"KLEZMERS ON THE MOON," 1995.  Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in., (76,2 x 89,6 cm). Cat. Ref. #G-95.21.

“KLEZMERS ON THE MOON,” 1995. 

The Milken Archive

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 The Milken Archive’s collection consists of 800 hours of oral histories, 50,000 photographs and historical documents, and thousands of hours of video footage from recording sessions, interviews, and live performances, plus an extensive collection of program notes and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.

Audio Recordings

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.

Objectives

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.

http://www.milkenarchive.org/voices/view/39

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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.

Notes:
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.

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American Jewish Historical Society
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Brandeis University–Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies
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Jewish Music Research Centre
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Manhattan School of Music
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Milken Family Foundation
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National Museum of American Jewish History
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Naxos
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Rabbinical Council of America
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Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility
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Society for Ethnomusicology
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The Jewish Museum
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The Juilliard School
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The Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Music Archive
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The Society for American Music
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The YIVO Institute
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Leonard Nimoy on Naxos: American Jewish music available as podcast

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