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Think you've heard Kol nidre? You might want to think again. Composer Arnold Schoenberg's rendition of the traditional prayer recited on the eve of Yom Kippur uses one of the most ubiquitous melodies of the Ashkenazi world as a jumping-off point for a highly original and personal artistic statement. Listeners familiar with the accessible yet evocative melody of the traditional version might be jarred by Schoenberg’s haunting organ parts, modern percussion, and dramatic narration. But, if we consider the broader context in which the work came to be, we can open our ears to this attestation of Schoenberg’s commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people. This recording—a world premiere of this version of the piece—was released in 2011 by the Milken Archive and is accompanied by an extensive essay discussing the personal, social, and theological conflicts and issues that simmered to the surface as the composer became immersed in the task of completing this work. Listen and learn.
Born September 23, 1901, Israel Alter was one of the great virtuoso cantors of his generation and one of the most erudite exponents of hazzanut. His concert appearances and recordings elicited glowing praise for his brilliant dramatic tenor voice and for the dignity he brought to cantorial expression. He was also revered for his knowledge of cantorial history and its stylistic and interpretive traditions, as well as for the information he possessed from his former acquaintance with and recollections about so many famous cantorial personalities who were no longer alive. His setting of Atta ḥonantanu, a cantorial art song for voice and piano featuring the venerable Alberto Mizrahi, was released earlier this month in the Milken Archive’s Volume 14, Golden Voices in the Golden Land: The Great Age of Cantorial Art in America. Listen in.
Cantor Aaron Bensoussan is unique in that he is equally well-versed in the cantorial practices of both the Ashkenazi world and the eastern Sephardi tradition of his native Morocco. His setting of the standard liturgical poem used to welcome the Sabbath was one of first compositions, and it remains one of his best known. The spontaneity with which the melody was composed (“It just came to me,” the cantor-composer has said) is reflected in this recording, which was released by the Milken Archive last year in Volume 2, A Garden Eastward: Sephardi Inspiration. Bensoussan’s vocal delivery—simple and unadorned with the virtuosity often associated with cantorial art—conveys the text in a subtle yet impactful manner. Combined with the quasi-call-and-response support of a chorus and the accompanying oud and darbouka, the result is one of the most unique and enjoyable recordings in the Milken Archive. Listen in.