FOR MUSICIANS, PERFORMING IS A MODE OF SELF-EXPRESSION. For the great Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi, it is also an opportunity to perpetuate a spiritual legacy.
Son of an Auschwitz survivor, Mizrahi told Milken Archive Artistic Director Dr. Neil Levin that he is constantly aware that an entire people and their culture were nearly destroyed during the Holocaust.
"It's always in the front of my mind," said Mizrahi, "that when I sing Jewish music and hazzanut, whether on the pulpit or the stage, not only am I preserving the music, but I'm affirming the existence of the Jewish people and the culture that was doomed."
Mizrahi's contributions to that legacy are extensive. He is one of the world’s leading cantors and his command of Hebrew liturgical music has been received with rave reviews, both in his numerous cantorial concerts and on his popular CD, "Chants Mystiques."
Currently hazzan of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, Mizrahi is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Cantors Institute (now the H.L. Miller Cantorial School) and was a student of Hazzan David Kussevitsky and a protégé of world-renowned Cantor Moshe Ganchoff.
Another strong musical influence on the Greek-born cantor was his mother. In a March 2002 interview on WBEZ Radio's "Eight Forty-Eight" program, host Steve Edwards asked Mizrahi where he derived his passion for music. "My mother imbued in me a love of music in general," he said, adding that his mother had studied at the famous Odeon Music School in Athens when she was 17. "When I was four or five years old, my mom and dad used to take me to the Zappion, the
It was at one such garden concert that a famous Greek troubadour enchanted the young Alberto. "I drank in his songs," he said. "I really dream of those songs day and night."
Mizrahi has recorded several works for the Milken Archive, often combining modern sounds with traditional Jewish music. In jazz legend Dave Brubeck's The Gates of Justice, the tenor cantor sings Hebrew Scriptures while baritone Kevin Deas sings the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. In Ofer Ben-Amots' Celestial Dialogues, Mizrahi teams up with clarinetist David Krakauer in a musical meeting of cantorial and klezmer styles. He also recorded Martin Kalmanoff's musical setting of the Twenty-Third Psalm.
When asked by the Archive about his thoughts on preserving American Jewish music of the 20th century, Mizrahi replied, "I don’t think I have adequate words to explain how important it is that we archive the music of the Jewish people. In America and everywhere…to say that this is the most important project of its kind is truly an understatement."