KINGSLEY: Voices from the Shadow / Jazz Psalms / Shabbat for Today (Naxos Milken Archives: 8.559435)
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GERSHON KINGSLEY: Four Works
GERSHON KINGSLEY (b. 1922)
Voices From The Shadow (1997)
Jazz Psalms (1966)
Shabbat For Today (excerpts) (1968)
Shiru Ladonai - Sing To God (excerpts) (1970)
Gershon Kingsley has focused on both secular and religious works, most of them theatrically oriented.?á Equally at home in the classical and more popular realms, he has been a succes experiences ranged from playing the organ at a Reform synagogue; directing music for the Joffrey Ballet, Josephine Baker and several Broadway shows; and accompanying Jan Peerce on international tours; to spending a summer at the Brandeis Arts Institute, where he was influenced by the charismatic composer and conductor Max Helfman.?á This varied background, together with the relaxation of traditional formal boundaries and the ascendancy of the youth-oriented popular culture in the late 1960s, prompted Kingsley to explore ways to expand the boundaries of traditional synagogue music by infusing them with popular elements.?á He became particularly interested in the use of synthesized electronic sounds in liturgical contexts, acquired one of the earliest Moog synthesizers and, in 1970, founded the First Moog Quartet, which gave the first-ever live electronic music concert at Carnegie Hall.
Thefirst work on this Milken Archive CD, Voices From The Shadow, isa compelling musical-theater piece for solo voices and chamber ensemble ofstrings, piano and clarinet that features settings of poems written by inmatesin the concentration camps, and afterwards by survivors.?á Sung in six languages--German, Yiddish,French, English, Polish and Czech, these almost unbearably intense poemsinclude expressions of terror and loneliness, futility and desperation; tenderlove songs; bittersweet recollections and lullabies; ironic, heartbreakingsongs for children; and finally, expressions of hope and liberation, allunderscored by Kingsley's sensitive musical responses to the poetry.?á Manyjuxtapose the ongoing, unwavering course of nature with the totally unnaturalbrutality of the camps, sometimes portrayed with frightening indifference.?á
Thiswork had its origins when Milken Archive Artistic Director Neil Levin asked thecomposer to write a new work for performance at an international conference onthe musical culture of German Jewry, as well as for subsequent recording.?áDuring its composition, Kingsley often became so overcome with emotion that henearly abandoned it.?á Writing about this work, he addressed the unavoidableconflict engendered by attempts to express the experience of the Holocaust.?á\Is it possible to write songs about Auschwitz," Kingsley asks, "or even moreimportant, is it permitted to do so?...One CANNOT write about Auschwitz.?á OneMUST write--write and write--about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.?á It seems thatwhen we are forced to walk that corridor between Life and Death, sources ofcreativity become readily available, and Life is compelled to express itself."?á
Thecomposer's 1966 work Jazz Psalms, scored for soprano,small choir and jazz quintet, testifies to his long connection with that idiom,and exhibits an inventive synthesis of syncopated jazz rhythms with Jewishmodal motifs.?á The term psalms is used in this work in its wider generic senseof "sacred song," since these texts are prayers from the Hebrew Sabbathliturgy, not the biblical Book of Psalms.
ShabbatFor Today, a Sabbath evening service, stems from that period of theAmerican Jewish experience when progressive voices in the Reform movementsought new and often experimental approaches to worship, in part to relate toelements of the younger generation who had become disaffected with establishedsynagogue ritual.?á Influences ranged from rock and folk-rock idioms to the newelectronically synthesized music, and some of the results upset even the mostforward-looking synagogue cantors and musicians.?á The legitimate quest for newmeans of expression, however, led to some notable works, of which Kingsley's Shabbatfor Today is one.?á Originally performed by a cantor and an all-black choir,with electric guitar, double bass, rhythm section and organ, it utilized a Moogsynthesizer only as background to the spoken sections.?á Soon afterwards,however, the Moog replaced the live ensemble, and that is the version heard onthis CD, with actor Harry Goz reciting the rabbi's introductions to andtranslations of the prayers.?á Originally considered controversial by manytraditionally-minded rabbis and cantors, the work, with its blend of lyricismand energy, has gained acceptance over the years, and has been performed morethan 150 times in synagogues and on television.
ShiruLadonai (Sing to God) is a unified kabbalat shabbat (Sabbathwelcoming) and Sabbath evening service that was commissioned in 1970 by CantorDavid Putterman of New York's Park Avenue Synagogue as part of its celebratedannual program to encourage the writing of new liturgical music.?á In this work,Kingsley set out to juxtapose traditional melodic motifs with the coloristicpossibilities of synthesized sound.?á The work was composed expressly for theMoog synthesizer with cantor and choir, and embodies the composer's love of theliturgical poetry.?á Its premiere marked the first use of the Moog for an entireservice in any synagogue.?á In the program booklet, the composer remarked: "Idon't consider it a 'jazz' or 'rock' service at all.?á I think it's verytraditional, except that all of the accompaniment is played from synthesizers."
Inassessing Kingsley's approach to the liturgy, Neil Levin points out: "On bothmusical and liturgical planes, appreciation of a work such as Shabbat forToday--or, for that matter, of Kingsley's other liturgical works on thisrecording--does not require discarding classical western Hebrew choral settings,traditional eastern European cantorial styles...or any other constituent elementsof an aggregate Jewish liturgical repertoire.?á The validity of this work isearned by its musical merit, and it is doubtful that its composer, as an artist,sought to replace anything.?á To the contrary, it is but one more seriousindividual expression that further enriches a living, expanding heritage."
AmongKingsley's other sacred and quasi-sacred works are They Never Had a Chanceto Live, a Holocaust-related dramatic musical presentation, The FifthCup, a staged Passover Seder that has been broadcast nationally; and TheLetter to the Russian Pharaohs, an interpretation of a Sabbath eve servicefrom modern Israeli-Hassidic perspectives.?á His popular choral anthem, ShepherdMe, Lord generated nearly two million sheet music sales to southern Baptistcongregational choirs, who were attracted to its gospel style.?á In March 2004,he completed an opera based on the life of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, whosaved thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust.