“KLEZMERS ON THE MOON,” 1995.
A musical adventure of historic scope and proportion, the Milken Archive was founded in 1990 to document, preserve, and disseminate the vast body of music that pertains to the American Jewish experience. Over two decades, the Milken Archive has become the largest collection of American Jewish music ever assembled—more than 700 recorded works, including over 500 world premiere recordings. But the Milken Archive, known primarily up to now for its groundbreaking 50-CD series released on the Naxos label, is far more than a recording project. The Milken Archive’s collection consists of 800 hours of oral histories, 50,000 photographs and historical documents, and thousands of hours of video footage from recording sessions, interviews, and live performances, plus an extensive collection of program notes and essays—the vast majority written by Artistic Director Neil W. Levin, Professor of Music at the Jewish Theological Seminary and one of the foremost authorities on Jewish music—that provide historical and cultural context.
The musical recordings feature works by more than 200 composers, from Joseph Achron to John Zorn; multiple world-renowned artists, including Bruce Adler, Dave Brubeck, Amy Goldstein, David Krakauer, Elmar Oliveira, Sir Neville Marriner, Cantor Benzion Miller, Alberto Mizrahi, Gerard Schwarz, and Simon Spiro; and award-winning ensembles, such as the Julliard String Quartet, the Vienna Choir Boys, and the Czech Philharmonic. Much of the music in the Milken Archive was hitherto unknown to most audiences. In many cases, this music was either never recorded, or not recorded to acceptable standards, and thus in danger of being lost to future generations as both a historical record and an important expression of the American experience. The Milken Archive was founded by philanthropist Lowell Milken, who recognized not only the aesthetic merits of this music, but also its importance to current and future generations. Now entering its third decade, the Archive has become a leader in the preservation and dissemination of this diverse and substantial body of music more than 350 years in the making.
Heritage and Legacy
Though the Archive’s musical collection is voluminous, of equal importance are its collections of oral histories, interviews, photographs, and historical memorabilia, all of which lend historical depth and cultural context. Oral histories and interviews have been completed with senior cantors, veterans of the Yiddish theater, composers, conductors and others, thus preserving the knowledge, performance traditions, and stories of the individuals who brought, and continue to bring, this music to life. This unprecedented wealth of memories and first-person accounts will be a unique resource for students, scholars, documentary filmmakers, cultural historians, and anyone interested in American Jewish history.
The Milken Archive aims to:
- preserve and disseminate music related to the American Jewish experience.
- encourage the creation of the new music that speaks to the American Jewish experience.
- encourage the performance of American Jewish music.
- compile and publish historical documentation that illuminates the cultural, historical, political, social, and religious contexts in which American Jewish music has been, and continues to be, created.
- develop educational platforms and curricula to facilitate the study of American Jewish music at secondary and university levels, as well as in adult and continuing education settings.
- encourage academic research on the Milken Archive’s materials by scholars in a variety of disciplines, including ethnomusicology, history, Jewish studies, music, and musicology.
For centuries Jews residing on the Iberian Peninsula enjoyed a prolonged period of tolerant Islamic rule that enabled an efflorescence of Jewish culture. Sephardi Jews who were expelled from modern-day Spain and Portugal at the height of the Spanish Inquisition spread from Amsterdam and London to the far reaches of the old Ottoman Empire and beyond, absorbing and influencing the many musical traditions they encountered along the way.
Yet for many years, the rich tradition of Sephardi music remained largely unknown outside of the Sephardi community itself. That began to change in the 20th century when American composers began plumbing the depths of the Sephardi tradition for inspiration, looking not only to Sephardi melodies but also to the rich vein of Sephardi poetry that was created during the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. Album 5 of the Milken Archive’s Volume 2—A Garden Eastward: Sephardi Inspiration—reveals the fruits of that endeavor with five vastly different musical recordings.
Jascha Heifetz—history’s greatest violinist according to many—makes his Milken Archive debut with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s second violin concerto, I profeti (The Prophets). Inspired by the biblical prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the biblical figure Elijah, the concerto reflects the composer’s interpretations of the related moods and tones of admonition, teaching, and prediction associated with these prophetic sources. Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed the piece expressly for Jascha Heifetz, who premiered it in 1933 at Carnegie Hall, with Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic.
Kantigas Ulvidadas, the second cycle of Ladino-based songs by Ofer Ben-Amots (hear a podcast with the composer himself), is a setting of three songs to contemporary Judeo-Spanish texts by Israeli poets Miriam Raymond and Shlomo Avayou. This stunning recording features soprano Jeanne Michèle Charbonnet, known in opera circles for her adeptness at Wagnerian roles, stepping into new territory, aided by pianist Deborah Ayers. In composing the cycle, Ben-Amots prized simplicity and directness over complexity, and uses the piano to emulate the folk style of instruments such as the guitar and oud. Ben-Amots discussed the piece at length with curator Jeff Janeczko in a podcast available on the Archive’s website.
Leo Kraft (1922–2014) made equally important musical contributions as a composer, educator, and author, and left behind a significant corpus of chamber works, songs, orchestral works, and choral compositions. Among the latter is his Eight Choral Songs for a cappella Chorus, which are settings of poems by Moses ibn Ezra, one of the most prolific of all the Spanish-Hebrew poets of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. The recording here is by Harold Rosenbaum and the New York Virtuoso Singers, the vocal ensemble that The New York Times critic Anthony Tomasini says has earned the right to include “virtuoso” in its name.
The album takes a sudden, unexpected, and delightful turn with the final three numbers by Cantor Aaron Bensoussan. These three settings of liturgical-biblical texts—Od yishama, Eshet ḥayil, and Al tira advi ya’akov—have been infused with Bensoussan’s Moroccan Sephardi heritage and a healthy dose of Middle Eastern disco. Rich with distinct flavors of North African and other Mediterranean Sephardi sounds, the use of regional instruments such as the bouzouki, darabouka, and oud, alongside modern electronic instruments and synthesized sound, constitute a unique contribution to both the Milken Archive and the world of Jewish music at large.
The rich musical heritage of Sephardi Jews comprises, among other things, a variety of approaches to liturgical music and a plethora of centuries-old poems and songs that plumb the depths of the human experience. For composers of art music, Sephardi musical traditions constitute a deep well of both inspiration and source material. One such composer who’s frequently drawn from that well is Ofer Ben-Amots. In this podcast, Ben-Amots discusses his most recent Ladino song cycle, Kantigas Ulvidadas (Forgotten Songs), which is available on a new recording from the Milken Archive. Interview by Jeff Janeczko.
All About Jewish Theatre
All About Jewish Theatre is the only global network dedicated to Jewish theatre and performing arts. Reaching 150,000 weekly visitors from more than 100 countries, this unique online resource presents a worldwide audience with the vital history and daily streaming of information on Jewish theatre and performing arts.
American Conference of Cantors
American Conference of Cantors is a professional organization of over 250 invested and/or certified cantors. Responsible for raising the professional standards of synagogue musicians, the ACC offers professional development opportunities for its members as well as continuing education programs in conjunction with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Sacred Music.
American Jewish Historical Society
The mission of the American Jewish Historical Society is to foster awareness and appreciation of the American Jewish heritage and to serve as a national scholarly resource for research through the collection, preservation and dissemination of materials relating to American Jewish history.
Brandeis University–Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies
Established in 1953, Brandeis University’s Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies is the oldest program of its kind in the United States with the largest instructional staff of any secular university outside the state of Israel.
The Choralnet Web site is a central portal to online resources and communications for the global choral music community.
Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive
Assembled by Alex Hartov, a professor at the Thayer School of Engineering, with a website designed for teaching and research by Lewis Glinert, Professor of Hebrew Studies at Dartmouth College, the Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive contains thousands of restored recordings of Yiddish theater, vaudeville, cantorial music, music by Jewish composers, and more.
David Krakauer Official Web Site
The official Web site of internationally acclaimed clarinetist David Krakauer, one of the world’s leading exponents of Eastern European Jewish klezmer music and a major voice in classical music. A best-selling recording artist in both classical and klezmer music, Krakauer performs as a guest soloist with some of the world’s finest ensembles and has made numerous recordings for the Milken Archive.
Foundation for Jewish Culture
Since 1960, the Foundation for Jewish Culture has been the leading advocate for Jewish cultural preservation and renewal in America. Founded by the Council of Jewish Federations, the foundation works with artists, scholars, cultural institutions and community agencies to enhance the quality of Jewish life in America through the arts and humanities.
Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation
The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation is a critically acclaimed, all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to sharing Jewish history through its rich legacy of music.
Jewish Community Centers Association of America
The vision of the JCC movement is to maximize the use of the programs and services, the position in the community, and the accessibility of the Jewish Community Center to welcome all Jews, to help each Jew move along a continuum of Jewish growth, and to build Jewish memories.
Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles
The Jewish Commission of Los Angeles explores Jewish identity through music, supports the composition of new Jewish music for the synagogue and concert stage, holds classes for composers to study Jewish music, and brings new Jewish music to synagogues and communities throughout the country.
Jewish Music Research Centre
One of the research centers of the Faculty of Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the JMRC is an academic institution dedicated to the documentation, research, and publication of scholarly materials about Jewish music.
Jewish Music Web Center
The purpose of the Jewish Music Web Center is to provide an online forum for academic, organizational, and individual activities in Jewish music.
Judaica Sound Archives
The primary mission of the Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University Libraries is to collect, preserve and digitize Judaica sound recordings; to create educational programs highlighting the contents of this rich cultural legacy; and to encourage the use of this unique scholarly resource by students, scholars and the general public.
Judith Zaimont Official Web Site
The official website of acclaimed composer Judith Lang Zaimont, recognized internationally for her distinctive style, characterized by its expressive strength and dynamism. A prize-winning composer whose work includes: symphony, chamber opera, oratorios and cantatas, music for wind ensemble, vocal-chamber pieces with varying accompanying ensembles, a wide variety of chamber works, and solo music for string and wind instruments, piano, organ, and voice. Zaimont’s self titled CD, Judith Lang Zaimont: A Tale of Abram and Isaac, was recorded for the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music and is distributed under the NAXOS label.
Manhattan School of Music
Set in one of the world’s greatest cities, Manhattan School of Music has contributed to the vibrant culture of New York City since 1917. It is one of the premier private music conservatories in the nation, with nearly 275 faculty members dedicated to shaping over 800 students from 40 countries into world-class musicians.
Maven Search is the leading directory and search engine for Jewish content related to Web sites.
Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture
Established in 2010, the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture is dedicated to studying and preserving Yiddish music and culture, teaching it to new generations, and supporting scholarship that explores it as an important facet of Jewish and American life. Its Executive Director is Henry Sapoznik, an award winning author, radio and record producer and performer of traditional Yiddish and American music.
Milken Family Foundation
The Milken Family Foundation was established by brothers Lowell and Michael Milken in 1982 with the mission to discover and advance inventive and effective ways of helping people help themselves and those around them lead productive and satisfying lives.
National Museum of American Jewish History
The National Museum of American Jewish History offers education, exhibits, and programs dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the Jewish people in America. The site offers virtual exhibits, a timeline, and an online shop.
Since its founding in 1987 by Klaus Heymann, Naxos has redefined how classical music is presented and marketed. Innovative strategies of recording exciting new repertoire with exceptional talent have enabled the label to develop one of the largest, fastest-growing catalogs of unduplicated repertoire available today: it currently includes more than 2,200 titles. Additional Naxos hallmarks are state-of-the-art sound and a determination to keep their CD prices approximately half that of other major commercial releases.
Rabbinical Council of America
The Rabbinical Council of America serves as a spokesman for the Orthodox rabbinate on the national and international level. It sponsors conferences and disseminates information on timely issues and defends the interests of the religious Jewish community.
Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility
An independent “think tank” of diverse ideas and conversations published online and in print to incubate issues of significance to the Jewish community conversation.
Society for Ethnomusicology
The Society for Ethnomusicology was founded in 1955 to promote research, study and performance of music in all historical periods and cultural contexts.
The Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum is not only a major art museum, but the largest Jewish museum in the Western hemisphere. The site includes collections, exhibitions and programs that illustrate both the continuity and diversity of Jewish culture for more than 4,000 years, as well as the common ground shared by Jews with people of different cultural backgrounds.
The Jewish Theological Seminary
The Jewish Theological Seminary was founded in 1886 as a rabbinical school. Its mission was to preserve the knowledge and practice of historical Judaism. One hundred and fifteen years later, JTS now includes a beautiful Manhattan campus and serves as the academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism worldwide. A Jewish university with a world-class faculty and a diverse student body, JTS grants undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees through its five schools: the Rabbinical School, the H.L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music, the Graduate School, the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education and the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies and offers serious enrichment programs for Jewish communities around the world. JTS trains tomorrow’s religious, educational, academic and lay leaders for the Jewish community and beyond. JTS is where Jewish learning lives.
The Juilliard School
Since opening in October 1905 as the Institute of Musical Art, The Juilliard School has set this country’s standard for education in the arts. The school continues to represent the finest in performing arts education, growing with and responding to the needs of a thriving cultural community in the U.S. and abroad, its student body drawn from 43 states and 46 foreign countries. 2002-2003 marks The Juilliard School’s ninety-seventh season.
The Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Music Archive
Part of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, this collection of songbooks, reference works and sound recordings total more than 3,000 Yiddish folk and art songs, theater music, comedy and klezmer music.
The Society for American Music
The Society for American Music was established to stimulate the appreciation, performance, creation and study of American music and its diversity, and the full range of activities and institutions associated with that music.
The YIVO Institute
The YIVO library and archives comprise the world’s largest collection of materials related to the history and culture of Eastern European and American Jewry.
Union for Reform Judaism
The Union for Reform Judaism provides vision, direction and leadership to Reform Jews and congregations on spiritual, ethical, social justice and management issues, offering programming support to Reform Jewish congregations and strengthening individual Jewish identity and growth. The Union and its affiliates produce award-winning periodicals, journals, books, discussion guides, CDs, sheet music, and downloadable MP3s.
Vocal Area Network
The Vocal Area Network is dedicated to the advancement of vocal ensemble music in New York City. Information-sharing services are offered for the benefit of the vocal ensemble community.
Women Cantors Network
The purposes of the Women Cantors Network are to support one another by sharing professional knowledge and experiences in a nurturing atmosphere, to provide continuing education in areas related to the cantorate and Jewish music, to serve as a forum for discussing practical issues for women in the cantorate and to commission Jewish music for women’s voices.
Zamir Choral Foundation
The Zamir Choral Foundation, founded and directed by Matthew Lazar, is the leading force in the Jewish world for sustaining and advancing the Jewish choral tradition. Through the teaching and performance of Jewish music, it aims to revitalize Jewish culture and commitment, and thereby strengthen and unite the Jewish people.
Leonard Nimoy on Naxos: American Jewish music available as podcast