Pro Cantare to explore variety of Jewish music


Judaism is a religion and an evolving civilization, and music has established a universal presence in both.

From the cantorial repertoire crafted to convey the spiritual intensity of Jewish liturgy, to the "Klezmorim" of Eastern Europe, to grand Christian-like settings of psalms composed when Jews were allowed to enter Europe's cultural mainstream in the 19th century, to Israeli folk songs, music has been one of Judaism's strongest sources of cultural and spiritual connection.

That theme will be developed Saturday evening when Columbia Pro Cantare, Howard County's premiere choral ensemble, presents its season finale, "Music of Jewish Traditions," at Wilde Lake High School's Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia.

Frances Motyca Dawson will conduct music emanating from a wide variety of Jewish sources at the 8 p.m. concert.

The masterwork of the evening will be "Avodath Hakodesh," the "Sacred Service" composed by Ernest Bloch, the Swiss-born American emigre famous for ethnically charged compositions such as "Schelomo," his Hebraic rhapsody for cello and orchestra, and "Baal Shem," a remarkably expressive suite for violin and piano.

The "Sacred Service," a landmark in the infusion of Jewish themes into the mainstream choral repertoire, is a setting of the Hebrew liturgy for cantor (a baritone instead of the usual tenor), mixed chorus and full orchestra.

Baritone Charles Robert Stephens will be cantorial soloist.

Saturday's program will begin with three songs from Sephardic (Mediterranean) Jewry, in this case the Jews of Spain. The two secular selections, "Los Siete Hijos de Hana" and "Esta Rahel Lastimosa," are set in Ladino, the medieval Spanish dialect that is to Sephardic Jews what Yiddish is to their Northern European counterparts.

Motyca Dawson also has programmed a pair of motets by Salamone Rossi, the Renaissance Italian composer.

Motets by Schubert and Mendelssohn might seem strange on a program of Jewish music, but Mendelssohn, whose father converted to Lutheranism, had Jewish roots, and Schubert was a friend of the Viennese cantor Solomon Sulzer, who commissioned the great composer to write the setting of the 92nd psalm that Pro Cantare will sing.

A set of Israeli folk songs rounds out the program.

"A Jew is he - or she - whose song cannot be muted, nor can his or her joy be killed by the enemy ... ever," wrote Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

Not as long as music sounds in their hearts.

Columbia Pro Cantare presents "Music of Jewish Traditions" at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road. As added attractions, Jonathan Palevsky - of WBJC 91.5 FM and an adjunct professor at Baltimore Hebrew University - will present a free preconcert lecture at the theater from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and a reception of kosher delicacies will follow the concert, along with musical entertainment by a Klezmer band. Advance sale tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors and students. Prices are $22 and $20 for tickets sold at the door. Information: 410-465-5744 or 410-799 -9321.

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