MILLER, Benzion: Cantor Benzion Miller Sings Cantorial Concert Masterpieces
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CANTOR BENZION MILLER SINGS
CANTORIAL CONCERT MASTERPIECES by
Ganchoff, Glantz, Kusevitsky, Pinchik, Roitman, Schorr, Zilberts and others
The release of this recording of virtuoso concert masterpieces from the \Golden Age" of cantorial singing underlines one of the primary goals of the Milken Archive: to document, preserve and bring to life for new generations of listeners aspects of the rich musical heritage that once lay at the heart of American Jewish life but are less frequently heard today.?á This CD also illustrates how a particular category of Jewish music was not only successfully transplanted from Europe to the United States in the mid-20th century, but was actually enriched by elements of the new host culture, flourishing with renewed vigor to create a "golden age" of cantorial art on American shores.
Performed with fullsymphonic ensemble in new, historically informed orchestrations by acclaimedcantor Benzion Miller, tenor, who has been acclaimed for his mastery of thisliterature and style, the extended virtuoso settings of prayers and otherliturgical texts on this disc exemplify that type of composition intendedexpressly for performance at cantorial concerts, rather than within theframework of an actual synagogue service.?á During the heyday of this repertoirein the United States--the 1920s, '30s and '40s--cantorial extravaganzasfrequently took place in locations such as New York's Madison Square Garden andCarnegie Hall, where choruses of more than 100 cantors often performed.?á Suchprograms, along with radio broadcasts and recordings, provided bothentertainment and a quasi-religious element that contributed to theirpopularity.?á These events were designed to augment but never to replace theprimary liturgical and spiritual function of cantorial singing and to bringthis highly developed art to a broader public.
The 11 selections on thisCD embody the eastern European Ashkenazi cantorial tradition that developedthroughout the Czarist and Hapsburg empires from the late 19th century untilWorld War I and was brought to America in the inter-war years by touring andemigre cantors.?á The term "cantor"--hazzan in Hebrew--denotes the personwho intones or sings the liturgy during synagogue services, adding emotionaland artistic expression to the prayer texts for the benefit of thecongregation.?á In modern times it implies a professionally trained professionalmember of the clergy.?á The cultivated cantorial art of the Askenazi tradition,known as hazzanut, involves highly developed, intricate and often florididioms based partly on Hebrew prayer modes, biblical cantillation motifs, andtraditional tunes, influenced as well by musical elements of local Europeanhost cultures such as folk music.?á
Building on thisstylistic foundation, legendary cantor-composers produced virtuoso cantorialsettings that were highly inventive and musically sophisticated.?á While rootedin improvisation and expressive recitative, they often went beyond theseorigins to create balanced musical structures, transcending vocal pyrotechnicsto explore subtleties of meaning and emotion in the text.?á In these works,various influences--among them Hassidic and eastern European folk-song, thesophisticated German-Jewish choral tradition of such composers as Sulzer andLewandowski, and techniques of modern western music--combine with traditionalcantorial cantillation motifs and modal patterns (nusach) to yield anemotionally powerful and highly distinctive idiom.?á In addition, free from theprohibition against instrumental usage on the Sabbath that dictated acappella settings in the synagogue, cantorial composers increasingly leanedtoward full orchestral accompaniment in their concert settings.
A prime example of thisstylistic fusion can be heard in the most extensive composition on this MilkenArchive disc, Israel Schorr's Sheyyibane Beit Hammikdash, whichexpresses hope for messianic redemption and restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem.?á Originally made famous in a 1930s recording by legendary cantor MosheKoussevitzky, it features an improvisatory vocal line set over a chromatic,late romantic orchestral texture.
Cantorial concerts oftenincluded some non-liturgical works, most frequently Yiddish songs.?á In homageto that tradition, this disc offers the humorous "cantorial folk-art song," Der Khazn un der Gabe (the cantor and the prayer leader),by Pierre Pinchik, which satirizes a typically fractious confrontation betweena professional cantor and the lay leader of a congregation.
The composers representedon this recording include such celebrated cantors as David Roitman, David Kusevitsky, Moshe Ganchoff, Leib Glantz, Israel Schorr and Zavel Zilberts.?á Born between 1884 and 1904, they came primarily from those areasof central and eastern Europe that include what is now Ukraine, Southern Poland (Galicia) and Belarus.?á Most sang as boy sopranos in famous choirs, werethen apprenticed to noted cantors, and became choir directors at musicallyimportant synagogues.?á Several also received extensive training in Westernclassical music, attending conservatories or studying privately with leadingnon-Jewish composers.
All immigrated to the United States, the majority in the 1920s, and most occupied prestigious cantorial pulpits in majorcities including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.?á In addition, they taughtat leading American cantorial schools to insure the preservation of theirlegacy.?á These cantor-composers brought with them to America not onlytraditional styles and performance practices, but a history of celebrityattached to revered cantorial "stars." Once established in the United States, they often attracted devoted or even fanatical fans, and achieved aremarkable degree of fame.?á With the flowering of commercial recordings andradio, the immigrant cantors and their younger American-born counterparts wereable to reach wider and wider audiences.?á Many undertook successfulinternational tours, and several were offered exclusive contracts by majorrecording labels.?á
Following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather,all cantors in the courts of the Bobover rebbes (Hassidic rabbinicalleaders) in what is now southern Poland, Cantor Benzion Miller is one ofa handful of orthodox cantors who have dedicated themselves to preserving andperforming the virtuoso cantorial styles of the 19th and early 20th
centuries.?á After preliminary studies in this country, Cantor Miller continuedhis training in Israel, where refugee cantors from Europe perpetuated thetradition.?á In addition to serving the pulpit of Brooklyn's Temple Bethel since 1989, he tours widely throughout the world, appearing extensively in Europeand North America and in far-flung venues from Mombassa to Alaska to Brazil.?á He performs with leading orchestras, has made numerous recordings, and wasrecently seen in a PBS special that was telecast across the country.