HaZamir reaches new heights in 36th anniv. gala
Judy and I went to see Boston's HaZamir last night. For those who don't know, the first HaZamir was part of the Jewish Nationalist flowering back in Lodz a century ago. There are two related choirs in the US - the one in NYC is the first, and is currently led by Matthew Lazar. Boston's is also highly regarded by afficionado's of Jewish choral music. The couple of previous times I saw HaZamir I felt very frustrated. The choir has been relatively small, and the material bounces from popular Israeli folk ditties to new classical compositions such that the result is nice, but not compelling.
But last night was the 36th anniversary concert (36 is a significant number is Jewish folklore, being both 2 x 18 where 18 symbolizes life, and significant on its own because reputedly there are 36 holy people—the "lamed-vavnikim" on earth by whose merit the world continues).
The first half of the concert contains commissions, old and new, and they ranged from "okay" to "pretty good" - a Benji Ellen Schiller piece was quite nice, as was an Israeli commission that followed.
But the second half was the most amazing performance of Bloch's "Sacred Service" I have ever heard. More significant, it's was the best performance that Judy, who has performed the piece, had ever heard. It wasn't just new melodies to which the Reform Friday night service of 1929 (when this was premiered) was set. Bloch entirely rethought how each prayer should be arranged and sung, and in so doing, created a spiritual work of enormous power. After a long, wonderful service, Bloch ended with a rethinking of Adon Olam that will probably change how I hear that prayer (no longer, in my mind, the ditty with which we end the service) from this point forth.
I feel as I did when I saw King Crimson about 30 years ago—this is not music that I thought interested me, but damn, how amazingly powerful. And, for once, HaZamir was better than ever. This is the way to celebrate a significant anniversary. Josh Jacobson, the co-founder and director should feel very proud of himself, as should all of the participants.