including multi-media.
If you find this article of significance and sufficiently important, I would encourage you do something about it. I personally feel an obligation to this project, and the gap which I have described in our culture today is self evident. I can think of no better way to leave our mark through contributions which perpetuate our heritage; statements in the arts are forever, and, quoting a sports figure, the future is now.
If you have any thoughts or ideas on this subject, please e mail me at email@example.com
Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and a guest conductor of professional orchestras around the world.