Recording in England, resting in Israel

By David Amos

David Amos

David Amos

SAN DIEGO — The second half of October, just a month ago, turned out to be very special. From the 19th to the 23rd, I was invited to conduct the London Philharmonic in the city’s Abbey Road Studios. The following week takes only one word: Israel. Here are the details of both destinations.

The London recording with the LPO was devoted to the music of the late Arnold Rosner, a Brooklyn composer who passed away two years ago at the age of 68. Arnie and I had a friendship of many years as well as many musical cooperations. I traveled with him and recorded his music in Jerusalem, London, and San Diego. Together with my local orchestra (TICO), through the years, I commissioned him and premiered at least six of his works, most of which had a strong connection with Judaica.

When he died, his sister formed a foundation to memorialize his very intense and personal music creations, and this was what brought this project to fruition. Together with Walter Simmons, a New York music critic, author, and strong champion of Rosner’s music, we selected four of his works that had never been recorded, but showed his various styles. Two of these works I commissioned, and was already quite familiar with them: One was called “Gematria”, which is a part of the Kabbala that deals with the complex interaction of letters and numbers. It is very virtuosic, and a serious challenge for any orchestra to perform with precision, musicality, and spirit.

Rosner’s music is a curious but very effective fusion of Middle Ages and Renaissance chants and harmonies, juxtaposed with modern rhythms, deeply sensitive music, and 20th Century harmonic style. His music is at times, as another critic called it “incredibly beautiful,” and at other moments quite complex and modernistic. All of us who knew him attest to his brilliant quick-silver mind and tongue, and sensitivity toward his colleague-composers.

The other work which Rosner composed and dedicated to my wife Lee and myself was “From the Diaries of Adam Czerniakow.” This 27-minute work is for narrator and large orchestra, and tells the story of Czerniakow, a Jew whom the Nazis appointed to be the administrator of the Warsaw Ghetto. The script, which is excerpted from his secret diary, very graphically depicts the horrible conditions in the ghetto, the diseases, lack of food, and finally, the orders he received to have groups of Jews at the railway station every morning for “relocation.” As he became aware that he was an accomplice to a horrible crime, he took his own life. Very few musical documents have the stark impact of portraying the Holocaust as this work does. Many see his cooperation with the Nazis as treachery against his fellow Jews, but we can not deny that when hearing this, this is history, and it should be told.

The other two pieces we recorded were the Second Piano Concerto, composed during Rosner’s youth. It is mostly lighthearted, and it was superbly interpreted by New York pianist Peter Vinograde. You will have the pleasure of hearing Peter next season when he will come to San Diego to play with TICO the Second Piano Concerto by another composer, Franz Liszt.

The fourth piece was what may turn out to be the most popular and accessible work in this compact disc, the “Six Pastoral Dances.” It is truly delightful music.

All these four works were recorded in two days at the studio. It was quite a charged atmosphere: One of the great orchestras of the world, 100 strong, a distinguished cast in the recording booth, some of the best recording equipment in the business, all taking place in the historic Abbey Road Studios, famed home of the Beatles, and possibly the best recording studio in the world. The building drips with tradition and excellence; it is practically a shrine. All the great U.K. orchestras have recorded there, and its staff recorded with me in Glasgow 12 years ago, and under the EMI label, have recorded in Berlin, Tel Aviv, and Philadelphia in many recordings with other conductors you may have in your own CD library.

The musicians of the London Philharmonic were as virtuosic, good humored, and a joy to work with, as I found the case to be with other London orchestras I have conducted in the past. I was surrounded by all-stars both in the studio and in the recording booth, and the results were very satisfying indeed.

The second week of the trip was in Israel. Funny thing, when we were still in the London airport and after many security checks, we finally reached the El Al gate, and we felt already in Israel! Screaming, running kids (There was a whole gaggle of them!), loud Hebrew between the adults, more passport checks, plenty of Orthodox passengers, and everyone with an I phone. But we loved it; we were already home.

Our time in Israel was three days in Jerusalem, and four in Tel Aviv. Nothing spectacular to relate. We mostly visited with both aging and young relatives, and took plenty of family photos. There was no panic about the recent violence and knifings, but our friends and relatives advised caution and awareness. We spent Shabbat in Jerusalem, when the city comes practically to a halt. There is a serene feeling of tranquility. We walked the streets, at times practically alone. Many times we spotted young women, religious and not, calmly walking alone. Our relatives and friends were not interested in the least to talk about the occasional violence. They seemed far more interested in American politics, and what will the Republicans say next. There was, however, a marked apathy and disappointment with the recent comments and actions of PM Netanyahu.

Our time in Israel was right at the break between Summer and Fall. We were treated to thunderstorms and plenty of rain during our time there. But, it’s Israel, and every moment there is to be cherished. When we could, we did some walking, and that in itself was delightful.

There was one magic moment. We were riding on a taxi from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the sun was setting. As we approached Jerusalem, our driver shouted, “Look!” We looked up, and there was the Jerusalem skyline, the setting sun, and from the northeast corner, a full, orange moon. It lasted no longer than two minutes, but they were 120 seconds of unforgettable beauty.

The flight back was a killer: Tel Aviv, Paris, New York, San Diego, with short connection times that worked well, but pushed our energy levels.

Upon arrival back home, we received the sad news that the former president of Israel Yitzhak Navon, had passed away. We met with him and his family in the 1980’s and 90’s. He was a distant relative, and strong advocate of the Sephardic culture. In the early 1900’s his family and mine lived in the same building in Jerusalem. In 1982, he practically forced my wife and me to buy from a friend two encyclopedias of the synagogue chants of the Sephardim, which we proudly have at home. He was a man of great culture, knowledge, communication, warmth, and common sense.

Amos is the conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra (TICO) and has guest conducted professional orchestras around the world.  He may be contacted via [email protected].  Any comments in the space below should include the writer’s full name and city and state of residence, or city and country for non-U.S. residents.

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