Sunday 5 June 2011

Hazzan Nathan Mendelson Music Foundation Concert

The Hazzan Nathan Mendelson Music Foundation of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim (450 Kensington) in Westmount will be presenting a multi-media concert on Monday, June 13 (7:30 pm) in the main sanctuary. “The Voice of the Cantor - From Shtetl to Stage" will transport the audience back to the shtetl (little town) in Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and take them on a journey to the new world where, in the 21st century, the cantor has become revered as a performer, be it in the synagogue or on the Broadway or opera stages. This production will be accomplished by live performances, enhanced with amazing archival film footage and original narration by Allan Nadler, a professor at Drew university in New Jersey and a former Rabbi at the Shaar. Cantors Asher Hainovitz of the Jeshurun Central Synagogue in Jerusalem and Gideon Zelermyer of the Shaar will be accompanied by the synagogue choir, directed by Stephen Glass. The Shaar is marking its 165th anniversary and this concert will mark the start of the Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival

The Hazzan Nathan Mendelson Music Foundation was established in 1982 to honour the life and memory of Nathan Mendelson, who served as Hazzan (a Jewish musician trained in vocal arts) of the Congregation for 35 years, commencing in 1938 and concluding in 1973. He was then appointed Hazzan Emeritus of the Congregation and continued to serve until his untimely passing on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, 1977.

“So much Torah was contained in the world and life of Hazzan Nathan Mendelson that I am convinced that the world was justified in its creation because of him,” Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat commented in his eulogy. A lawyer, ordained Rabbi, Talmudic scholar, musician and Mohel, Hazzan Mendelson had a profound influence on all members of the Congregation and the Montreal Jewish community at large, regardless of age, whose lives he touched. Possessed of a curious mind and intellect, he read voraciously in areas such as advanced mathematics, physics, metaphysics and philosophy, notes his son David, for many years a leading figure in the local Jewish community himself.

As described by Rabbi Shuchat, “When Hazzan Mendelson came to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, he brought to his responsibilities a combination of dignity, depth and authority. He was a master of Jewish liturgy. He could interpret a verse in the Siddur with the imagination of a mystic.”

The creation of the Hazzan Nathan Mendelson Music Foundation was largely due to the efforts of the Shaar Hashomayim’s late S. Laddie Kert, founding chair. “Laddie undertook a major campaign that succeeded in attracting 30 founding patrons who held Hazzan Mendelson in high esteem. In recent years, the Foundation Committee, under the leadership of Sharron Feifer, has been expanded as has the patron base,” said David (pictured above). “The Foundation has remained true to its longstanding commitment that the capital would remain in perpetuity and only the interest would be used to subsidize or fully fund the concerts and other undertakings of the Foundation.”

Since its inception, the overall goal of the Foundation has been to keep alive the memory and influence of Hazzan Mendelson. With this in mind, the Foundation Committee developed objectives centering on performance and creativity. Thus, the Foundation not only presents to the public important Jewish musical works, but also seeks to foster their creation.

Over the 29-year period of 1982 to 2011, the Foundation has presented to the Jewish and broader Montreal community, 21 concerts and related Jewish musical events. These have featured choral, cantorial, operatic, and instrumental genres highlighting Canadian composers, music of the Holocaust, music of prayer as well as classical and modern repertoire, lectures and Shabbaton weekends, performed by a diversity of local, Canadian and international artists. All of the Foundation’s concerts have taken place at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.

A gala concert event took place on October 28, 2007 in honour of the Foundation’s 25th anniversary. The year 2007 also marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hazzan Mendelson, as well as the year in which his 30th Yahrzeit was observed. These milestones were reflected in this concert which saw an attendance of over 1,000 in the main sanctuary. A CD of Hazzan Mendelson’s recordings was created for this occasion and distributed to all who attended this event.

Going forward, the Foundation remains committed to working in close cooperation with the other musical arms of the Congregation in planning innovative programs and featuring outstanding artists and musical works.

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