Once again, hundreds of Jewish music lovers spent a week in harmony. The 27th North American Jewish Choral Festival brought together singers from across the US and Canada -- as well as representatives from Israel, Germany, England, Australia and South Africa.
Yiddish choral music was highlighted at this year's Festival, culminating in the 14th annual Hallel V'Zimrah Award ceremonies on Wednesday evening, when Zalmen Mlotek was recognized for his work in bringing Yiddish music to new generations. The Festival's "Next DOR" (Next Generation) participants started off the music of the evening with a lively rendition of "Der Rebbe Elimelech", conducted by four of this summer's Festival Fellows (a fifth accompanied, while two others were featured in solo performances elsewhere in during the Festival). Indeed, throughout the week, Yiddish selections were included on the programs of nearly all of the visiting choirs: The Jewish People's Philharmonic Choir; Zamir Chorale of Boston; HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir; Shirah; Zemer Chai; Zamir Noded; the NJ Cantors Concert Ensemble; and the Zamir Chorale.
Plenty of new music -- in Hebrew and English, as well as Yiddish -- was sung throughout the week. New music by Steve Cohen, Richard Cohn and Dave Schlossberg was included among the Community Sing selections, and the Next DOR ensemble presented a setting of Mi Chamocha by Festival Fellow Ari Sussman. Instant Ensembles conducted by Vicki Axe, Richard Cohn and Eleanor Epstein also presented new works (along with some older ones) while Matthew Lazar's Instant Ensemble performed a thrilling setting of Psalm 96 by 17-year-old HaZamir Westchester singer Samuel Dylan Rosner (following its premiere by HaZamir at its Carnegie Hall concert last April).
The recent passing of Elie Wiesel z"l was also noted at the Festival. In addition to the lengthy list of accolades and prizes he received during his lifetime, the Festival community remembered him as the Zamir Choral Foundation's Honorary Chairman for nearly a quarter-century, and receipient of the 2009 Hallel V'Zimrah Award. Matthew Lazar offered a moving tribute on Sunday evening, and Foundation Consultant Ariel Burger, who had been Wiesel's student and teaching assistant at Boston University offered his own remembrances on Wednesday night as an introduction to a short video clip in which Wiesel was heard chanting the haunting setting of "Ani Ma'amin" from his Vishnietz childhood that Festival attendees had sung with him during his visits to the Festival. Festival participants offered their own thoughts in a "memory book" that was compiled throughout the week, and which will be passed along to Wiesel's family.
As Wiesel had noted, every text has its song -- and often multiple versions. For a 27th consecutive summer, Festival participants reveled in the richness of the Jewish choral repertoire; in the talents of the clinicians and conductors who led rehearsals, and offered more than 45 workshops; and in the fellowship that brings a diverse community together each summer to share their love for the Jewish choral tradition. As the Festival attendees said their goodbyes, many could be heard already making plans to be back next summer. Save the dates for NAJCF 28, July 16-20, 2017.