Sunday, May 11, 2008

Holocaust Memorial concert

Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day was commemorated in the Hebrew Union College concert series with a performance of cantorial, Jewish and Israeli music with Cantor Mimi Sheffer with Monica Fallon at the piano. In “Berlin Stories” Schaffer tells of her ten years in Germany in words and song. After studies in flute and voice in Israel and appointments in the United States, Sheffer took on the job of cantor and spiritual leader of the Oranienburg Street Synagogue in Berlin. In “Berlin Stories” she not only sings but also tells of experiences since she has been in Germany – of encounters with Jewish communities, dialogue with Christian communities and German organizations, participation in memorial events in concentration camps and in desecrated and restored synagogues. In addition to performing as a soloist, Sheffer has been teaching at the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin and is now the director of the cantorial training program in the Jewish Institute of Cantorial Art.

The evening began with Louis Lewandowsky’s (1821-1894) “Al tashlichenu”(Cast me not off in the time of old age), Psalm 71. Sheffer’s wide range of dynamics and intensity emphasized the melancholy aspect of this text. Cantor and composer, Moshe Nathanson (1899-1981) was born in Jerusalem but spent much of his life in America. Sheffer was moving in her interpretation of his heart-rending unaccompanied cantorial piece “Hinneni HeAni MiMa’as” (Here I stand, impoverished in merit). Pianist, conductor and composer, Lena Stein-Schneider (1874-1950) was born in Leipzig and became known as a composer in the field of musical theatre. In 1942 she was sent to Therezin but survived the camps. Her “Avinu Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King) is her only liturgical work. It is dramatic and vocally demanding.

Avi Gilboa (b.1971) is a music therapist and research psychologist. “Shir Hama’a lot, Mi-ma’amakim(Out of the depths I cry to You) is spiritual and intimate. Sheffer gave it a convincing reading. David Zehavi (1910-1975) was a founder of Kibbutz Na’an. He composed “A Walk to Caesaria” to a poem by Hannah Szenes. (Hannah Szenes was a Hungarian Jew living in Palestine, was trained by the British army to parachute into Yugoslavia to save Hungarian Jews from being deported to Auschwitz. She was arrested, imprisoned and executed at age 23.) Zehavi’s song is now known as “Eli, Eli”. Menachem Wiesenberg’s arrangement of it is poetic and imaginative and gives the piano an interesting role.

Mimi Sheffer’s performance is dynamic and powerful, sensitive and polished. She is articulate and her small stories and anecdotes are tasteful and interesting. Pianist and musicologist, Monica Fallon, born in Norway and in Israel since 1978, performs and accompanies cantorial students at Hebrew Union College. She accompanied Sheffer sensitively. As producer of the HUC concert series, her program notes are always informative. It was a privilege to be present at this impressive concert, a fitting and profound event for Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Hebrew Union College Concert Series
“Berlin Stories”
Cantor Mimi Shaffer(Israel/Germany)
Monica Fallon-piano
May 1, 2008

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