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Shavuot, the festival celebrating the anniversary of the Jews receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai, begins at nightfall on May 26. Since the early 20th century, with the proliferation of kibbutzim in Palestine/Israel, the festival began reclaiming and reinventing its agricultural roots as a celebration of the season’s first harvest. Known as Ḥag ha'bikkurim (Festival of the First Fruits), the celebration involves -- among other things -- songs and dances from modern Israel. In 1947, while musical director at the Brandeis Camp, composer Max Helfman honored both the festival and the land of Israel with a choral pageant based on Israeli folk and pioneer songs. Collectively, Helfman’s piece offers a capsule history of the pioneer movement from the earliest wave of immigration in the 19th century until the late 1940s. Learn more about the festival and listen to Helfman’s Ḥag habikkurim. (Photo credit: yanec via Flickr)
The Steel City is alive with the sounds of woodwinds, strings, brass and percussion, as the annual Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival is running through June 3. The concert series is “devoted to improving cultural life for Pittsburgh's Jewish and artistic communities at large” and has a concentration on classical music. A featured concert includes names familiar to Milken Archive fans: native son David Stock is conducting clarinetist David Krakauer (pictured) and others in Osvaldo Golijov’s Ayre, a Sephardi song cycle that melds Hebrew, Christian and Arab texts. Those who can’t make it to the festival might appreciate Krakauer’s work in Golijov’s Rocketekya, which is meant to symbolize an ancient sound (the shofar) being propelled into the future by a rocket.
Israel-born composer and conductor Abraham Kaplan has stated that Psalms of Abraham, his lively cantata comprising 12 original settings of 11 Psalms (or excerpts) from the biblical Book of Psalms, is meant to reflect human nature’s web of emotions. “It is in the nature of things that emotions that fill our hearts and souls do not do so in an orderly fashion … that we rarely are completely sad or totally happy,” At the piece’s 1980 premiere, Kaplan said, “Most of the time we are somewhere between these two extremes, experiencing two or more emotions, which are intermingled or which occur in quick succession.” And what better way to feel the emotional ups and downs of the piece than by listening to it performed by the world’s premiere children’s choir? Twelve years ago this month, the Milken Archive partnered with the famous Vienna Boys Choir to capture Kaplan’s work.