Welcome to the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, and a body of music as diverse, challenging and beautiful as America itself.
When we set out to create the Milken Archive, our vision was to record, preserve and disseminate the music that has and will continue to emerge from the unique confluence of Jews reconnecting from across the Diaspora to the freedom of America. Over the three-and-a-half centuries since Jews first arrived on these shores, the sacred and secular body of work that has developed provides a powerful means of expressing the multilayered saga of American Jewry. At the same time, this music reflects a remarkable universality of the immigrant and broader human experience.
My own interest in music and deep abiding commitment to synagogue life and to the Jewish people united as I developed an increasing appreciation for the quality and diversity of music written for or inspired by the American Jewish experience. Through discussions with contemporary Jewish composers and performers during the 1980s, I realized that while much of this music had become a vital force in American and world culture, even more music of specifically Jewish content had been created, perhaps performed, and then lost to current and future generations.
Believing that there was an opportunity to rediscover and preserve the collective memory contained within this music, we founded the Milken Archive of Jewish Music in 1990, focusing our efforts on the American experience. This project would integrate the Jewish people’s eternal love of music with its commitment to education, a commitment shared by the Milken Family Foundation since 1982.
The Milken Archive has grown exponentially into an artistic community encompassing composers and performers, Jews and non-Jews alike, the depth and scope of which I could not have imagined at the outset. The eager response to the international release of 50 Milken Archive discs on the Naxos label propelled us to develop this Virtual Museum site. The unprecedented availability of recordings, oral histories and commentaries will broaden public awareness of the various forms of Jewish musical expression that have contributed significantly to American Jewish cultural identity and to the music world in general. In the process, we also hope to encourage present and future composers and performers to express Jewish themes in their music.
The diverse discoveries and directions taken during the Milken Archive’s development continue to fascinate me, from painstaking efforts to record Kurt Weil’s epic Eternal Road to hearing the Vienna Boys Choir add Hebrew-language works to their repertoire, from recreating the authentic sounds of Yiddish theater to sitting with composer Hermann Berlinski—returning to Berlin for the first time since fleeing the Nazis—as he coached German musicians recording his Sabbath eve masterpiece, Avodat Shabbat.
The extensive and enthusiastic feedback from cantors, composers, conductors and, yes, music critics has reinforced our commitment to make this vast content more accessible. And perhaps one of the greatest affirmations of this often demanding mission was expressed in this letter from Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles:
As one who loves the Jewish people and its cultural life, I offer you my deepest thanks and my warmest blessings on this accomplishment. On my shelf, I have a copy of the Torah, a Talmud, a set of Midrash, and the works of Maimonides. And beside them, I have the CD’s of the Milken Archive. They are that important to the Jewish people!
I have been touched and enriched by such responses, which reflect the efforts of talented, passionate and committed individuals around the world who have participated in the project’s evolution. As the Milken Archive enters its third decade, it is my sincere hope that your own explorations of the Virtual Museum will be infinitely rewarded by education, entertainment and, above all, inspiration.