About this Recording
8.559435 - KINGSLEY: Voices from the Shadow / Jazz Psalms / Shabbat for Today


Voices From The Shadow (1997)
Jazz Psalms (1966)
Shabbat For Today (excerpts) (1968)
Shiru LadonaiSing To God (excerpts) (1970)

Gershon Kingsley has focused on both secular and religious works, most of them theatrically oriented.  Equally at home in the classical and more popular realms, he has been a succes experiences ranged from playing the organ at a Reform synagogue; directing music for the Joffrey Ballet, Josephine Baker and several Broadway shows; and accompanying Jan Peerce on international tours; to spending a summer at the Brandeis Arts Institute, where he was influenced by the charismatic composer and conductor Max Helfman.  This varied background, together with the relaxation of traditional formal boundaries and the ascendancy of the youth-oriented popular culture in the late 1960s, prompted Kingsley to explore ways to expand the boundaries of traditional synagogue music by infusing them with popular elements.  He became particularly interested in the use of synthesized electronic sounds in liturgical contexts, acquired one of the earliest Moog synthesizers and, in 1970, founded the First Moog Quartet, which gave the first-ever live electronic music concert at Carnegie Hall.

The first work on this Milken Archive CD, Voices From The Shadow, is a compelling musical-theater piece for solo voices and chamber ensemble of strings, piano and clarinet that features settings of poems written by inmates in the concentration camps, and afterwards by survivors.  Sung in six languagesGerman, Yiddish, French, English, Polish and Czech, these almost unbearably intense poems include expressions of terror and loneliness, futility and desperation; tender love songs; bittersweet recollections and lullabies; ironic, heartbreaking songs for children; and finally, expressions of hope and liberation, all underscored by Kingsley’s sensitive musical responses to the poetry.  Many juxtapose the ongoing, unwavering course of nature with the totally unnatural brutality of the camps, sometimes portrayed with frightening indifference. 

This work had its origins when Milken Archive Artistic Director Neil Levin asked the composer to write a new work for performance at an international conference on the musical culture of German Jewry, as well as for subsequent recording.  During its composition, Kingsley often became so overcome with emotion that he nearly abandoned it.  Writing about this work, he addressed the unavoidable conflict engendered by attempts to express the experience of the Holocaust.  “Is it possible to write songs about Auschwitz,” Kingsley asks, “or even more important, is it permitted to do so?...One CANNOT write about Auschwitz.  One MUST write—write and write—about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.  It seems that when we are forced to walk that corridor between Life and Death, sources of creativity become readily available, and Life is compelled to express itself.” 

The composer’s 1966 work Jazz Psalms, scored for soprano, small choir and jazz quintet, testifies to his long connection with that idiom, and exhibits an inventive synthesis of syncopated jazz rhythms with Jewish modal motifs.  The term psalms is used in this work in its wider generic sense of “sacred song,” since these texts are prayers from the Hebrew Sabbath liturgy, not the biblical Book of Psalms.

Shabbat For Today, a Sabbath evening service, stems from that period of the American Jewish experience when progressive voices in the Reform movement sought new and often experimental approaches to worship, in part to relate to elements of the younger generation who had become disaffected with established synagogue ritual.  Influences ranged from rock and folk-rock idioms to the new electronically synthesized music, and some of the results upset even the most forward-looking synagogue cantors and musicians.  The legitimate quest for new means of expression, however, led to some notable works, of which Kingsley’s Shabbat for Today is one.  Originally performed by a cantor and an all-black choir, with electric guitar, double bass, rhythm section and organ, it utilized a Moog synthesizer only as background to the spoken sections.  Soon afterwards, however, the Moog replaced the live ensemble, and that is the version heard on this CD, with actor Harry Goz reciting the rabbi’s introductions to and translations of the prayers.  Originally considered controversial by many traditionally-minded rabbis and cantors, the work, with its blend of lyricism and energy, has gained acceptance over the years, and has been performed more than 150 times in synagogues and on television.

Shiru Ladonai (Sing to God) is a unified kabbalat shabbat (Sabbath welcoming) and Sabbath evening service that was commissioned in 1970 by Cantor David Putterman of New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue as part of its celebrated annual program to encourage the writing of new liturgical music.  In this work, Kingsley set out to juxtapose traditional melodic motifs with the coloristic possibilities of synthesized sound.  The work was composed expressly for the Moog synthesizer with cantor and choir, and embodies the composer’s love of the liturgical poetry.  Its premiere marked the first use of the Moog for an entire service in any synagogue.  In the program booklet, the composer remarked: “I don’t consider it a ‘jazz’ or ‘rock’ service at all.  I think it’s very traditional, except that all of the accompaniment is played from synthesizers.”

In assessing Kingsley’s approach to the liturgy, Neil Levin points out: “On both musical and liturgical planes, appreciation of a work such as Shabbat for Today—or, for that matter, of Kingsley’s other liturgical works on this recording—does not require discarding classical western Hebrew choral settings, traditional eastern European cantorial styles…or any other constituent elements of an aggregate Jewish liturgical repertoire.  The validity of this work is earned by its musical merit, and it is doubtful that its composer, as an artist, sought to replace anything.  To the contrary, it is but one more serious individual expression that further enriches a living, expanding heritage.”

Among Kingsley’s other sacred and quasi-sacred works are They Never Had a Chance to Live, a Holocaust-related dramatic musical presentation, The Fifth Cup, a staged Passover Seder that has been broadcast nationally; and The Letter to the Russian Pharaohs, an interpretation of a Sabbath eve service from modern Israeli-Hassidic perspectives.  His popular choral anthem, Shepherd Me, Lord generated nearly two million sheet music sales to southern Baptist congregational choirs, who were attracted to its gospel style.  In March 2004, he completed an opera based on the life of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

Close the window