Sid Robinovitch studied briefly at Indiana University and then received his doctorate from the University of Illinois—in communications, rather than music—and proceeded to teach social sciences at York University, in Toronto. Since 1977, however, he has devoted himself to music, specifically to composition, after studying with Samuel Dolin at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. A number of his works are based on world folklore, including programmatic pieces grounded in folktales; and he has written many artistic arrangements of Ladino folksongs. Other concert works on Jewish themes include his Talmud Suite, for a cappella chorus; Shirim, a cantata for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, based on medieval Spanish Hebrew poetry and including texts in Portuguese as well as Hebrew; Suite for Klezmer Band and Orchestra, which synthesizes traditional eastern European wedding-band idioms and modern symphonic techniques; Ani Maamin, incidental music of a play by Elie Wiesel for violin, viola, and cello; a concert setting of the Yom Kippur leitmotif melody for the pronouncement kol nidre, for solo guitar; Adieu Babylon in three versions—violin, viola, or cello, each with piano; Canciones Sefardies, settings of Ladino folk poetry for medium voice and guitar; Mosaic of Jewish Folksongs in Ladino and Hebrew; Rodas Recordada for mixed chorus, tenor solo, and cello, to a text in Spanish and Ladino by Guillermo Diaz-Plaja; Shir Hanagid, a large-scale choral work with tenor solo, narrator, and instrumental ensemble, to a text by the 11th-century Spanish Hebrew poet Samuel ibn Nagrella in Hebrew, with a spoken English translation; Three Songs from Medieval Jewish Life, for mixed chorus; and Sons of Jacob, for violin and piano. Robinovitch has also composed settings of the Hebrew liturgy, including one of the hymn adon olam and another for the ḥatzi kaddish, the form of the doxology recited and intoned prior to the silently recited core liturgy known as the amida (lit., standing, since that set of prayers is said standing).
Among Robinovitch’s other interesting and sometimes eclectic works outside the Jewish realm are his choral settings of poetry by the American author Erica Jong, titled The Eggplant Epithalamion and Chinese Food; Tangbiche, incidental music for electronic synthesizer, for a documentary film on Tibetan monks; Prairie Sketches—seven pieces for chamber orchestra to poetry by Miriam Waddington; Westminster Fanfare, for percussion and strings; African Songs—settings of African folk poetry; The Coming of the Teddy Bears, for a cappella chorus; Letters from Brahms, a series of settings of letters by Johannes Brahms to Frau Joachim and Clara Schumann, wives of famous fellow composers; Psalms of Experience, a choral work in which the textures are infused with elements of Balinese music and rhythmic chanting; and Dreaming Lolita, a dramatic retelling in poetic form of the Nabokov novel. He has also composed for radio and television, including the theme for CBC-TV’s satirical comedy series The Newsroom. A recording devoted entirely to his music features Bramwell Tovey conducting the Winnipeg Symphony.
By: Neil W. Levin