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March 29, 2005

Choir revives lost Jewish music

FJC (Russia):

The Russian Revolution not only killed thousands of Jews, it threatened to silence the music of the ones who survived. So when boxes of Eastern European religious music, which the KGB had locked away, were discovered during Glasnost, Alexander "Sasha" Tsaliuk was inspired to bring it back to life. "Gorbachev gave us permission to re-establish the Jewish community in 1989," said Tsaliuk, who was 19 at the time. Now artistic director and conductor of the Moscow Male Jewish Choir, formed that year with the help of Master Cantor Joseph Malovany, Tsaliuk is bringing 20 of his singers to Boca Raton, Aventura and Palm Beach during their second U.S. tour.

The music found in the cellars of the Russian secret police was hand-written sheet music from the Ukraine, Romania, Odessa and Moldavia for choir and cantor, and some just for cantors to sing during Shabbat and High Holy Days services. "[The Russian government] wanted to keep it, but we took quite a few and arranged them, and some of it is sung by the chorus," Malovany said. "It was very emotional," he said of going through the boxes, and made him feel he was linked to the cantors of the past. Later, he was the first Western cantor to perform the music in Moscow and St. Petersburg, he said.

The music the choir rescued from oblivion has been the backbone of the repertoire it has performed in more than 300 concerts, largely a cappella. They also sing familiar Jewish and Israeli folk songs most American Jews grew up singing in synagogue. For instance, the rousing Heveinu Shalom Aleyhem is set to a bossa nova beat, and there are two versions of Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn on their Web site, www.hasidic-cappella.com. "They have a varied repertoire, but what makes them unique is restoring part of Jewish history that has been lost and to perform it in such high quality we get to love it again," said Bill Yellin, of San Diego, one of the choir's volunteer handlers while they're in the United States. "Their quality is so exceptional, we have never heard this music sung so well before."

"The music we are doing was composed during the last 100 years and performed in synagogues all over Europe," Malovany said from New York, where he has been cantor of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan for 31 years. "It's a classical repertoire on a very high level, yet the melodies are so known and beautiful." The Moscow Male Jewish choir is the official choir of the Marina Roscha Synagogue Chabad Lubavitch and the Jewish community center of Moscow and is supported by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

Posted by acapnews at March 29, 2005 12:47 AM