Jewish liturgical music is defined as any music intended for use in synagogues or in other Jewish religious ceremonies, or, to quote the dictionary, “some sort of musical declamation for the passages uttered aloud in the synagogue.”
This dry definition hardly gives credit to the beauty and originality of the creations of some 1700 composers whose works span generations and continents, to the important role played by this music in the daily lives of Jews throughout history – the Bible and the Talmud record that spontaneous music making was common among the ancient Jews on all important occasions, religious and secular – or to the way that synagogue music touches the hearts and souls of Jews today.
Ottawa’s preeminent Jewish choir, Musica Ebraica, aims to educate as well as to entertain and this year is hoping to share some of our rich musical tradition in its up-coming concert.
On June 4th, under the dexterous baton of conductor Norman E. Brown, the choir will present Prayer and Celebration – Liturgical Music From Around the World. The audience will hear the beloved and age-old liturgical texts in a kaleidoscopic array of musical styles, modalities and languages. The concert takes place at 7:30 pm at Agudath Israel Synagogue – 1400 Coldrey Avenue. Master of ceremony for the evening will be well-known radio host Rob Clipperton.
Agudath Israel Cantor Jeremy Burko will be featured as guest soloist, performing Bendicho Su Nombre (B’rich Sh’meh) in Ladino, Morris Barrash’s Atah Chonantanu, and Ben Steinberg’s Lo Yareiu,
A talented and accomplished young Chazzan, Toronto- born Burko came to the Ottawa community in 2012 from the New North London Synagogue. He began his college career as an engineer, but, says Burko “it soon became very clear where my heart belonged.” In 2010 he graduated from the H. L. Miller Cantorial School, Jewish Theological Seminary in New York with a Chazzan’s Diploma and a Master’s degree in Sacred Music. Burko’s aim is “to use my talents to help create an environment of spirituality, dignity and joy as part of the davening experience.”
Musica Ebraica is pleased to be collaborating with Chazzan Jeremy and to have as other invited guests soprano Erinne-Colleen Laurin, mezzo-soprano Barbara Okun, tenor Ken Mak, and bass Larry Tarof.
One of the highlights of the evening will be a cantata by Modest Mussorgsky entitled Joshua ben Nun. The piece, adapted from the book of Joshua, is particularly moving and thrilling. “You can feel the battles of Joshua and his Israelite men” says choir president Patsy Royer. Our conductor Norman has brought in a quartet of professional soloists to raise the musical experience of the choir to a new level of excellence. “
Musica Ebraica is also thrilled to be performing a world-premiere arrangement of Shir haMa’alot by Ottawa composer Leo Lightstone. The composition is not the first that Lightstone has done for the choir. He enjoys writing for small instrumental and vocal ensembles, employing techniques of modern counterpoint and methods of layering in his compositions. Much of his work draws on liturgical texts and Hebrew poetry, past and present. In all his compositions he receives support and advice from his family, all musicians in their own right. “Leo is masterful in his ability to paint the atmosphere of the psalm with his melody.” says longtime chorister Minda Wershoff. “ We are really fortunate to have such wonderful musicians in Ottawa who share our love of Jewish repertoire.”
The evening will be a ‘must-hear-experience’ for lovers of good choral music, and the Jewish liturgical soundscape !