Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hanukkah Day 20: Samuel Adler's Flames of Freedom it's December 23. Hanukkah is long done and for varying reasons I never got out my last two Hanukkah posts. I'm not sure if I'll get the last one out, but I really wanted to share this one.

As I've mentioned, I've been listening and researching a lot more Jewish art music lately. One contemporary composer who's name I run into again and again is Samuel Adler. As his Milken Archive biography notes, "With a catalog comprising more than 400 secular and liturgical works, German-born Samuel Adler is a highly prolific American composer, as well as an accomplished conductor and a respected educator." He's the son of the equally famous composer and cantor Chaim Hugo Adler and has had a long and deep involvement in Jewish liturgical music in the US, including a stint heading the Reform movement's Transcontinental Musical Publishers and teaching at School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College. (for more info also see his wikipedia biography.)

Among his Jewish output is an outstanding set of Hanukkah music, The Flames of Freedom (available from the Milken Archive). Flames is "a cantata for three-part treble-voice chorus and piano, based on ten well-known Hanukka songs and hymns together with original music to two other liturgical Hanukka texts. It consists of eight short movements, each representing one of the eight Hanukka lights."

Unlike many art music adaptations of Jewish melodies I've heard, there is no hint of sentimental sweetening and swelling nostalgic orchestrations. Instead, these are wonderful new compositions that use original themes as jumping off points for new explorations. I don't pretend enough knowledge to really review art music pieces, so I'll leave it at that this... They're wonderful.

You can listen to clips online at the Milken Archive to hear the recorded performances. It turns out that Flames has also been arranged and published as sheet music for high-school choral's. Here's "William Floyd High School Women's Choir under the direction of Kristin Cimonetti performing" Flames of Freedom III. Hannerot hallalu (The Lights We Have Kindled) during their Winter concert, January 5, 2010. Lovely.

Flames of Freedom III. Hannerot hallalu (The Lights We Have Kindled)

I actually emailed Adler earlier this week. According to his bio, "His articles on Jewish music have appeared in the Central Conference of American Rabbis journal; Jewish Music; European Judaism; Musica Judaica; Diapason; The American Choral Review; and many others." I was hoping that he might have reprinted them in a book form or have them available somehow. No such luck. I'll have to try to hit the source journals.

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