Dotted Notes
by Leonard Lehrman, June 7, 2009

In 2008, composer Yehudi Wyner was honored with the performance of a work of his at the annual concert of the American Society for Jewish Music at the Center for Jewish History. In 2009, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue presented a concert of his music honoring his 80th birthday, featuring the New York Virtuoso Singers conducted by Harold Rosenbaum, on the same day, Sunday afternoon, June 7, as the annual ASJM concert at the CJH. Not good planning.

Trying to be in two places at once, I caught only the beginning of the Wyner concert; Mark Greenfest stayed and shared his notes on the rest of the program.

Psalm 143 (1951, published in 1973) used the full choir, utilizing fragments of traditional Jewish cantillation, mixed with harmony redolent of Hindemith, with whom Wyner studied at Yale. Psalm 119 (1950) and Psalm 66 form a complementary set, with contrition and supplication giving way to a shout of jubiliation and triumph. Cantor Daniel Singer was the soloist.

The Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) of 2001 setting is lovely and transparent, with a kind of inner light, based on a traditional Georgian melody transcribed by Lazare Saminsky. The 1953 Friday Evening Service is mostly homophonic, accompanied by organ. Greenfest called the central Sh'ma "the most powerful setting I have ever heard" of it; while the Prayer for Peace moved him "to tears," as did the solo in R'tzey. The 1965 Torah Service, with brass quartet, cello and bass, was brash and energetic, potent, passionate and fervent.

At the CJH, the major work was Elie Siegmeister's 3-movement String Quartet #3 "On Hebrew Themes" (Yemenite, Chasidic, and Ashkenazic), honoring his centennial in the 24th of 41 concerts presenting a work of his in 2009. Though the program spelled his name wrong, violinists Adrian Pintea and Hilary Castle, violist Chiu-Chen Liu and cellist Leya Rennert-May acquitted themselves nicely in the lyrical, self-styled "multi-tonal" work. Joined by clarinetist Mara Plotkin, cellist David Himmelheber, and pianist Akiko Chiba, Pintea also performed in the final piece: the vigorous third and last movement of the 1983 Piano Quartet "from the East" by Max Stern, a native of Valley Stream, now living in Israel, who came in for the occasion. The same performers and flutist Jonathan Engle accompanied soprano Emily Duncan-Brown in Louis Karchin's effective cycle "A Way Separate" based on poetry by Ruth Whitman and Hanna Senesh, sensitively conducted by the composer. Other lighter fare included Michael Alan Rose's lively "Tree of Life" Fantasy for Clarinet, Cello and Piano; David Leisner's 3-movement delightful "Acrobats" for flute and guitar, and 7 effervescent miniatures (3 for piano 3 hands; 4 for voice and piano) by Leonard Bernstein. The other able performers included guitarist Kurt Toriello and pianists Milena Zhivotovskaya, Vladimir Valjarevic and Marija Ilic. The program, co-sponsored by the American Jewish Historical Society, was rich in notes about the composers, but said nothing about the performers except that they were "Young Artists from Mannes College The New School for Music."

--Leonard J. Lehrman