If I had the time, I would wax lyrical about a special evening sponsored by Hebrew College's School of Jewish Music (SJM) this past Saturday night. Instead, I will try to honor Yehudi and Hebrew College, and perhaps whet people's appetite for more.
The event featured Professor Wyner presenting a series of art song featuring music by his father, Lazar Weiner (father and son spell their family name differently. Insert obligatory immigrant joke here). Wyner introduced many of the songs, and featured singing by a range of luminaries starting with both the President of Hebrew College (Daniel Lehmann) and head of the SJM (Cantor Dr. Brian J. Mayer) and including Cantor Louise Treitman and HC student Rick Lawrence. In addition, we got to listen to several songs by Lynn Torgove, who was also featured in a recent performance (Nov 5, 2010) of Yehudi's own pieces, performed by the Cantata Singers, at Jordan Hall. The voices were magnificent.
The thing is, Yehudi Wyner also helped us hear with his father's ears. As a typographer, for the first time I made that connection between art song—composing music that enables the ears to hear and appreciate the poet's words—and typographer, the art of printing a poet's words so that the words are noticed. In both cases, the communicative medium, whether it be music or print, is most successful when the medium is missed, but the words, the poet's intent, are heard.
Indeed, as Yehudi stated, and then proved with his playing and the singing of the actual pieces by such masterful voices, Lazar Weiner had an incredible gift for writing spare music, setting the words perfectly. And this music should be studied with German and Italian and French art song—it should not be relegated to an afterthought as though of interest only to musically-educated Yiddishists. This music is wonderful world heritage, not just Yiddish heritage. Wyner talked a little bit about the brief blossoming of Yiddish art song under the patronage of Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov, in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Wyner didn't mention the St. Petersburg school by name, but scholars, or those who know just enough to have dipped into the recent Milken Archive series will be familiar not just with Weiner's name, but the names of Joseph Achron, Joel Engel, etc.
It is almost criminal that pieces this good are heard so seldom, and I feel very fortunate to have been present to hear Yehudi's stories, along with the exquisite performances. This was not a random event. The SJM is seeking a higher profile, and I would presume would be very happy to talk with sponsors and donors who can further its programs. Starting just a few years ago, there are now 31 students and 10 graduates. All of the graduates, according to Acting Dean Mayer, found immediate employment. That, too, is a neat statement in these times. Stay tuned for a symposium on Yiddish Art Song later in 2011 which will feature scholars such as Mayer, Josh Jacobson, Hankus Netsky, and other members of a very rich Jewish music community here in Boston.
If you are interested in knowing more about the music of Weiner (and Wyner!), or the SJM, check out their website, www.hebrewcollege.edu/jewish-music-cantor. You should also contact them to get on the mailing list for the forthcoming symposium.