Going to a cantorial concert

One of the most interesting things that I noted while attending this concert is the contrast between the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which I attended for years, and this cantorial concert.

Rabbi Berel Wein

Judaism Cantors (illustrative)
Cantors (illustrative)
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Several weeks ago, in spite of all of the dire warnings regarding the corona virus (but much before the new rules for containing its spread), I attended a concert of great cantors here in Jerusalem. It was a beautiful concert and all the performers were in excellent voice. They were accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and by a choir of many dozens of fine tenor, baritone, and bass voices.

I don't often go to concerts - in fact, this is the first concert I've been to, I imagine, in four or five years - but I do enjoy hearing religious cantorial music, and when a friend of mine called me and said that he had an extra ticket, I agreed to go. I do not want this to imply that I only go to concerts when I don't have to pay for the ticket.


There was one baby whom the conductor of the orchestra requested to be taken out because somehow it was criticizing the performance.
For many years, I was a subscriber to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra series of concerts, but at my age and current status in life, I am not the regular concert goer that I once was. In any event, I was delighted to be able to go to the concert and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I am not a music critic and I cannot tell you how such a professional critic would have rated the performance, but I enjoyed it and for me that was the main accomplishment of the evening.

I do have a comment to make though on cantorial concerts. The cantors sing excerpts from the Jewish prayer service, especially renditions of the High Holy Days and other holiday compositions. Even though they perform very ably on the concert stage and hit every note perfectly, somehow, in my opinion, something is missing because the prayer is not real. Prayers are meant to be addressed to God and even though they do have a place in terms of music and in terms of talent, nevertheless they are not nearly as meaningful, at least to me, as they are when recited within the prayer service itself. I know that there is no way for this to be corrected, as a concert is not a prayer service. The concert is enjoyable and could even be considered meaningful, but it is not a prayer service and lacks some of the soulful intensity which to me always marks the holidays of the Jewish people.

Also, in a perverse way, I found the musical accompaniment of the symphony orchestra, glorious as it is on its own, to be somewhat jarring and disturbing because, again, it is completely disconnected to the prayer when that prayer is offered as part of a holiday service. I do not want to carp on this nor belittle the concert. I am aware that going to the concert is not going to the synagogue, but I want to express my opinion on the matter, biased as it may be.

One of the most interesting things that I noted while attending this concert is the contrast between the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which I attended for years, and this cantorial concert. The contrast to me was in the demographic of the audience. For reasons not completely understood by me, but very apparent, the average age of the concert goer to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concerts is late middle age at best. Very few young people can be found attending those concerts, and certainly it is not the favorite entertainment place for young couples.

However, at this cantorial concert I would estimate that at least a third, if not more, of the attendees were young people in their 20s and 30s. As is the case in Israel, even babies were brought to the concert by their parents. Thankfully, almost all these babies slept through the concert despite the noise, though there was one baby whom the conductor of the orchestra requested to be taken out because somehow it was criticizing the performance. I found this to be very heartening.

Young people listening to the traditional cantorial renditions, especially of Eastern European Jewry, melodies and cantorial songs that date back hundreds and hundreds of years still strike a familiar and haunting note in the hearts and minds of Jewish young people. It's as though this was a method of hanging on to what had gone before. It was a connection to the world of their grandparents and great grandparents. It was a connection to a world that no longer exists but still is with us in our hearts and souls.

To me, this was a special reward granted to me by attending this cantorial concert. I saw, in practical terms, a continuity of generations and a binding of the past and the present in order to build a future. And this is what Judaism is all about, and this is what we strive to achieve. If cantorial concerts can aid in this is respect, more power to them, and I have gratitude to the performers and to those who organized the concert, and especially to the person who gave me a free ticket. 




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