About this Recording

Introducing the World of American Jewish Music


The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music is a vast recorded panorama of the rich body of Jewish music, both sacred and secular, that has developed over the course of American history. This abundant repertoire, in its remarkable breadth and diversity, not only reflects the history, evolution, and variety of the Jewish experience in America, but, by extension, bears witness to Jewish continuity and renewal through more than five millennia, revealing universal qualities that can speak to people of all faiths and cultures.

More than 600 works have been newly recorded on 50 CDs thus far for this extensive, multiyear recording project, which is the centerpiece of the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. Established in 1990, the Milken Archive is the result of the vision and initiative of Lowell Milken, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Milken Family Foundation, whose love of synagogue music deepened into a recognition of the value and scope of Jewish music in general. In keeping with the Foundation's educational goals, Mr. Milken translated his enthusiasm for this repertoire into an ongoing project, under the artistic direction of Neil W. Levin, intended to increase the public's awareness of and appreciation for the quality and variety of Jewish music written in this country. The Milken Archive seeks to reach as wide an audience as possible by emphasizing the intrinsic artistic value, historical importance, and broad appeal of this eclectic and ever-expanding musical literature.


The year 2004 marks the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jews in America, in 1654. The Milken Archive series celebrates on disc these three and a half centuries of uninterrupted Jewish life in the United States, where Jews have been free to exercise fully their creative spirit and to contribute to the fabric of national society, absorbing and enriching American culture and, at the same time, renewing their ancient heritage. It is in this fertile environment that the music of the American Jewish experience has flourished, forming a significant chapter in the development of American music as a whole. The Milken Archive will comprise the broadest spectrum of musical works pertaining to Jewish life and culture in America ever assembled.


The music heard on these recordings includes individual compositions, both sacred and secular, by more than 200 composers — almost half of them living — representing a wide variety of genres, styles, periods, and purposes. In addition to such well-known figures as Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Weill, and Darius Milhaud, there are young composers who are finding their own voices; award-winning composers at the forefront of American musical life who are creating new works of Jewish significance; and older composers whose legacies have recently been "rediscovered." There are composers of liturgical music and of songs for the Yiddish theater, whose names may not be familiar but whose music lives on from one generation to the next. The entire repertoire encompasses classical art music for the concert hall, popular idioms for the theater and communal celebrations, and liturgical music for the synagogue and home. Included are symphonies, concertos, and solo and instrumental works inspired by Jewish themes; cantorial masterpieces and art songs; popular songs from the heyday of Yiddish theater and radio; complete synagogue services in the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform traditions; operas, oratorios, and other dramatic works; "klezmer" and Hassidic-inspired music; music for holy day and life-cycle celebrations; songs of Zionism and social action; and a wide range of sacred compositions, from authentic Colonial-period prayers to contemporary settings in the idioms of Broadway and jazz. The Archive also includes the works of several non-Jewish composers who have been inspired by Jewish ideals or texts, including Dave Brubeck, whose cantata The Gates of Justice explores the historic and spiritual parallels of Jews and African Americans, combining Hebrew biblical texts and the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., in a plea for brotherhood.


Although these works may vary significantly in scope, complexity, and stylistic orientation, they share certain qualities that help to define them as Jewish music. Some may incorporate or be informed by traditional, enduring Jewish musical characteristics, such as melodic patterns, modes, and expressive idiosyncrasies. They are often inspired by the broad array of Jewish text sources—biblical, Talmudic, folk, mystical, poetic, and literary—that have maintained their immediacy and relevance over time, as well as by defining moments in Jewish history: the siege of Masada, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust; or, in a more positive vein, victories over oppression and the birth of modern Israel. Finally, these compositions may constitute a response to the ongoing spiritual aspirations and the intense personal and collective experiences—from the most joyful to the most tragic—that have delineated Jewish existence over the course of time, experiences that can also resonate within a larger human context.

The entire recording project has been conceived and executed according to the most exacting standards of research and scholarship, as envisioned by Lowell Milken from the very outset of this undertaking. Selected by a distinguished panel of musicologists, conductors, performers, cantors, and Judaic scholars under the direction of Neil W. Levin, an internationally recognized scholar and authority on Jewish music, the works recorded were chosen for their intrinsic musical value and potential to reach a wide audience, as well as for their Jewish character and inspiration.


The roster of renowned artists illustrates the international nature of this project. It features many prominent American and European conductors, orchestras, instrumental and vocal soloists, choral groups, and chamber ensembles. In addition, the artistry of celebrated cantors, Jewish choirs, and exponents of popular Yiddish theater music and of the "klezmer" tradition, who are steeped in their particular repertoires, lends a valuable note of authenticity and intensity. Last but not least, there are performances by rapidly rising young artists and promising soloists and ensembles from leading conservatories and universities.

Hundreds of hours of recording sessions took place in prestigious American and European venues from Seattle to Prague, Los Angeles to Berlin, with the highest regard for authenticity. Whenever feasible, works were recorded in historically appropriate locations; in many cases, composers either recorded their own works or were present at the sessions to provide guidance and inspiration. These new recordings were produced according to the highest technical standards, under the direction of internationally recognized recording producers.


Fewer than 100 of the 600 works featured by the Milken Archive appear to have been previously recorded by other companies for commercial release. In several cases, compositions had to be reconstructed from manuscript versions, new orchestrations were required, or works were resurrected from relative obscurity, providing new opportunities for them to be heard and performed.


Fifty individual CDs of the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music will be released and distributed by Naxos American Classics over a period of several years, beginning in September 2003. The association between Naxos and the Milken Archive is particularly fitting because both share a commitment to enlarging the musical repertoire and to bringing previously unrecorded works to the public at a reasonable price. Updated information about new releases, as well as stories and articles about Jewish music, composers, and artists, are featured on the Milken Archive Web site: www.milkenarchive.org


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