Review: Adath Jeshurun Music Festival

[by Rhoda Faller]

The 40th Adolf and Sara Van Der Walde and Israel Rosenbloum Charitable Fund Adath Jeshurun Music Festival, held Sunday evening, March 13, was a true delight.  The festival’s theme, “Gematria: Treasures of Jewish Music,” featured the wonderful voices of Voces Novae Choral Renaissance, Adath Jeshurun’s Cantor David Lipp, Cantor Sharon Hordes of Keneseth Israel and the community adult and junior choirs.

The words to the music, much of which would be familiar to synagogue attendees, were presented with variations to familiar melodies. The evening, which marked Voces Novae’s third appearance at the festival and their 18th year of performing, is led by the charming Frank A. Heller, III.  Heller explained that the numbers 3, 18 and 40 are all significant in Judaism and shared that Voces Novae is, “… dedicated to awakening the highest musical artistry …,” and their mostly a cappella performance met that goal.

Choir members, garbed in formal attire, entered the sanctuary, found their designated places and opened their music books with precision. Since only a handful of the members are Jewish, hearing their rather precise pronunciation of Hebrew, and later Yiddish, gave testament to their hard work and professionalism.

I must also compliment Dr. Louie Bailey, who accompanied the group on piano. His truly was an accompaniment since it complemented the music without overwhelming it, as so often happens when instruments are paired with singing voices. This is of particular import to me since I have a hearing problem that does not allow me to filter sounds. Thus, loud music overwhelms my ability to hear the singers.

The program began with “Oseh Shalom” with all the choirs participating. The community choirs were in the front of the sanctuary with members of Voces Novae standing along the walls lining both sides. The rounds of music and the combination of voices coming together enclosed me in a wonderful cocoon of music.

Voces Novae followed with “Adon Olam” and then “Zacharti Lach” along with Cantor Lipp. “Avinu Malkeinu” featured Cantors Hordes and Lipp and Voces Novae joined him for “Od Yizkor Lonu.” A quartet sang “Tov Lehodos” and “Shir Hama’alot” was performed by the women of Voces Novae.

Cantor Lipp joined the choir in “Birth is a Beginning,” a song celebrating his 10th anniversary of service to the congregation and written for him by his predecessor, Cantor Marshall Portnoy. A “traditional” version of “Oseh Shalom” followed. I was surprised to learn that this “traditional” version premiered at the first Chassidic Song festival in Israel in 1969.  I had truly thought I had heard it forever.

Next was “Sh’ma Koleinu” with Voces Novae and Cantor Lipp followed by the world premier of “Stars and Celebrations,” an instrumental piece written by Jeremy Beck and performed by Leah Arsenault, Marion Gibson, Andrea Levine, Matthew Karr and Steve Causey.

Following the intermission, Cantors Lipp and Hordes chanted “Y’varech’cha” and continued with a rousing “Kol Han’shama T’halel Yah” along with Voces Novae and the Community Adult Choir.  Cantor Hordes accompanied Voces Novae and the Community Adult Choir in “Shalom Rav.”

How lucky Adath Jeshurun is that Cantor Lipp did not decide early on to be a rock star.  His Doo Wop-style in a never heard before version of “I Have a Little Dreydel” brought joy, laughter and fun to the performance, and the audience was most enthusiastic. He was joined Voces Novae and the community choirs. A lively “Bei Mir Bisti Sheyn,” featuring the entire Voces Novae Choir with Cantor Hordes as the centerpiece (garbed in a multicolored boa) was memorable. The final number, “Mi Shebeirach,” was done as a tribute to the late Debbie Friedman.

Volunteer bakers supplied literally thousands of bite-sized treats at the dessert reception after the program. The work of many volunteers, including children involved in the art project, made the evening a delight to the eyes, ears and mouth.

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