AJ Music Fest, March 13, Features Voces Novae

[by Cantor David Lipp]

Congregation Adath Jeshurun’s 40th Music Festival, Sunday, March 13, at 7 p.m. will feature Voces Novae.

Does one need to be Jewish to write Jewish music?

Well, that depends on the definition of Jewish music. Although using the tribal lineage (or conversionary status) of the composer seems to be a sure-fire method, what are we to do with “White Christmas” by Yitzchak Berlin?

The question comes up when we try to get our minds around a non-Jewish composer writing liturgical music for the synagogue. For instance, how is it that Franz Schubert’s “Tov Lehodos” (Psalm 92) is included in one of the most seminal compilations of liturgical music from the 19th century, Salomon Sulzer’s Schir Zion?

Certainly, cantors have commissioned composers to write for the synagogue many times in recent history. Kurt Weill wrote an incredible jazz “Kiddush” for Cantor David Putterman. Arnold Schoen-berg wrote a “Kol Nidre” that ranges far beyond the comfort zones of most shul-goers. Aaron Copland was inspired by Judah HaLevi’s poem, “My Heart is in the East” to write an early art song.

But Weill, Schoeberg and Copland were Jewish.

Franz Schubert? Not so much.

The truth is that Jewish music is best defined as that expression which has become associated with the traditional trajectory of the Jewish people in many forms, liturgical, folk and classical, often without regard to the tribal status of its composer.

So when Salomon Sulzer, the premiere cantor of the 19th century, decided to complement his own exquisite compositions with those of other composers he respected in Vienna, Schubert was the most famous of them all and not the lone gentile composer. But who, today, other than a music historian, has heard of Seyfried, Volkert, Wurfel and Drechsler?

Although Schubert’s setting of “Psalm 92” was composed for the inauguration of the Seitenstettengasse Synagogue of Vienna in 1826, it’s first public performance in concert was carried out by Sulzer’s son, Professor Joseph Sulzer in 1904, nearly 80 years later. I’m not sure whether it’s ever been performed in Louisville, but it will be.

Endowed for almost a decade now by the Adolf and Sara van der Walde and Israel Rosenbloum Charitable Fund, AJ’s Music Festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary by inviting third-time guest choir Voces Novae, marking its 18th year of Choral Renaissance, for “Gematria: Treasures of Jewish Music.”

Gematria is the art of Jewish Numer-ology, according to which the Hebrew word chai adds up to 18 and the number 40 is often associated with a generation (see the Book of Judges, Hebrew Bible).

For these mutual milestones, Voces Novae with Cantors David Lipp and Sharon Hordes as well as community junior and adult synagogue choirs will perform a wide variety of music all the way from Rossi to Friedman, from Sulzer to Steinberg, from Schubert to Schur.

In addition to the choral feast, there will be a world premiere written by Louisville composer Jeremy Beck for woodwind quintet, inspired by a poem by the Israeli poet Zelda, “Everyone Has a Name.”

Like Schubert, Beck is not of the “Hebrew persuasion” but this piece, like Schubert’s “Tov Lehodos,” will become a part of the instrumental repertoire associated with the Jewish people.

From Synagogue to Soul, Jerusalem to Jazz, Renaissance to Rock, Gematria will cover a broad range of repertoire.
Tickets are $12.50 in advance, $15 at the door and $10 for students. To purchase, call 458-5359 or go to http://2011ajmusicfestival.eventbrite.com/.

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