There are a lot of people who think they know a Jewish song when they hear one, but a concert presented by the Jewish Music Foundation tomorrow night might give listeners a new perspective.
“Some think that cantor chants are the only clearly Jewish music,” said Neal Brostoff, the foundation’s artistic director. “Others have a narrower view and limit Jewish music to what is chanted when the Torah is being read. And then some say Yiddish folk songs are Jewish, nothing more.”
Brostoff said such narrow thinking ignores the diversity of the Jewish people. The music of the Yemenite Jews, for example, sounds nothing like what most consider “Jewish.” “To the untrained Western ear,” Brostoff said, “their music sounds Arabic, the natural result of living in an Arabic milieu.”
Then there is music that is more classical than religious in its sound but with definite ties to Judaism. Brostoff counts “From Jewish Folk Poetry” by Dmitri Shostakovich as a viable piece of Jewish music even though Shostakovich wasn’t Jewish.
“If a composer is deeply committed to the Jewish experience,” Brostoff said, “then that person’s work qualifies as Jewish music.”
Brostoff, a former solo pianist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Ballet Theater and other organizations, hopes to spread this kind of thinking by presenting a series of concerts. He founded the Jewish Music Foundation, now in the middle of its second season, “as a vehicle for promoting unusual and challenging Jewish music.” In New York there are several outlets for such music, and Brostoff said he thought it was about time that the Jewish community in Los Angeles had a musical booster too.
At first he asked established institutions--synagogues, universities--to sponsor the kind of concerts he envisioned. When that didn’t happen, he figured out the grant-writing game and formed a nonprofit organization. “And I’ve really learned the meaning of nonprofit,” said Brostoff, who draws no salary.
Future concerts will focus on the music of Jewish women composers and the music of Lazar Weiner, one of the most important composers of Yiddish folk songs, and his son, Yenudi Wyner.
Tomorrow’s West Hills concert will include only one liturgical piece. The rest of the program is an assortment of secular vocal and instrumental works, including what Brostoff said will be the Los Angeles premiere of composer David Schiff’s “Divertimento from Gimpel the Fool.” This is a four-movement suite for clarinet, violin, piano and cello drawn from Schiff’s chamber opera.
Also on the program: Israeli folk song arrangements by Aaron Copland and Kurt Weill; various Jewish songs sung by Cantor Joseph Gole and Sondra Stowe in Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino (spoken by Sephardic Jews); two works by composer Ernest Bloch; and Italian-born composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s “Sephardic Songs” for a mezzo voice and harp.
Three members of the L.A. Philharmonic--violinist Mark Kashper, cellist Barry Gold and harpist Lou Anne Neill--will appear with Alan Solomon on clarinet and pianist Sophia Kashper. Brostoff will take a turn at the piano.
The Jewish Music Foundation’s concert, “Gimpel and the Goles,” is Saturday, Oct . 15 at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, 22922 Vanowen St. in West Hills. The c oncert begins at 8:15 p.m. and tickets are $10. Call (818) 346-3003 for reservations.