On the initiative of Lowell Milken and the Milken Family Foundation, plans for the first recordings of the Milken Archive got started in 1990 under the direction of composer and producer Michael Isaacson. Between 1990 and 1993 a number of liturgical and chamber works from the 19th century to the present day were recorded in collaboration with faculty and students of the prestigious Eastman School of Music. Highlights included world premiere recordings of sacred works by Leonard Bernstein, among which was Bernstein's first-known composition, a setting of Psalm 148.
In the mid-1990s, the Foundation established an Advisory Board together with an Editorial Committee, headed by music historian, conductor and Jewish Theological Seminary music professor, Neil W. Levin as artistic director. Together, the Board and the Foundation greatly expanded the scope of the project and the original recording plan. The goal was — and is — to record the broadest possible spectrum of music pertaining to American Jewish life and culture in all its variety, encompassing all musical categories. With the encouragement of Lowell Milken, plans were developed to engage a variety of leading artists, choruses and orchestras from around the world to record this repertoire. Recording industry veteran Paul Schwendener was appointed as Artist and Repertoire Adviser to manage the recording program. Assisted by the entire Board and a staff of appointed specialists in various fields, Levin and Schwendener took up the task of fulfilling Milken's broad vision.
By spring of 1998 the Archive had completed the first of several recordings by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Gerard Schwarz, as well as the Slovak National Orchestra and the Berlin Radio Symphony under the batons of Samuel Adler, Stephen Gunzenhauser and Joseph Silverstein. Renowned violin virtuoso Elmar Oliveira was featured in the first-ever recording of Joseph Achron's first violin concerto, based on Hebraic-liturgical themes, but not performed since its premiere in the 1920s. Other highlights of these sessions included Adler's Symphony No. 5 with Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Paul Schoenfield's Klezmer Rondos with soloists Alberto Mizrahi and Scott Goff, Max Helfman's entire Torah Service with Cantor Raphael Frieder, a re-discovered opera by David Tamkin, The Dybbuk, and the premiere orchestral recording of Stephen Wolpe's ballet suite about Moses, The Man from Midian. Recordings of smaller chamber and solo works, as well as cantorial and other sacred music, continued at Eastman and in New York. Under Adler's direction, a complete Sabbath Eve Service according to classical American Reform tradition was completed with the New York Cantorial Choir (an ensemble composed of professional cantors and singers together with cantorial students from the Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College). Sephardi liturgical music of the colonial period — the first Jewish music in America — was recorded by members of the choir of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (Sheerith Israel), the first and oldest synagogue in the New World.
Several months later recording activities commenced in London, with the participation of the Oxford Philomusica Orchestra and the London Synagogue Singers with Cantor Benzion Miller, the English Chamber Choir and both the Bochman and the Bingham String Quartets. Meanwhile, in the United States continuing projects with the Eastman Chamber Players were complemented by new recordings of the New York Cantorial Choir and Schola Hebraica, under Adler's and Levin's direction. Featured cantors included Raphael Frieder, Robert Bloch, Ida Rae Cahana, and Alberto Mizrahi — who began recording an entire Rosh Hashono morning [musaf] synagogue service with full choir, the first such endeavor ever attempted. Mid-1999 brought new projects with the Seattle Symphony and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Schwarz. Clarinetist and klezmer exponent David Krakauer made his Milken Archive debut with works by Weinberg and Ellstein. In July the first in a series of recording projects with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra took place under the direction of Jorge Mester, with vocal soloists Ana María Martínez, Alberto Mizrahi and Benzion Miller. Premiere recordings of Marvin David Levy's Canto de Los Marranos, a powerful work that portrays the plight of "secret Jews" in Medieval Spain, and excerpts from the opera-ballet by Lazare Saminsky, The Dream of Ariel,were added to the Archive. That same month saw the introduction in London of the celebrated Finchley Children's Choir to the Archive roster.
The American Hebrew choral tradition came further into focus that spring and in autumn 1999 with liturgical and other works recorded by the University of Southern Mississippi Choir under the direction of Timothy Koch, and Texas Tech University Choir, directed by Kenneth Davis. Highlights included Michael Isaacson's Aspects of a Great Miracle, Jack Gottlieb's Love Songs for Sabbath, excerpts of Ernst Bloch's Avodat Hakodesh (Sacred Service) and various pieces by Charles Davidson. Shortly thereafter the acclaimed BBC Singers recorded a full program under the baton of Israeli conductor Avner Itai, including works by Hugo Weisgall, Ralph Shapey, Kurt Weill, Hermann Berlinski, Leonard Bernstein (Hashkiveinu, from the Sabbath Eve liturgy) and Arnold Schoenberg (the first recording of the original version of his Kol Nidre).
Also in London during that time the Finchley Children's Choir recorded Charles Davidson's A Singing of Angels - a set of Yiddish songs rendered in dramatic English translations — and the Jewish Heritage Youth Choir recorded works by Issachar Miron and Jack Gottlieb. Rounding out the year in December were recordings in Worcester, Massachusetts, of works by Yehudi Wyner, including incidental music to the play The Mirror, featuring such distinguished artists as clarinetist Richard Stolzman.
The year 2000 was heralded by the first Archive recordings of music for concert band. In January the students of the Cincinnati Conservatory Wind Ensemble recorded Bruce Adolphe's powerful musical portrayal of the Holocaust, entitled Out of the Whirlwind.Tenor John Aler was the featured soloist. Conductor Gerard Schwarz and clarinetist David Krakauer teamed up with the Barcelona Symphony to record Robert Starer's klezmer-oriented concerto, Kli Zemer for B-flat and bass clarinets. This unusual work, and Krakauer's charismatic performance were documented in a 10-minute TV news feature that was broadcast throughout Spain. Also during that week, conductor Karl Anton Rickenbacher recorded Harold Shapero's Three Hebrew Songs with tenor Chris Merritt. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's complete Sacred Service for Sabbath Eve received its first recording with the performance by the famed London Chorus under the direction of Ronald Corp, featuring baritone Ted Christopher.
One of the most ambitious projects initiated by the Milken Archive came to fruition during yet another week of sessions in Barcelona. Cantor Benzion Miller recorded six demanding cantorial masterpieces from the early-mid 20th century "Golden-Age of Hazzanut," and two Yiddish theatrical "old-favorites" from the same era, with orchestrations created especially for the Milken Archive. Cantor Miller, a fifth-generation cantor of the Bobover Hassidic tradition, brought back to life the glorious sounds of these showpieces that were originally sung by such luminaries as Koussevitsky, Rosenblatt and Pinchik. The sessions were conducted by Elli Jaffe, Music Director of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. Another highlight was the world premiere recording of a composition by Philip Glass, Psalm 126, commissioned to celebrate the State of Israel's 50th anniversary. Rounding out the program in Barcelona were recordings of Kurt Weill's unusual orchestral version of Hatikva, Israel's national anthem; the newly reconstructed Palestinian Suite by noted film composer Walter Scharf; the melodious Hebrew Suite by Julius Chajes; and a cello concerto on cantorial themes by Frederick Jacobi featuring cellist Alban Gerhard under Karl-Anton Rickenbacher's baton. Also during this period excerpts from Jewish operas were recorded in Seattle: Bruce Adolphe's Mikhoels the Wise, Hugo Weisgall's Estherand Elie Siegmeister's Lady of the Lake (based on a Bernard Malamud story) with soloist including Robert McPherson and Erie Mills.
In April the great Sabbath Service, Avodat Shabbat, by Hermann Berlinski, was recorded in its entirety by the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, the Ernst Senff Chor, tenor Robert Brubaker, soprano Constance Haumann and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Shammash, under Gerard Schwarz's direction. This is Berlinski's magnum opus, and one of the most significant Jewish choral-orchestral works composed in America. The composer, then 90 years of age and originally from nearby Leipzig, traveled from the USA to attend the rehearsals and recording sessions. Though forced to escape from his home during the Third Reich, Berlinski seemed truly overjoyed that a German chorus and orchestra were now preserving his most important work. During an interview at the recording session, he remarked: "That somebody who was born in Germany and then became a religious and political refugee returns—doing this now with a German orchestra and German choir—deep down I feel that it pays to have lived that long to go through that experience." His comments explaining the spiritual meaning behind the music, spoken in German to the chorus and orchestra, held everyone enthralled. His presence was truly an inspiration.
Also recorded in Berlin were major excerpts of Judith Zaimont's Friday Evening Service. Lowell Milken's presence at the Berlin sessions offered an opportunity to present the context and significance of the Archive project to the performers as well as to the media. German Federal Radio conducted interviews with Milken, Levin and Berlinski, and their comments were integrated into a special program featuring Avodat Shabbat that was broadcast throughout Europe in August, 2000.
The elegant historical setting of the Casino Zoegernitz, built in 1837 on the slopes of the Vienna Woods, and the setting for many of Johann Strauss' concerts, provided the venue in May 2000 for a history-making series of recordings. These were the first Jewish music recordings with the world-famous Vienna Boys Choir (Wiener Saengerknaben), the Chorus Viennensis (Alumni of the Boys Choir) and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, with soloists Cantor Joseph Malovany (New York) and Cantor Shimon Craimer (London). The results include recordings of Abraham Kaplan's Psalms of Abraham, Israeli folksong settings by Max Helfman and orchestrated by Charles Davidson, the cantorial masterpieceMin Hametzar by Leo Low (originally written for a Carnegie-Hall concert featuring a chorus of 200 cantors!) and several other works. Founded over 500 years ago, the Vienna Boys Choir has earned its place as the world's most celebrated boy choir ensemble. Singing in Hebrew was an unusual experience for the boys, who bring the living traditions of Mozart, Haydn and Schubert (who was himself a member of the choir) to a vast international audience. Since making the Milken Archive recordings, the Vienna Boys Choir has included American Jewish music selections from the Milken Archive in its international concerts.
In June of 2000 the famous Los Angeles Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra and the Los Angeles Zimriah Chorale, together with the Choral Society of Southern California under the direction of Nicholas Strimple, revived one of the great masterpieces of the Yiddish-American choral movement of the mid-20th century. Max Helfman's panoramic choral-orchestral tone poem, Di naye hagode, on a text by Itsik Fefer about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, received an outstanding recording in splendid acoustics of Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. Together with the bass soloist Ira Bigeleisen, the same choral forces also recorded Maurice Rauch's Yiddish cantata, Oyb nit nokh hekher ("If not Higher"), based on a Hassidic legend.
In the setting of London's 130-year-old New West End Synagogue, Cantor Benzion Miller and New York's Schola Hebraeica male choir completed an entire choral S'liḥot Service — the midnight service of the penitential liturgy held prior to Rosh Hashono. This service, with musical settings from the American Orthodox tradition, including compositions by the great cantors Yossele Rosenblatt, Moshe Koussevitsky, Israel Schorr and others, was accomplished over the course of fifteen recording sessions. Schola Hebraeica again joined the Finchley Children for additional recordings of traditional liturgical works by Joshua Lind. The New London Children's Choir (whose soundtrack for The Lion King has made it known throughout the world alongside its more classical repertoire) also made its Archive debut in Hebrew selections. During the same period a second recording co-production with the BBC Singers was completed at the famous Abbey Road studios, again under the direction of Avner Itai. Cantor Meir Finkelstein sang the tenor solo parts in several of his own compositions, including a Wedding Service. Other highlights of the BBC Singers recording sessions included Yehudi Wyner's Sabbath Eve Service — with the composer present, four motets by Paul Schoenfield, and the Sabbath Maariv service by the great Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim, who was commissioned by American synagogues to compose this work. Elsewhere in London, an exhilarating weekend of recordings was completed by the outstanding Laudibus chorus. This chorus, a group of 26 young adults, mostly of university age, form a core alumni group of the famous National Youth Chorus of Great Britain. They recorded Judith Zaimont's dramatic Parable of Abram and Isaac, Lucas Foss' Lamdeini with six percussion instruments, and Herbert Fromm's madrigals on Holyday-related texts. Finally, a set of Lazar Weiner's Yiddish songs for voice and piano were recorded by Meir Finklestein, accompanied by the composer's son, Yehudi Wyner. Overall, 32 recording sessions were accomplished in this 3-week period in London!
The last quarter of 2000 saw the completion of several major choral/orchestral recordings for the Milken Archive. Three famous orchestras participated in premiere recordings of three sacred services, three cantatas, two concertos, a festival overture, a ballet and the rebirth of a long-lost musical pageant composed by seven legendary 20th century composers. The legendary Sir Neville Marriner and his Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chorus and Orchestra recorded Thomas Beveridge's 1994 ecumenical work Yizkor Requiem with soloists Ana Maria Martinez, Robert Brubaker and Elizabeth Shammash. This unique work combines elements of the Jewish and Christian memorial services. Sir Neville warmly embraced the work, and commented later in an interview that he would like the Yizkor Requiem to be performed at his own memorial service! Also recorded at these London sessions was the oratorio Naomi and Ruth by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, with soloist Ana Maria Martinez.
In Prague, in October of 2000, the complete Sacred Service by Darius Milhaud, one of the undisputed masterpieces of Jewish liturgical music, received its first complete recording by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Gerard Schwarz. Israeli baritone Yaron Windmueller was the soloist. This historic occasion was marked not only by the recording venue – the gilded Rudolfinum concert hall where in former times Dvorak, Mahler, and Brahms premiered some of their greatest works – but also by the fact that the live concert (following a week of recording sessions) by the Milken Archive served as the opening event of the International Jewish Music Festival in Prague. Prior to the performance of the Milhaud Sacred Service, the Israeli ambassador to the Czech Republic held a reception at which Lowell Milken was invited to speak about the history and significance of American Jewish music. Also included in the Prague recordings and concert was Ernst Toch's Cantata of the Bitter Herbs, a late-Romantic work featuring the vocal quartet of Carol Myers, Elisabeth Shammash, Richard Clement and Ted Christopher. Opening the program was a piece intimately bound to the legendary Jewish ghetto of Prague: The Golem Suite by Joseph Achron. Following the concert, the Czech Philharmonic's executive director and the orchestra committee informed the Milken Archive representatives that this concert was the first in living memory in which the Czech Philharmonic had performed only works that were new to the orchestra. The musician's response was so positive, that the head of the orchestra committee expressed interest in developing future projects devoted to American Jewish music.
Several weeks later Maestro Yoel Levi led the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and the Ernst Senff Chorus in an ambitious program that included the klezmer-inspired Viola Concerto of Paul Schoenfield featuring the principal violist of the Cleveland Orchestra, Robert Vernon. Cantor Raphael Frieder sang excerpts from the Sacred Service of Israeli composer Marc Lavry with chorus and orchestra. A major symphonic tone poem based on the biblical heroine Esther, Midrash Esther, by Jan Meyerowitz was also brought to life from the sole surviving manuscript that was restored and type-set by the Milken Archive. Rounding out the program was the newly revised dramatic cantata Masada by renowned opera composer Marvin David Levy. Set for tenor, chorus and orchestra, Masada relates the well-known historical event of Jewish resistance and sacrifice, and was originally composed in the 1970s to showcase the great tenor/cantor Richard Tucker. For the Milken Archive recording the composer revised Masada, and was also present at the sessions to lend his inspiration. Soloist for the recording was the dramatic tenor Richard Troxell. Following the completion of these recordings, a public concert was given under the patronage of the German Federal Radio (DeutschlandRadio). The audience in the concert hall was extended by a live radio broadcast throughout Germany and neighboring countries. A prominent radio personality, Norbert Ely, introduced the program, and spoke about the importance of the Milken Archive as a force for the renewal of Jewish musical repertoire in the concert hall and synagogue. The concert received a positive review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany's leading daily newspaper.
In December 2000 one of the 20th century's most audacious musical enterprises came back to life - in a Milken Archive recording - after being presumed "lost" for fifty years. This work, the Genesis Suite, was created within the community of exiled composers living in Los Angeles during World War II. In 1944 Nathaniel Shilkret, the A&R director of RCA Victor Records and a noted film composer, approached six émigré composers to collaborate with him on a musical pageant for orchestra, chorus and narrator that would depict highlights from the Book of Genesis. The list of participating composers reads like a "Who's Who" of the musical luminaries of that time: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (exiled from Italy), Darius Milhaud from France, Alexandre Tansman from Poland, Ernst Toch from Austria, and most astonishing of all, the two diametrically opposed leaders of 20th century music Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. All of these composers rose to the task of depicting the famous stories from Genesis in music. The suite begins with Schoenberg's vision of the "Chaos before Creation," and then proceeds with the stories of the "Creation of the World" (Shilkret), "Adam and Eve" (Tansman), and "Cain and Abel" (Milhaud). A dramatic highpoint is reached in "The Flood" by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, with unmistakable references to the contemporary situation in 1944. The following movement, "The Rainbow/The Covenant" by Ernst Toch expresses the spirit of hope. (In fact, for Ernst Toch who suffered nearly 10 years of creative block due to the experience of exile, his participation in the Genesis Suite marked the breakthrough to his last great creative period.) The suite ends with Stravinsky's vision of "The Tower of Babel" and the dispersion of the peoples across the earth.
The Genesis Suite was performed only once in 1945 by the Jansens Symphony Orchestra with the famous actor Edward Arnold as narrator. A private recording was made of this performance. Several years later a fire in the house of Nathaniel Shilkret destroyed all of the performance materials. Only Stravinsky and Schoenberg had kept copies of their scores, so the other music was presumed lost forever. In 1998 the Milken Archive investigated rumors that a musicologist had rediscovered some of the manuscripts to the Genesis Suite. The rumors turned out to be true. Musicologist James Westby found hand-written full scores of the Milhaud and Castelnuovo-Tedesco works filed at the Library of Congress. He also found abbreviated musical sketches for the movements by Shilkret, Tansman and Toch. The Milken Archive commissioned one of Hollywood's top orchestrators, Pat Russ, to re-construct the orchestrations for these three fragmentary movements. In addition to the sketches, Russ also utilized the private 1945 recording to discern the composers' intentions. Finally, the five missing movements were fully prepared as a performing edition by the Milken Archive. John Mauceri was engaged to conduct the recording in Berlin.
Fate struck again just three days before the first session: a serious illness prevented John Mauceri from traveling to Berlin. Gerard Schwarz, who was at that time preparing for a major concert with the French National Radio Orchestra, agreed to fly from Paris to Berlin the morning after his concert, and to learn the entire Genesis Suite just one day before the first recording session! Once again, Maestro Schwarz rose to the occasion. The Genesis Suite was given a superb recording under his direction.
After completing three days of Genesis Suite recordings, Gerard Schwarz conducted works by Sholom Secunda, Yehezkiel Braun and Darius Milhaud. The celebrated violin virtuoso Elmar Oliveira brought to life the long-lost "Concerto of Cantillations" by Sholom Secunda, including a violin cadenza especially composed by Oliveira for this world premiere recording. The manuscript of the Secunda concerto was discovered by the Milken Archive while searching through the posthumous papers of the composer. As Neil Levin has noted, this concerto features many of the best-known melodies from the American synagogue tradition. Rounding out the week in Berlin were excerpts from the Braun Hallel Service featuring tenor Matthew Kirchner, excerpts from the ballet Moïses by Milhaud, and a delightful festival overture by Secunda entitled Yom b'Kibbutz. (A Day on the Kibbutz)
The productive collaboration between the Milken Archive and the Eastman School of Music, where many Archive recordings have been made since the early 1990s, continued in January 2001 with the recording of a modern sacred service setting by Charles Davidson, "…and David Danced Before the Lord." Composed in the jazz idiom, this service was performed by faculty and students of the Eastman School, with Douglas Webster as soloist. The composer was present to supervise the recording. The Milken Archive also recorded A Prayer by Shulamit Ran, who was also present at the sessions. The tunefulAdagio and Hassidic Dance by Leon Stein completed the sessions.
Several days later, in New York City, guitarist Eliot Fisk joined soprano Lucy Shelton and horn player David Jolley to record Bruce Adolphe's cycle Ladino Songs of Love and Suffering under the supervision of the composer.
In the same month an ambitious program of Jewish opera excerpts were successfully recorded by the Opera Department of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor School of Music under the direction of Professor Kenneth Kiesler. The earliest of the four opera excerpts recorded, The Golem by Abraham Ellstein, features a dramatic scene wherein a mythical Golem is brought to life. From David Amram's Holocaust-themed opera The Final Ingredient the Archive recorded the last vignette in which a Passover seder is held by prisoners in a concentration camp. David Schiff's Gimpel the Fool (based on an I.B. Singer story) was represented by delightfully comic scenes including a singing goat and a rioutous public divorce. FromMerchant and Pauper by Paul Schoenfield several scenes were recorded to highlight this musical parable about riches and spirituality. The quality of the orchestra and the singers was outstanding. (In fact, since the 2001 recording sessions several of the vocal soloists have embarked on major professional careers) Much credit is due to Ken Kiesler for the intense preparation that clearly allowed the student performers to enter into the spirit of the music, and to achieve a truly professional level of technical ability. All three living composers, Amram, Schiff, and Schoenfield, attended the sessions, and also participated in a panel discussion with students, moderated by Neil Levin.
Riverside Church was the setting for sacred music recordings in February when Neil Levin conducted the New York Cantorial Choir in popular selections of liturgical music for various life-cycle occasions. Highlights included settings of wedding music by Maurice Barash for cantor, choir, harp, flute and violin, memorial music by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, liturgical settings by Charles Davidson, Zavel Zilberts and Max Helfman, and Adolph Katchko's Avodath Aharon. Three cantors were featured as soloists: Robert Abelson, Simon Spiro and Raphael Frieder.
Dave Brubeck was featured with his famous trio and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society in a recording of his oratorio The Gates of Justice. This hour-long work combines texts from the Hebrew Scriptures and Hillel with writings by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to deliver a spiritual message exhorting all peoples to pursue the path of justice, tolerance, and compassion. To realize these ambitious ideals in music, Dave Brubeck composed his oratorio for a tenor cantor singing melodies from the Jewish tradition, and a baritone singing melodies from the African-American tradition. A large chorus together with a brass and percussion ensemble provides the musical setting for the two vocal soloists. Integrated within this unique compositional structure is the Dave Brubeck Trio which shines throughout The Gates of Justice in brilliant improvisational passages. The recording took place on March 25, 2001, following a concert performance of The Gates of Justice in Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall the previous evening. The occasion of the concert was a celebration of Dave Brubeck's 80th birthday. Cantor Alberto Mizrahi and baritone Kevin Deas were the vocal soloists. Jazz-bassist Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones were featured in the Trio with Dave Brubeck at the piano. Russell Gloyd led the combined musical forces. The Gates of Justice was premiered in 1969, following a tumultuous year of political unrest and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. At the instigation of Rabbi Charles D. Mintz, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods presented the first performance. Rabbi Mintz has commented as follows: "Dave Brubeck is a product not only of Judaeo-Christian thinking but of the humanistic tradition of the Enlightenment. His identification with Jews, blacks, and with all who have known the lash of oppression is anything but accidental. It is the by-product of his love for humanity and is an integral part of this ability to share in the joy and the pain of his fellow man."
From March 27th to 30th the auditorium of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City resounded with various recordings for the Milken Archive. Vocal soloists Karen Longwell, Richard Lalli, and Matthew Chellis, and a chamber ensemble conducted by Paul Hostetter recorded several scenes from Robert Strassburg's pastoral opera Chelm, thus adding to the Milken Archive volume dedicated to Jewish opera. Clarinetist David Krakauer recorded Rocketekya, a unique chamber music composition (including electronic viola played by Martha Mooke) composed by Oswaldo Golijov. It depicts a Klezmer band sent into outer space in a rocket. Composer Gershon Kingsley conducted an instrumental ensemble and vocal soloists Amy Goldstein, Karen Longwell, and Larry Picard in his moving tribute to victims of the Holocaust, entitled Voices from the Shadows. This dramatic song-cycle features original texts in various languages written by victims of the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, the London Chorus and the New London Children Chorus, both conducted by Ronald Corp, recorded four works for the Milken Archive from March 29th to 31st in London. Irving Berlin's famous song Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, based on the poem by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, received a spirited performance, as did the Kiddush by Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Shirat Miriam L'Shabbat, one of the major works of Miriam Gideon, was recorded for the first time, as was Darius Milhaud's Cantata from Proverbs. Soloists for these London recordings included baritone Patrick Mason and tenor Jeremy Cohen.
In May of 2001 the Vienna Boys Choir, Chorus Viennensis, and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra were joined by Cantor Herstik from the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem to record The Day of Rest by Sholom Kalib. Cantor Benzion Miller from New York joined the boys for a rousing performance of the hassidic Hammavdil by Aaron Tishkowsky. Gerald Wirth conducted. This presents a cross section of great cantorial and folk music from the 20th century. At the end of the last recording session all of the Vienna Boys Choir cheered, and speeches were made thanking the Milken Archive for the opportunity to discover and record American Jewish music.
One of the most ambitious projects of the Milken Archive came into full swing during April and May: reviving the music of the American Yiddish theater. In the space of just four weeks the Archive staff, working together with four top orchestrators from Hollywood studios, created scores and parts for 19 brand-new orchestrations of Yiddish theater songs for the Vienna recording sessions. The first step was for the Archive's Artistic Director Neil Levin and Yiddish theater specialist Zalmen Mlotek to meet with carefully chosen singers in New York, and to select the appropriate songs from the vast Yiddish theater repertoire. Then these songs, which existed mostly as simple piano arrangements, were delivered to orchestrators in Los Angeles. The Archive was fortunate to obtain the services of some of the best in the business: Pat Russ and his colleagues Frank Bennett, Jon Kull, Warren Sherk, Jonathon Sacks, Harvey Cohen, Ira Hearshon, and Paul Henning – all of who regularly work in a variety of musical styles on major Hollywood film scores. In addition to the original piano arrangements, the orchestrators were provided with historical reference materials. The goal was to recreate the "ideal sound" of a Yiddish theater performance as it might have been heard in one of the popular Lower East Side theaters in the 1920s and 30s. Research indicated that in those days the ideal orchestra size would have been around 25 players, featuring 1 or 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 1 trumpet, 1 trombone, piano, percussion, occasionally harp or accordion, and a small string section. Unfortunately there are no existing full-scores of any Yiddish theater songs from this period. Also, there are no recordings from the period that feature a full orchestra of 25 players, since in those days so many musicians would not have been able to fit into the usually cramped recording studios! Therefore the orchestrators were taking a journey of the imagination as they sought to recapture the original sound and spirit of this wonderful music.
The delivery of the finished orchestrations from Hollywood was only the beginning of an enormous amount of work at the Archive. The instrumental parts were extracted from the full scores, refinements were made to the Yiddish texts, and several stages of proofreading were undertaken before the beautifully printed final scores and parts were ready to be shipped to Vienna.
The Yiddish theater song recordings commenced in Vienna in May, immediately following the sessions with the Vienna Boys Choir. Two venues were used: the neo-classical Baumgarten Casino near Schoenbrunn Castle, and the legendary Sofiensaele (where Georg Solti recorded operas with the Vienna Philharmonic in the 1950s-60s.) Once again the Archive turned to the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, which delivered delightfully idiomatic performances that captured the Viennese influence of many Yiddish theater songs. Soprano Amy Goldstein delivered memorable performances of several Tango-inspired songs including Ikh hob dikh tsufil lib (I Love You Too Much), as well as heartwarming duets with tenor Simon Spiro. For his own solo numbers, Simon Spiro led off with the upbeat Der nayer sher (The New Sher) and the wonderfully atmospheric Di alte tsigayner (The Old Gypsy) for which the orchestra was augmented by the Hungarian folk instrument known as a cimbalom. (The cimbalom looks like a large zither on legs, and it is played with a pair of wooden, spoon-like mallets.) The instrument has a long tradition in klezmer music, and the performer at the session, American musicologist Joshua Horowitz is an expert.) Other soloists for Yiddish theater songs included tenor Robert Bloch who sang several dance-inspired songs (with interludes on the accordion) as well as several show-stopping duets with soprano Nell Snaidas, who also recorded several solo songs for our Yiddish theater project. After one very busy week the first phase of the Archive's Yiddish theater song recordings was finished, with more sessions yet to come in Barcelona and Vienna in the fall. (Sadly, word was received several weeks after the sessions that the Sofiensaele had burned down. The Archive's recordings were perhaps the last to take place in that wonderful acoustic.
The following month in Charleston, North Carolina, composer Samuel Adler supervised choral recording sessions featuring singers from the famed Spoleto Music Festival under the direction of Tim Koch. Some of the earliest published American Jewish music was recorded for the first time, including selections from a rare 19th century hymnal The Sacred Harp of Judah that Neil Levin uncovered in his research. Another highlight of the sessions was a set of liturgical compositions by the famed synagogue composer Max Janowski, all featuring tenor Richard Troxell as soloist.
Also taking place in June of 2001 was the fourth collaboration between the Archive and the Barcelona Symphony, featuring many international soloists. One highlight was the recording of Celestial Dialogues by Israeli-American composer Ofer Ben-Amots. The title Celestial Dialogues refers to the musical meeting of the worlds of "klezmer" (represented by the solo clarinet), and "cantorial" (represented by the tenor cantor). Alberto Mizrahi and David Krakauer were the featured soloists. Alberto Mizrahi also sang Kalmanoff's popular setting of the 23rd Psalm. Another highlight of the week was the continuation of the Archive's Yiddish theater song recordings, this time featuring Broadway and Yiddish theater star Bruce Adler (from the legendary Adler family.) He recorded six comic "show-stoppers," including Hu-tsa-tsa and Hudl mit'n strudl, and was joined in two songs by clarinetist David Krakauer who added lively "klezmer" riffs. International opera star Anna Maria Martinez sang the beloved Old Jerusalem by Julius Chajes, and the moving Voices from Terezin by Robert Stern. Cantor Benzion Miller delivered a visionary performance of The Prophecy of Isaiah by Jassinowsky, thus completing his cycle of cantorial masterpieces with orchestra. Elli Jaffe conducted.
A major discovery turned out to be the romantic Piano Concerto No. 2 by Joseph Weinberg, which was also recorded in Barcelona. This large-scale work, lost for more than a half-century, was rediscovered by the Milken Archive at the municipal library of Haifa. More than three years of negotiations with the library, and above all the active intervention of Milken Archive editorial board member Edwin Seroussi, were required before the library agreed to provide a photocopy of the manuscript score. After much labor a full type-set score and parts were created. Virtuoso pianist Jorge Osorio gave a passionate performance under the baton of Karl-Anton Rickenbacher. The Weinberg Concerto freely uses popular Jewish melodies associated with the Zionist movement, and the musical texture is reminiscent of Rachmaninov and Grieg. Several people at the recording session began to refer to the work as the "Jerusalem Concerto."
Following the Barcelona sessions the Archive team moved to London where Joseph Cullen — the chorusmaster for Sir Neville Marriner's Academy of St Martin in the Fields — led the Academy Chorus in sacred works of Frederick Jacobi, Lazar Weiner and Douglas Moore, as well as in the Songs of the Night by Leon Stein based on Bialik poems, and in the Yiddish legend of Bontsche Schweig set to music by Lazar Weiner. The mesmerizing music of Robert Stern's Adon Olam for women's voices, piano and hand bells provided a memorable conclusion to these successful recordings with one of Europe's finest vocal ensembles. Soloists included Patrick Mason, Richard Troxell and Vale Rideout.
Maintaining the high standard set by the Academy Chorus was no problem as the Archive moved on the next day to its third co-production with the BBC Singers, conducted by Kenneth Kiesler. Highlights included the tenor showpiece If Not Higher by Sholom Secunda. This oratorio was written for the legendary Richard Tucker, to whom the Archive's soloist Richard Troxell paid tribute in this world premiere recording. Musical settings for the Sabbath by Marvin David Levy and David Amram featured prominently among the repertoire, as did a setting of Ma Tovu by Alexander Tansman. Ofer Ben-Amots' mystical Hashkiveinu – Song of the Angels for multiple solo-voices and percussion was recorded under the supervision of the composer.
During July Neil Levin led a marathon of recording sessions at venues in London with the Schola Hebraica male chorus from New York augmented by London singers to form a full mixed chorus, aptly called Coro Hebraico. Rehearsals and multiple recording sessions were scheduled practically every day. Beautiful settings of wedding music, traditional z'mirot, holiday music for Hannukah, and authentic American Yiddish folk songs from the 1920s and 30s comprised but a few of the many highlights. Works for chorus and instrumental ensemble, such as Maurice Goldman's Strange Happenings, Leo Low's Rosh hashanoh l'ilanoth, and Max Helfman's Hag habikurim (orchestrated by Charles Davidson) received their first-ever recordings. Participating soloists included cantors Simon Spiro (who also contributed several choral arrangements), Raphael Frieder, Ira Rhode, Naftali Herstik, Benzion Miller, and Robert Bloch.
In November of 2001 the Milken Archive commenced its largest and most complex project to date: the first recording of The Eternal Road with music by Kurt Weill. The Archive's Artistic Director Neil Levin has described this extraordinary work as follows:
The Eternal Road is an unprecedented work of art, spectacle, and pageantry in the service of a Jewish historical and ideological message. It is unique in the history of the American stage, not least for its scope, scale, vision, and sheer stature — and for the profile of its creative collaborators. It has been called a pageant, an opera, a music-drama, a staged oratorio, a biblical morality play, a biblical epic, and a biblical extravaganza — even a "Jewish passion play." That the work still defies generic definition after nearly seventy years is testament to its singularity.
The overall dramatic structure of The Eternal Road consists of a series of flashbacks to well-known biblical events — emanating from a continuous all-night vigil in an unspecified synagogue in 1930's Europe, where the Jewish community has taken refuge from a raging pogrom. The biblical scenes include choral numbers, solo vocal arias, and ensembles, composed by Kurt Weill in a wide variety of styles, from the operatic to popular idioms. The Eternal Road has been called "the most formidable project any undaunted group of repentant Jewish artists of the highest order has yet undertaken." By all reliable reports the original 1937 production was at that time the largest, most grandiose, and most costly pageant ever mounted in New York — with at least 245 actors, actresses, and singers; 1,772 costumes; 1,000 stage lights; and 26 miles of electrical wiring. The Manhattan Opera House had to be gutted and virtually rebuilt to accommodate the extravagant set designs. Despite general critical success and glowing reviews of the music, the production was too costly to produce, and ran for only 153 performances before closing forever.
For decades thereafter The Eternal Road was practically forgotten. The music was stored in various places, and some of the orchestrations were lost. In the 1990s the Kurt Weill Foundation began the arduous process of piecing together an accurate performing version, including the reconstruction of missing parts. In 2001, in close collaboration with the Weill Foundation, the Milken Archive selected 75 minutes of musical and dramatic highlights from the entire work, and planned a recording co-production with German Federal Radio in Berlin. The recordings took place, as did all of the Archive's recordings with the Berlin Radio Symphony, in the historic Jesus-Christus-Kirche (which was a home of the resistance movement during the Nazi era).
Inspired by conductor Gerard Schwarz, the cast of seven soloists (Constance Hauman, Barbara Rearick, Ian Denolfo, Vale Rideout, Karl Dent, Ted Christopher, James Maddalena), the Ernst-Senff Chorus, the Berlin Radio Children's Chorus and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra delivered outstanding performances throughout the week of recording sessions, as well as at a public concert that took place on November 19th at the Schauspielhaus, one of Berlin's most beautiful concert halls. The audience in the sold-out hall showed its enthusiasm by bringing the full cast on stage for six ovations at the end of the concert.
The last two weeks of 2001 were devoted to recording Jewish songs at the Colden Center Auditorium of Queens College. Songs by many composers, including Zavel Zilberts, Leo Low, Solomon Golub, Charles Davidson, and above all Lazar Weiner were performed by a roster of fine singers: Ida Rae Cahana, Elisabeth Shammash, Re'ut Ben Zeev, David Ossenfort, and Raphael Frieder. The pianists were John Musto and Yehudi Wyner, who accompanied songs composed by his father Lazar Weiner. Ofer Ben-Amots was present to supervise the recording of his atmospheric "Shtetl Songs." Many of the songs recorded have Yiddish texts, and are imbued with a poetic feeling and sensibility belonging to a bygone era. Thus, to revive these musical treasures, the Milken Archive enlisted the support of the legendary singer Mascha Benya, then in her 90s, to coach the singers in the authentic pronunciation and interpretation of Yiddish songs. Mascha Benya worked intensively and joyfully for many months with the singers in preparation for these recordings.
In the midst of the solo song sessions, a special daylong event took place on December 20th: a recording of "The Third Seder of the Arbeter Ring." This traditional musical ceremony, performed by the Workmen's Circle for many years during Passover, contains some of the most beautiful Jewish folk music composed in America. The musical director for this recording was Zalmen Mlotek, who is not only the current musical director of the Workmen's Circle in New York, but also whose father was instrumental in establishing the original musical tradition of the "Third Seder" in the 1920s-30s. Singers included Amy Goldstein, Elizabeth Shammash, Robert Bloch, Robert Abelson, Richard Kowalsky and Russ Ashley.
The Archive's recording activities turned to Liverpool, England in 2002 and 2004 where two of Leonard Bernstein's most famous Jewish works were performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gerard Schwarz: the ever-popular Chichester Psalms and the brooding, tempestuous, and ultimately triumphant "Kaddish" Symphony No. 3. The city of Liverpool is renowned for its great choral tradition, and both of the recordings benefited from the outstanding contributions of the Royal Philharmonic Choir and the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir. Soloists included Sir Williard White as speaker and soprano Yvonne Kenny.
Also in 2003-04 the Archive recorded the spoken narrations that are integral to a variety of important musical works. Above all, the Genesis Suite (recorded in Berlin in 2000) prominently features a dramatic narrator reciting famous biblical stories against the backdrop of full orchestra and chorus. To highlight the many moods of the Genesis Suite (which was created by seven different composers) the Archive chose to have four narrators instead of one. Leading stars participated: Tovah Feldshuh, Barbara Feldon, David Margulies and Fritz Weaver, under the direction of Isaiah Sheffer. Tovah Feldshuh also lent her unmistakable voice to Love Songs for Sabbath by Jack Gottlieb. Legendary singer and actor Theodore Bikel recited the deeply moving story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising for Max Helfman's Di naye hagode, the traditional Passover story for Ernst Toch's Cantata of the Bitter Herbs, and also the narration for David Diamond's Ahava, which commemorates the arrival of Jews in colonial America (and quotes from a letter by George Washington.)
In 2005 producer David Frost was awarded a Grammy as "Classical Producer of the Year" for five Milken Archive CDs: Dave Brubeck's Gates of Justice, Yehudi Wyner's The Mirror, Bruce Adolphe's Ladino Songs, The Genesis Suite and Scenes from Jewish Operas.
One of the Archive's most ambitious and complicated undertakings moved closer to completion in October 2006 when all of the remaining music from The Eternal Road was successfully recorded in Berlin. Following the unanimous critical acclaim for the Milken Archive's CD, Highlights from The Eternal Road, issued in 2003, the Kurt Weill Foundation was pleased to authorize the Archive to complete recording this epic work. For decades the idea of a complete Eternal Road recording remained an elusive hope. The sheer complexity of reassembling and recording the over 100 individual musical scenes, many of them fragmentary, to recreate the grand musical production that thrilled New York audiences in 1937 seemed too daunting a task. The Eternal Road calls for over 20 soloists, a large double chorus, a huge orchestra including two grand pianos and atypical (for orchestras) instruments like Hawaiian guitar and banjo.
The next challenge was to assemble an outstanding team of soloists, and to assign the many roles in The Eternal Road. Several soloists returned from the 2001 recording retuned: Karl Dent continued his interpretation of the demanding narrative role of the Rabbi; Mezzo-soprano Barbara Rearick sang the roles of Sara and Rachel; Ted Christopher sang the aria of King Solomon — the highlight of the "Building the Temple" scene. Heldentenor Dan Snyder delivered brilliant high notes as "the White Angel" and also sang the role of Joseph. Lyric tenor David Ossenfort sang the role of King David and the Heavenly Voice. Bass Harold Wilson sang Judah and Goliath. Bass-baritone Charles Robert Austin sang the roles of Abraham and of the Dark Angel. Supporting these great soloists were the wonderful Ernst Senff Chorus and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, with whom we have worked so closely in the past. They were well prepared, and performed with unflagging professionalism and passion. Highest accolades go to Gerard Schwarz, who masterfully guided the combined forces through five days and ten very ambitious recording sessions. His superb musical leadership, charisma, and positive energy kept everyone motivated to always give 100%.And so the Archive's work began early in the year by pouring over the various musical scores, manuscripts, scripts and scholarship that had been gathered at the Weill Foundation over the years. A vast jigsaw puzzle presented itself, for up until that time there did not exist a comprehensive musical score with the original English text. There were five disparate English scripts – some in handwriting – to choose from. Over several months music and texts were laboriously pieced together so as to allow the biblical tapestry of The Eternal Road to shine forth in its original color and intensity.
The final recording sessions of The Eternal Road were attended by journalists from the Deutsche Presse Agentur, Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Orpheus, Rondo, Musik und Theater, Berliner Tagesspiegel, Opernglas, DeutschlandRadio and Norddeutsche Rundfunk. The journalists were thrilled, and published articles calling the recording "a major musical rediscovery."
In May, 2007 the Milken Archive recorded Dave Brubeck's The Commandments, with Singing City and the Fairmount Brass conducted by Russell Gloyd. The recording took place at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, with Dave Brubeck present to inspire the combined forces.
The Commandments is a musical setting of the famous "Ten Commandments" as written in the 20th chapter of the Book of Exodus. Dave Brubeck had wanted to express the importance of these commandments ever since he witnessed first-hand the carnage of World War II (Brubeck took part in the Battle of the Bulge.) For more than 50 years various ideas for the composition developed in the composer's mind, but the final push for creating the work happened in 2001. This was the year in which The Gates of Justicewas recorded by the Milken Archive, and also the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Brubeck decided to focus the text of The Commandments especially on "thou shall not kill." He wanted to emphasize the oneness of God and the sanctity of human life. For this new composition Brubeck decided to employ the same instrumentation as in The Gates of Justice (chorus, brass ensemble and percussion) with the intention to link the themes of the two works both textually and musically. The Commandments was premiered in 2005 at Lincoln Center in a concert sponsored in part by the Milken Archive.
Following the recording session, an oral history with Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola was filmed. The interviewer was the conductor Russell Gloyd. The result was a fascinating commentary on The Commandments and its link to The Gates of Justice, as well as an appreciation of how the scriptural and ethical ideas of Judaism and other great religions have inspired humanity's quest for peace and justice.
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