“Make no mistake,” wrote Harold C. Schoenberg of The New York Times ( first music critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for music criticism) March 12 1971, “Mr. Pavarotti has a Golden Age voice.”
The career of the greatest tenor of our age was officially launched.
In my more modest world of Hazzanut, The largest body of Cantors in the world, The Cantors Assembly, met last week in convention, for the 67th year, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. You can say it is the year of the female Cantor as our beloved colleague, Hazzan Nancy Abramson was elected the first female President in the organization’s history.
Many wonderful female Cantorial voices were featured during the week. I would like to talk about two.
I, along with my colleague Zach Mondrow, produced the Abraham Shapiro Memorial Concert this past monday night at the convention. It was designated as a concert of Yiddish and Cantorial music, as this was the music that Hazzan Shapiro loved so much. We mixed the concert up with artists varying from the age of the “Cantorsaurus Rex,” such as Sol Zim, Alberto Mizrahi and myself, to some recent graduates of the H.L. Miller Cantorial school. Two such younger colleagues were Shayna Postman of Town and Villiage, Manhattan, and Jen Cohen of Temple Beth Shalom, Cherry Hill, NJ. Shayna chose Hazzanut, and presented Moshe Ganchoff’s brilliant L’maan Yirbu, or what I affectionately call, “Tzitzis.” Back in ’85, I produced a ma’ariv concert in Temple Gates of Prayer of Flushing, NY with Ganchoff himself davvening maariv. Moshe hadn’t published the L’maan Yirbu as of yet, but he brought along a sketch for Danny Gildar to play from. The late great Tibor Kellen was one of my artists, and I’ll never forget the look on his face as Moshe started singing the d’veyko, l’maan tizk’ru. Tibor looked like a ten year old kid after Babe Ruth just hit a home run for him. We all thought we were in Poland in the ’20’s.
WE INTERRUPT THIS STORY FOR A NEWSFLASH!!!
I just walked into my office from the car, where I was listening to Nicolai Gedda singing the Balcony Scene from Gounod’s Romeo and Julliet, on a Sirius Met Opera Radio broadcast, from 1968, ending with a high B-flat of such magnitude, that one could hear the paint pealing from the ceiling, thus furthering my belief in the Holy One, Blessed Be He/She.
BACK TO OUR STORY…
So Shayna ascends to the stage and sings the opening phrase of L’maan Yirbu, and right away I’m shocked. She’s singing in the key of F!!! “OY VEY,” I say to myself. “What is she trying to do? Gather in all the dogs from the neighborhood?” The general rule is: IF YOU’RE A SOPRANO, DON’T SING FULL VOICE IN THE TENOR PASSAGIO. Notice I said general rule. Shayna is not your average Soprano. She sings high notes like she’s waiting for the bus! Effortless. Shayna never k’vetch’s gratuitously. Her emotion comes properly from within. Even when the piece modulated (with the aid of Iz Goldsteins’ fine accompaniment) to B flat minor for the afore mentioned d’veyko. Shayna was in her comfort zone; so, therefore, were we.
The audience roared at the end. No mean feat that, as the piece ends quietly, thus dispelling the old notion that JEWS NEED HIGH NOTES AT THE END.
Jen then rises to the Bimah to tackle Sholom Secunda’s emotional BUBENYU. How will she break the spell of what came before, and establish the new mood? The answer came swiftly, as she entered the song to the brilliant Joyce Rosenzweig’s perfectly set tempo, with a limpid pleading quality to her soft tones. “Do not destroy this peaceful. holy Sabbath. There are as yet no stars in the sky. So wait, just a moment more, Bubenyu.” The assembled were holding their collective breath as Jen executed a perfect, high note pianissimo, on the words: “God of Abraham,” and paused dramatically, finishing with: “a tear runs slowly down the darkened window pane.”
I need not say what the reaction was, so, simply put, two well respected women colleagues came to the concert, and went home, Cantorial luminaries.