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Alberto's Voice
A World Ctizen
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I am addicted to my PDA. On a recent trip, my wife, Deborah and I were able to find our way in Berlin and Munich, St. Petersburg and Moscow using my Google Maps. How opportune in this modern age that we have tools such as these to help us find our way. As a Hazzan (Cantor), for more than 40 years now, I felt a certain security in my path through the Siddur, Mahzor and even the Haggadah thanks to a a spiritual "map app" called “nusach Hat’filah,” that has been ours for over 1,000 years. This collection of modes... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2012 at Alberto's Voice
Following a wonderful Shabbat (usually comprised of being in very good voice, interesting Bar Mitzvah, and great food) I found myself being driven through the gently rolling hills between the Philadelphia airport and Blue Bell, PA, on the way to a concert with my close friend and fabulous mezzo-soprano, Hazzan Elizabeth Shammash, of Tiferet Bet Israel. Not that Lizzie and I need an excuse to sing (we enjoy the rehearsals as much as the concerts), but this concert was the culminating musical event of a year-long project; the writing of a new Torah for the congregation in which just about... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2012 at Alberto's Voice
I flew to Athens, Greece with the specific intention of visiting my 95 year old aunt (my mother's sister), Hara, who had been moved into an assisted living facility (in this case more of a nursing home). Fond memories of my early childhood are crammed with hugs, kisses, meals (because her food always tasted better to the 5-6 year old Albertiko) and sharing an L-shaped house with her, my uncle Avraam and their daughter, Anna (who is more like my sister rather than a cousin). I would spend four days, seeing her, each one, and return home for Shabbat. The... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2012 at Alberto's Voice
Emunah Al Kanfei N'sharim The airplane today is a marvel of science. Yet, aerodynamics play little role in the trust most of us place in entering the behemoth knowing that we will almost certainly reach our destination, whether it be Cleveland or Bruxelles. As I fly over the Atlantic, I believe it is a more compelling trust; our faith in God. I remember reading in the Jewish Catalogue (a much more reliable compendium than Wikipedia, say) that man asks, "Why do I need to pray? I have all I need..." The answer given is simplistic and profound. We should pray... Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2012 at Alberto's Voice
As the audience sat in complete silence after I had sung the last note of Krzysztof Penderecki's "Kadysz" with the Warsaw Philharmonic, I realized it was not because they did not like the performance but because the power of the music and the even greater power of ending on a very soft note in plaintive harmony with the magnificent male choir, had made the obvious, real. We had just finished "Kadysz" in the center of Warsaw and everyone felt the irony and history of the moment. No one moved for about 15 seconds (it felt like an eternity) until I... Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2012 at Alberto's Voice
November 27, 2011 Caracas, Venezuela We had no presuppositions about Caracas except that it would be hot and green and have Chavez all over it. It is amazingly green; anything and everything grows without help in its fertile soil. Chavez is the huge mistake the country made 14 years ago and will be paying for in the next 5-10 transition years after his demise. But, hot is not a word I would use for this blessed warm Spring-like atmosphere (okay, they say that December (SUMMER) is really hot... but the rest of the year is blessed with continuous Spring. Caracas... Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
FROM MY WINDOW AT THE Executive Sea Suites hotel, Tel Aviv. It used to be that when I walked off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport I would immediately fall into the rhythm and language of the country. What with the High Holy Days approaching so rapidly and the myriad details and constant negotiations needed on a tour of a group of world-class musicians, and the usual "problems", it has taken me almost a week to attain the same attachment and excitement about being in Eretz Yisrael. Last night, we performed in the back yard of the U.S. Ambassador's house.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
Jet lag has its advantages. If you cannot sleep you may as well read and write! Some observations, not necessarily in temporal order: What is one to think when checking into the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem (remember, we are talking about an area two blocks away from the major street of the city) that displays "WHAT TO DO - WHAT TO SEE IN PALESTINE." To me it was a shock. To my friends and family it was business as usual. They are used to it. And, my friend, and political opposite, Tom, says, "What do you expect? It IS Palestine in East Jerusalem." Frustration is a mild way of describing that experience. Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
Left my PDA on the seat of our flight to Israel; not looking real good about getting it back. Ah, well, you do not need to share my pain. Spent the day at a Bedouin School of Science and Math just north of Beersheva. The children are the cream of the crop of the surrounding villages and this experimental school is meant to allow more of them the opportunities that have been afforded only to the very few in the past. Saffron Caravan split up into twos and gave master classes, amounting mostly to teaching a song or two and performing one for the class before closing, which were received with a passion that surprised the school administration. Music performed at this level, especially by men, is a strange thing to the Bedouin. We could have stayed in the classes for another hour or more...they were so ripe for new experience and the "exotic" nature of having American men perform for them! This was the opinion of the principal of the school. Read the full post Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
IN THE AIR As we returned from two Anshe Emet "smachot," a Bat Mitzvah in Carmel Valley (i.e. heaven) and Ryan Schonfeld's wedding to Sarah in D.C. (on the same weekend) there was very little time if any to continue preparations for Selihot and the High Holy Days as well as learn the world premiere I was to sing at the Harris Theater for the Fulcrum Point New Music 10th commemorative concert of 9/11. Fortunate to have been invited to sing Three Yiddish Songs, composed by David Stock in a post-modern milieu with string ensemble, and to chant Kaddish at the end of the program, it was doubly wonderful to be with Stephen Burns (conductor and leader of Fulcrum Point) and to have been broadcast live on WFMT yesterday afternoon. Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
Unless trekking means trudging through hill and dale, through forest and streams and catching what you eat, then perhaps we should call our trip a vacation. Following the Federation of Jewish Mens Clubs Convention in Costa Mesa, CA (an amazing convention for men and, surprisingly, women) where I coordinated and led a study of contemporary Jewish prayer practice, alongside three colleagues (we discussed prayer and I led an Anshe Emet Live type service on Friday evening, an exploratory Shaharit service and a traditional mussaf as one might hear it at Anshe Emet), Deborah and I decided to explore the magnificent Northwest of the U.S. and Canada; a rather daunting task in 14 days. Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
Finally, what made the entire experience even more special than it always is, is the Olive Tree. A restaurant opened by a Lubavitcher Hassid, just next door to the Isaac Synagogue, that cooks and runs like a 4 star restaurant. The room is gorgeous and I never had better food in a kosher restaurant. As I write this on United flight 907, I continue to smile from the little farewell for hosted for the staff of the Festival, my hotel (it actually belongs to my friend, Allen Haberberg) and a few friends. YItzchak, the proprietor, arranged a fabulous "milchik" menu... Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
The opening evening (Sunday) concert, as always, is the hottest ticket in town. The Tempel is filled to the brim, the television cameras are rolling and we sing our hearts out. Raymond conducted the choir both in solos and in pieces accompanying the cantors. He also had a wonderful orchestral ensemble for which he had written arrangements of our cantorial numbers and accompanied us on the piano when the pieces were not orchestrally arranged. In other words, he was one busy boy. We had rehearsed two days in a row for this and felt ready, and the program went flawlessly.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
The Krakow Jewish Culture Festival has been running annually for 21 years. Its history and that of its Founder and Director, Janusz Makuch, is well documented as the largest and most comprehensive festival of its kind in the world. It does not deal solely with music, although music is its most presented forum. This Festival which has grown over the years from a one day to a three day to a seven day, and now, to a 10 day festival of constant activity, learning and entertainment, is a place one can go to learn rudimentary Yiddish, Hebrew Dancing, go to... Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
Our parashah begins with the commandment that Oil Lamps be lit to last from each evening till morning all around the Tabernacle (Mishkan). We learn from this that burning the oil of Torah study brings G-d's light to the earth. We then encounter a very detailed review of the vestments of the High Priest; Semi-precious stones on each of his shoulders to remind him always of his sacred obligations and of the covenant he and the People of Israel have with G-d. His clothing is bordered with golden bells and alternating pomegranates made of crimson yarn. Of a Tzitz t'chelet(fringes... Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
Check out this intriguing one man show: Spanish Inquisition (I sang Kol Nidre and led a Q&A in the Sunday, February 13 performance). In Franco-ruled 1960’s Madrid, an Israeli scholar is detained for stealing a confidential Inquisition file. Contained within it is the true confession of Spanish priest Andrés González (1447—1486), whose faith is tested when he finds himself in love with a Jewish woman. Written by Oren Neeman and directed by Kevin Hart, CONVICTION is based on the Yonatan Ben Nachum novel Confessions. Starring Ami Dayan in a riveting performance and directed by Kevin Hart. The production team includes... Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
Will Shabbat services be recognizable to us in 25 years? In 40 years? Will there be a P’suqey D’zimrah (already an endangered species), Shaharit, MUSSAF (the service in which most of our Shabbat morning congregational tune opportunities sit---yet, which has been marginalized by well-meaning but mistaken Jewish leaders: rabbis, educators and even hazzanim). Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
There is something intrinsically wrong with being stuck in Hollywood, FL an extra day while most of the rest of the nation, especially the mid-west, gets socked by one of the strongest snow storms of the 21st century. Be assured, I feel neither guilty nor unhappy about it. As Debbie and I wait for our flight back I think back to an energizing, if tiring, few days as scholar-in-residence of the Cantors Assembly Florida Region conference. Kudos are owed to Hazzanim Luis Cattan and Elaine Shapiro who brought together cantors from both the Conservative and Reform movement to study, sing and share camaraderie in the pleasant atmosphere of Beth Torah Congregation, North Miami. The quality of voices and styles was truly encouraging. Both male and female cantors distinguished themselves in their coaching sessions and I look forward to repeating the experience in the future. Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2011 at Alberto's Voice
What I missed most about this last Hanukkah was my daughter who was living in New York city but now moving to Philadelphia. What is it about children who when they get their graduate degrees don’t simply move back home but have to find good jobs far away? In any case, I digress. My second most missed thing last Hanukkah was “bumuelos” (Turkish Beignets). I can smell a “bumuelo” frying at 1,000 paces. Read more... Continue reading
Posted Dec 22, 2010 at Alberto's Voice
Trickery. Deception. One might think that is the basis for two parashiyot of the Torah; last week’s Toldot and this week’s Vayetze. Talk about leaving your dirty laundry hanging on the line. Are we to believe that it was Yaakov’s fault or was it Esau that took his birthright so lightly as to sell it for a bowl of stew? Of course, there is little doubt that Jacob took advantage of his brother’s nature. Then there is Isaac’s blessing of his sons. What else is one to think except that Rebecca conspired with her son to steal that blessing? Was it but for a pelt of lambskin attached to Jacob’s arm and a well cooked soup that the blessing would have gone to the intended, Esau, and that Edom would be the blessed land and people instead of Israel? Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Nov 8, 2010 at Alberto's Voice
Polish National Football is like watching a badly sung opera. One half of the stadium listens and applauds as the other half perform a choreographed cheerleading thing replete with conductor on a high scaffold; not at all the drunk mob I expected! Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2010 at Alberto's Voice
Mission accomplished. I recorded the third movement of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Kadysz”, originally commissioned to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Liquitdation of the Lodz Ghetto. The piece is both powerful and haunting. The third movement is a cantorial rendition of the Mourner’s Kaddish as transmitted by the composer’s friend, Boris Carmeli (a well-known bass from Modena who died just before he was to have sung the premier). I found myself anxious that my performance for the recording be equal to the performances we have done in Lodz and Warsaw. Time will tell; I await to hear the edited version. Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2010 at Alberto's Voice
Krzysztof Penderecki is one of the greatest composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. His beautiful early work led into a long period of very avant garde atonal music and now, in his later period, his music has kept his cutting edge while, to this listener, brought back some of the neo-romanticism that I personally love. Having met Maestro Penderecki while he conducted the CSO and I narrated his “Seven Gates of Jerusalem” at Orchestra Hall, we have formed a bond of friendship by which I am humbled and very gratified. He and his lovely wife, Elzbieta, are the chief musical nobility of Poland. Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Oct 18, 2010 at Alberto's Voice
With the miraculous rescue of the miners in Chile by a government that refused to give up and whose bravery consolidated support from the major nations of the Western World, all else seems irrelevant. And yet, life goes on for those who did not spend almost 70 days and nights 2,000 feet beneath the surface of the earth and lived to tell the tale. GENESIS AT THE CROSSROADS What a wonderful musical week it has been (and, no, I do not mean Maestro Muti’s absence from the C.S.O.). The Saffron Caravan, a group in which I am proud to play part (and which I named during a meeting with Wendy Sternberg, founder and director of Genesis at the Crossroads,and Howard Levy, the group's Musical Director) is the musical ensemble that was formed to put our mission statement into action; “Bridging cultures in conflict through music and the arts.” This past week, we played at the Genesis at the Crossroads gala dinner and concert at the Peninsula Hotel, where we were joined by activist folksinger Peter Yarrow, one-third of Peter, Paul and Mary. Although we had hardly any time for serious practice, Howard Levy (piano/harmonica), Kiu Haghimian (Iranian Santur), Humayun Khan (Indian Vocals and Harmonium), Jean-Christophe Leroy (percussion) and I were as inventive as ever and each one of us was at our musical peak. Joining Peter Yarrow in a rendition of the iconic sixties anthem, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Humayun improvised in fabulous Indian vocal style, the rest of the group played “killer” improvisations on their individual instruments as well as backing Peter; and I was privileged to softly sing a duet with him... Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2010 at Alberto's Voice
“Cantor, what happened to our old tune for B’rosh Hashanah?” I’ve heard that more than once. That old tune, nostalgic and pretty as it is gave way to our doing Meir Finkelstein’s setting of the prayer with a child doing solos alongside myself. Anshe Emet (my congregation in Chicago), after five years of doing this, cannot imagine B’rosh Hashanah any other way! People are set in their ways and change takes longer than anyone wants it to. Yet, when we are convinced of the rightness of our convictions we put in those new tunes and risk failing once in a while. The music of the liturgy defines the service. A congregation likes to feel comfortable in their seats but also welcomes a bit of a challenge. This is why, as we strive to create the American Nusach (nusach= traditional modes of prayer for each service) our goal should be to sound like authentic Eastern European “hazzanim” (cantors) while presenting new contemporary tunes that the congregation can sing with us.Read the full post... Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2010 at Alberto's Voice