Bloch Nigun Question

September 15, 2007 at 06:56 AM · Hey guys, I am starting the Nigun for a competition, (to be coupled with my mendelssohn concerto), and I am making good headway on it. I will be trying it out with a pianist soon, and i might upload a video, as we are not allowed to videotape the competition. I am confused about the Nigun: what was the meaning of the piece? Sir Arnold Steinhardt thinks of it as a cry to god, as a piece recalling Jewish suffering, therefore playing it lamentingly, and sweetly with passion. Ivry Gitlis thinks of it as a showpiece: I am personally taking it sort of like Mr. Steinhardts. What did Bloch want it to be? I can't find anything about it on the internet.

Replies (100)

September 15, 2007 at 07:02 AM · http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigun

Also, you should read up on the teachings of Baal Shem Tov, specifically about his teachings on prayer. Maybe it will help you play it better than how it is usually done. It is not a showpiece... please, at least don't play it like that.

September 15, 2007 at 07:31 AM · I was just watching, uh listening to Josh Bell play it--first time--wow!

http://youtube.com/watch?v=2lfA7-s8p94

Actually, I found myself in this piece--so straight and uncomplicated, yet so melodic and powerful.

September 15, 2007 at 12:50 PM · I just listened to both the Bell and the Gitlis recordings. I agree it is a cry to G-d but it is not without passion, indeed, it is not contemplative or simply a lament. It is accusatory at the same time. Bell finds none of that in his approach. His is simply the tuneless melodic meanderings of a mind caught in mid-thought. No passion there just melodic thought. I don't find Gitlis to be playing a showpiece rather it is for me an informed, highly personal reading. Jewish literature is filled with this kind of dual prayer --lamenting and accusatory. I can't fault Gitlis' reading. For me it is spot on!

If you want to see the type of text that I am referring to, try to find the text for A Plea to G-d. It is by the 18th century Rabbi Levi-Yitchok of Berditchev and is exactly the kind of accusatory lament I speak of

September 15, 2007 at 01:06 PM · Hi -

In Jewish tradition and prayer a nigun is an improvisatory chant that is sung without words. The melody is melismatic and the syllables used are usually aye yaye yaye or something along that nature. If you ever need clarification or inspiration go to an Orthodox synagogue and you'll hear plenty of nigunnim.

The Baal Shem Tov was a very influential Rabbi in the 1700's (I believe but I'm not positive) who taught his followers that the way to get closer to G-d was through losing yourself in music and dance.

Daniel

September 15, 2007 at 03:26 PM · MAZAL TOV! Yes-- good fortune, Mr. Skowronski.

AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE explains:

"Skowronski has a new recording, Avec et Sans, Volume II. The CD is compiled from LIVE recitals and there are no weak performances. The opening NIGUN by Ernest Bloch is a very intense, polished performance that grabs you by the ears and just doesn't let go. There is some roughness here and there, but only because Skowronski is a violinist who takes risks, and here they really pay off. He shows us that he is a prime example of the old eastern European school of string playing. We strongly recommend this recording, in particular, for the works by Bloch and Szymanowski."

"On a good day, Skowronski is clearly one of the best violinists in the country."

S:CR/ARG

Clips at: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/skowronski5

September 15, 2007 at 04:09 PM · Wow--I listened to Mr. Skowronski's version on cdbaby dot com as well. I like Bell's version and Skowronski's for different reasons.

I loved the intensity Skowronski put in to it--undoubtedly. And I liked Bell's subdued thoughtful interpretation as well. It would be like having to choose between seafood and steak to me.

September 15, 2007 at 04:37 PM · Again I think that Skowronski gets the musical intent spot on. For me the Bell has pink water in its veins.

September 15, 2007 at 04:55 PM · Maxim Vengerov has a very good recording of this piece on his early "virtuoso" album with Itamar Golan on piano. To my ears he brings out more of the introverted, contemplative side of the piece along with the fire and passion, and it's very effective. I hate when people play this piece like it's a macho Verdi tenor aria or something.

September 15, 2007 at 08:00 PM · I have a very good recording of the Baal Shem Trilogy by Stern and Zakin. These pieces are a tribute to a culture that largely disappeared during the Holocaust, and they are very much tied to a particular culture. Therefore, I think it is ideal to have a violinist with the closest connection possible to that culture. I have not heard Bell's, Vengerov's or Skowronowski's versions. Of the folks mentioned so far, Stern has the closest connection. While Bell and Vengerov (and maybe Skowronowski) are nominally Jewish, I doubt they have the kind of feeling for the culture that Stern had. So, I would think Stern's rendition might be the best place to start. Plus, with his CD you get Hindemith's C major sonata and Copland's sonata with Copland playing the piano part.

September 15, 2007 at 08:33 PM · Gitlis is also close to the culture. He was born in Haifa of Russian Jewish parents.

September 15, 2007 at 11:27 PM · Tom,

In Stern's biography he stated several times how far from a practicing jew he was, and was actually furious when his daughter elected to become a rabbi. He grew up in California, rather far away from any hasidic community. Where do you get this idea from that he has this connection to hasidism? In any case, even a conservative jewish person wouldn't be familiar with these things, as Hasidic jews are quite removed from the mainstream Jewery, so I don't think Isaac Stern has anything to do with that.

September 16, 2007 at 01:14 AM · There is some discussion of it on thread #10034, "Dark Pieces" (from 10/30/06).

If you can find a Pinchas Zukerman recording (I've not heard one), that should be of interpretative interest; my reason for saying this is 35 years old. To quote what I posted on that previous thread:

In one of life's unforgettable moments, [in 1972] I was at a scheduled recital by Pinchas Zukerman in a synagogue in Providence, RI, not long after the Israeli athletes were murdered at the Munich Olympics. He played Nigun in memory of the dead athletes, in a stunning and passionate performance. There was no applause, of course, but I think most of us had tears afterwards.

Although I've seen the title translated as "Mourning," which describes the mood well (the 2nd marking is "lamentoso"), apparently "Improvisation" is a more accurate English translation. Hope this helps a tiny bit.

September 16, 2007 at 04:13 AM · Another excellent recording is Yuval Yaron's performance with pianist Helene Jeanny on an album called "10 chants Populaires Hebraiques" which includes all Three Pictures from Chasidic Life, of which the Nigun is the second. The other two Viddui and Simchat Torah refer to the communal confession on the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur,and the holiday, Simchat Torah, "Rejoicing of the Law when the cycle of the reading of the first five book of the Bible is completed and renewed again. All three taken together speak to the Jewish tradition of cantorial chant and the mood of reverence and awe as well as a plea to the Master of the Universe. The name "Israel" means "wrestles with G-d" and in many ways, aptly describes the relationship of the Jewish people with G-d as evidenced throughout Jewish history. Bloch's dedication to his Jewish roots though perhaps takes its most personal turn with the Nigun which he dedicated to the memory of his mother. As such, his "nigun" though influenced by the Chasidic tradition of nigunnim (plural) is at once both violinistic and cantorial, defiant and pleading, prayerful and assertive, mystical and extroverted and runs through every emotion I can think of from awestruck wonder to tearful despair. I would recommend also listening to Bloch's justly revered piece for cello, "Schelomo" to further acquaint yourself with his works written based on Jewish influences.

September 16, 2007 at 01:22 PM · OK, I can't let this opportunity for a funny story pass...

Shlomo Mintz told me this.

When he was very young (a boy), he was invited to play thie Nigun in front of the Israeli Knesset.

He was announced formally and ushered in.

Unfortunately, one of his pegs was sticking, so it took a bit of coaxing to get the violin in tune.

Once successful, he was just preparing to play when he heard:

"Thank you Mr. Shlomo Mintz for that that very moving performance"! He was then ushered out!

Shlomo's only commentary on this to me was: "David, we've come a LONG way since then in Israel!" :-)

September 16, 2007 at 01:30 PM · OMG...

September 16, 2007 at 01:54 PM · Mr Russell, that is very funny. But don't laugh at us, naive audiences. Some of the modern pieces sound that way to us, I am afraid.

Ihnsouk

September 16, 2007 at 04:10 PM · Ihnsouk, the Nigun isn't all that modern in terms of chronology and is basically ethnomusical Romanticism in terms of tonal language. Unless the Knesset was told this boy was about to play a modern piece, I doubt they'd be expecting a modern piece of two to four pitches. I think, instead, that in the same way most VIP audiences receive music - as a sort of symbolic ritual that must be undergone but never actually listened to - the Knesset was patiently waiting for this little boy to make his gesture. The gesture itself would have interested them not at all.

As for content, a Hasidic friend of mine once told me that the whole Baal Shem suite, of which the Nigun is the middle movement, corresponds to the three high points of the holiest days of the Jewish year. I took his interpretation quite seriously in part because Bloch's suite is subtitled "Three Pictures of Hasidic Life", not just "Three Jewish-sounding movements".

Vidui, the first movement, is subtitled "Contrition" and corresponds with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (which was actually last week). On that day, we are meant to take stock of our lives, to assess ourselves and our past. The piece, in all fairness, seems to be very much in that spirit - of dotting i's and crossing t's.

Simchas Torah corresponds to the Holy Day of Simchas Torah, the day of rejoicing. On that day, having asked for God's forgiveness, we are told to rejoice in the certain KNOWLEDGE (not hope) that He has, in fact, forgiven us. The sheer drunken ecstasy of the movement is difficult to maintain but, as my friend told me, all you have to do is to visit a Hasidic neighborhood during Simchas Torah to get a sense of how it's done.

These two flanking Holy Days place Nigun, the middle movement/Day, onto the holiest of days: Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance. On that day, we mourn and fast and pray for God to forgive us. We mourn not only our own transgressions but also the loss of the Temple, the losses of the Jewish people as a whole. All of this sorrow, this plea for forgiveness must stem from what your assessing revealed in Vidui.

But that's just them kooky Hasidim. Oh, and me.

September 16, 2007 at 04:17 PM · Pieter - your points are good ones, but my point was perhaps not clear enough. As I see it, the issue is not exactly familiarity with Chasidic culture per se or being a religious Jew, but being from a surrounding Jewish culture in which Chasidism thrived and having some sense of both the larger Jewish culture and the more specific Chasidic one. Stern was born in the Ukraine and came with his parents to the US before the age of one. His family was from that surrounding culture, and, all things being equal, he would be in a better position to have a feel for what a nigun would involve/mean. As another post pointed out, Gitlis would also be in a good position to understand this, at least more than I think Bell or Vengerov would.

September 16, 2007 at 05:19 PM · Tom...

I completely disagree, having read his biography and seeing how little he was exposed to any of this. Perhaps you should read My First 79 Years, by Chaim Potok. I seriously don't think that immigrating from Ukrain at age 1 then living in suburban California in a fairly secular household means that you'll have any sort of advantage artistically. The only requirement is a soul. I'm afraid you're fishing for a lineage which isn't there.

September 16, 2007 at 06:24 PM · Would a German Gentile play the best Bach?

September 16, 2007 at 06:45 PM · I'll just ignore your posts from now on, Jim, if I may. I'm not all that keen on just yelling out the first thing that comes into one's head for purposes of saying SOMETHING, ANYTHING. Or to seek out fights. Or to be "shocking", though puerile and inflammatory comments are hardly that. So have a nice time on v.com, and consider every time you post that I don't reply to be a pointed silence, ok?

As for your comments, Pieter, though I agree that Stern was a secular Jew, the point is that there are two different Jewish identities out there. Both are equally important to those who identify themselves as Jews, and they are sometimes - even frequently - present independent of each other. One identity is that of a religious Jew, observant of the Law. The other is that of an ethnic Jew. And it is that identity, not divorced from the religious element but not dependent upon it, that seems to be prevalent in the US. It may or may not be Zionistic. And it is the identity that I feel to be my own.

As such, though I have been only glancingly exposed to Jewish culture - being a Bar Mitzvah, having gone to a yeshiva for my first year and a half in America - I feel a proprietary sense when playing the Baal Shem suite, rather than when playing Schubert's "Ave Maria". In the latter, I recognize the sentiment, respect the theology and love the music. But in the Bloch, I feel PERSONALLY invested, not as a musician but as a member of an ethnic group.

It's a weird self-perception, I'll grant you. Robin and I frequently have discussions about it when we wonder how we'll raise our children, what group they will be considered to belong to. After all, Robin isn't Jewish and has not converted, so a far-right Jew would consider our children Gentiles as well. And, as I've said, I've not been observant at all, nor do I think I have the requisite discipline or faith. Yet it is important to me that my children be Jews. Why? I don't know.

Why is it that if I consider my eventual children Jewish, and even if they consider themselves as such, that is not enough for me? Why should I admix ethnicity with religion? Why should the theologically informed position of rabbis be of vital importance to me when I haven't been to a synagogue in decades?

But it is. And when I play the Baal Shem, I can't shake that sense of this being about MY group, specifically. But you'd never gather that from any bio of mine. Nor, in spite of all he did for the State of Israel, do I think you'd find it in Stern's bio.

That doesn't mean it's not there, and predominant in either of our minds.

September 16, 2007 at 08:11 PM · Emil, I'm sorry you feel that way. But a few of the other 200 people who read that will understand my point. So far the implication of this thread is the more Jewish you are the better you can understand this and by extension the better you are able to play it. Where does musicianship factor in. Now ramble on.

*Edited to change opening from "I couldn't care less" to true sentiment of "I'm sorry you feel that way."

September 16, 2007 at 07:31 PM · Emil,

I understand this idea of the ethnic jew and the observant one. I certainly would not question any person's devotion or even intrensic connection to their blood line. I was simply opposed to the idea that Isaac Stern is especially connected to Hasidism. Does he feel jewish? I'm sure he does, but the nigun is a hasidic deal specifically. I understand how any jew would feel connected with it, but Tom said that Bell and Vengerov are only nominally jewish, which I don't agree with because that makes them as Jewish as any jew who doesn't observe the religion.

When I read up on the nigun, it occured to me that what was most important was in fact the kind of prayer that Baal Shem Tov advocated, "prayers with wings", every word or syllable with great meaning (kavonos?). So, I just thought that Stern wouldn't be any more qualified in that sense than any other ethnic jew.

I will learn Nigun and put my recording here. I do think this piece is transcendent and speaks for all humanity, even though its earthly experience is a Hasidic one. I understand your position totally, but I must respectfully submit that a non-jew in every sense can play it as powerfully as the most devoted.

September 16, 2007 at 07:24 PM · Hate to jump into the foray. For what it's worth, I agree with Jim. It is disturbing to think one has to have real life experience to play music the way it is meant to be. If that's the case, one also has to argue that to really appreciate the music one needs real life experience. Jewish people shall listen to jewish music only stalin era russians shall listen to Shostakovich... I would like to believe true art transcends and speaks more universally.

Thanks, Emil, for clarifying how un/modern Bloch was in the earlier post.

Ihnsouk

September 16, 2007 at 08:42 PM · Emil - thanks for your input into this debate. The question is not really the tie to Chasidic life per se but the tie to Jewish life more generally. While a gentile might have an interesting interpretation of the Nigun and one that might move me, I would start with the interpretation of someone like Stern or Gitlis.

I don't see the issue of who should play Bach as being similar. His music does not really come from the kind of specific culture that the Nigun comes from, and to the extent it is German Christian music, as Europeans we all have significant exposure to that sort culture in a way that many do not have exposure to the Jewish culture out of which the Nigun arises.

September 16, 2007 at 08:58 PM · Tom... I respect your opinion but that is just insane.

September 16, 2007 at 08:59 PM · My experience leads me to believe that the music one is exposed to, especially at an early age, especially in emotionally "loaded" situations as in a church or synagogue, would have an effect on a potential musician. If you've internalised the music and the feelings, it ought to show in your interpretation of same.

If on the other hand your ethnic experience is more theoretical and less physically involved, it will have a lesser effect overall.

September 16, 2007 at 09:14 PM · Bob and Tom (my favorite radio show),

I thought there was no way Time for Three could possibly play Bluegrass, until I heard them. It's different, clearly, but musically it's as valid as something more authentic. In its own way, from a fair perspective. That's musicianship. And American orchestras can play waltzes and Shostokovich, if you prefer that analogy. Obvious stuff.

September 16, 2007 at 09:03 PM · Well, at least we've got respectful debate going on!

I see what Ihnsouk and Pieter are saying, of course. It deals with the preclusion that your position, Tom, may suggest. And I do sort of find myself on the fence here. There are just too many exceptions. Fr'instance, what about a Jew who hates his Jewish identity? Who feels it somehow provincial or shtetl in nature? True, such a self-hating individual would probably steer clear of the Baal Shem suite entirely. But if he did, for whatever reason, play the piece, would he be any more insightful than (to take an extreme example) a born-again Southern Baptist who feels Jews to be the Chosen People and has been studying up on all things Jewish and on the Jewish experience?

I really don't know. On a slight tangent, I do recall a useful phrase Franco Gulli said to me at the 2002 D'Angelo competition. We were discussing bowings in the Beethoven Concerto and I was maintaining the advisability of the separate bows marked in the culminations of the exposition and recap. "My dear friend," he said, "pray, do not be more Catholic than the Pope."

So perhaps sometimes an outsider - like our hypothetical Southern Baptist Judeophile - may be more attuned to an insider position than an actual insider. It would then follow that there is no absolutist advantage when playing an ethnic piece to being a member of the same group. Exceptions can always be found.

That said, I agree with you that the German or even the Lutheran identity is not essential to the much less ethnic, much more universal language in which Bach speaks. And that, therefore, the personal experience is not as integral to playing the S&P as it is to playing Kol Nidrei, or Baal Shem or even Achron's miniatures.

September 17, 2007 at 12:16 AM · "It would then follow that there is no absolutist advantage when playing an ethnic piece to being a member of the same group"

Just ask any Asian playing Western music.

September 16, 2007 at 10:24 PM · Imprinting (and talent, of course) is everything.

Ask Keith Richards and his vocalist about playing Mississippi delta blues, or perhaps Gilles Apap, that north African Arab, about playing anything. (Ever seen his youtube bit playing a cadenza from Mozart's 3rd? Incredible)

September 16, 2007 at 10:53 PM · I understand Emil's position very well. I grew up in a rabbi's home and grew up on the pulpit as well. I am a cantor.(yes, I'm also a doctor) The musical idiom of Niggun comes right out of the liturgy. SO--Jim Miller's nasty comment chooses to forget that the liturgical idiom of Bach has been pretty well crammed down everyone's throat because if you are culturally aware or educated you cannot avoid Bach or Beethoven or Goethe or a whole host of other German and French as well as other influences, ie European influences--it is the dominant musical culture. Bloch grows out of another musical idiom. Bell is Jewish but I very much doubt that he has even a passing acquaintance with Jewish music. We are not discussing a composer like Mahler we are discussing a composer whose entire musical output has its roots in the music of the synagogue. I have not heard Stern play Niggun and I'm not likely to, I don't find I learn much from him, so I don't know whether his is a relevant interpretation. I consider Gitlis' to be relevant.

September 16, 2007 at 11:03 PM · I'm somewhat on the fence here myself. On the one hand, I can see and have frequently seen very clearly that nationality and culture do play a role in musical interpretation: someone who's grown up listening to the cantor in synagogue will (hopefully!) have an almost intuitive understanding of things like Nigun or the Achron "Hebrew Melody"; someone whose mother tongue is Hungarian will probably grasp the distinctive parlando rhythms of Bartók more readily than someone who's never even heard the language, someone familiar with Azeri folk tradition and the Turkic improvisatory style will bring out more aspects and depths in the works of Ali-Zadeh than someone raised exclusively in a Western European tradition...etc.

On the other hand, nationality, ethnicity and culture are hardly binding when it comes to musical interpretation. One of my favorite violinists, Sergiu Luca, is Romanian but plays some of the best interpretations of Czech music I've ever heard. Gilles Apap is some sort of North-African Arab Frenchman, but damned if I haven't heard him sound Balkan to the core.

I guess what's most important is to learn about the culture that a certain piece was composed in--yes, music is a universal language, but it is one with many dialects. A Czech piece is very different than a Spanish piece, the same way that Czech and Spanish are very different languages, the two countries have vastly different histories, the people have distinctly different traditions and "national character," etc. I'm actually playing a good deal of Czech music lately and hope to play more, so I'm making an effort to learn about Czech literature, Czech history and the Czech language, and it DOES help with my understanding of the music. *Especially* in post-1812 (or so) music, what with the rise of nationalism and the Romantic Era, you really have to know the countries and cultures in which music was written (and you have to know about the life and personality of the composer, but that's another rant.) I was not born Czech. As far as I know, I have no Czech blood. But to understand--really understand--Czech music, I must learn enough about the country, its culture and history so that I might feel myself a Czech when I play.

Anyway, just my two cents. (Or two koruny, whatever.)

September 16, 2007 at 11:15 PM · Jay - Are you suggesting that only catholics can sing gregorian chants? I've never been to a catholic church unless you count Sistine Chapel but I find them beautiful.

Ihnsouk

September 16, 2007 at 11:34 PM · Jay, if I'd grown up in a Lutheran minister's home the way you grew up in a Rabbi's, I might have an equally emotional point of view. The nasty comments aren't coming from me ;)

September 16, 2007 at 11:25 PM · Ihnsouk you are choosing to forget that the entire European musical idiom is the dominant musical culture(Jews have been conveniently culturally segregated. WW2 demonstrated amply that we are not part of the club. All of the golden generation of Jewish violinists worked rather hard at not portraying themselves as Jewish.) BTW I do not apply this to all Jewish composers most of them stay out of the synagogue musically--unlike Bloch.

September 16, 2007 at 11:52 PM · Coming from an old-school/old-world Baptist tradition not unlike the Amish, I find this conversation interesting:

"As such, though I have been only glancingly exposed to Jewish culture - being a Bar Mitzvah, having gone to a yeshiva for my first year and a half in America - I feel a proprietary sense when playing the Baal Shem suite, rather than when playing Schubert's "Ave Maria". In the latter, I recognize the sentiment, respect the theology and love the music. But in the Bloch, I feel PERSONALLY invested, not as a musician but as a member of an ethnic group.

And I agree with Emil's observation.

I've taken parts of our a'cappella traditions and reinterpreted them through my ideas as one who has studied their ideas using two notions: "Man's Search for Meaning"(Both a Jungian/May quote and personal reality) in real terms; And, 'what are the common points in everyman's search for meaning', including world religions with a special focus on Christianity and significant focus on other animistic tradition.

I can hear the music's timbre and the voices singing in one such interpretation. And it is because I value our tradition's philosophical triumphs in the spirit of people seeking meaning that yes, I think give me my appreciation for not only my traditions; but Bartok's, and any cultural sensitive who has taken this path.

Nonetheless these are only interpretations. Some of the music I play was not meant to have instruments. And in the spirit of what Auer did for his students, I take that Promethean moment of moral courage to interpret in it's fullest meaning.

I've said it a hundred times in a hundred different ways: at some point, the musician will make the music their own or remain a technician. And it has been my experience as well, that sometimes technique fails expression if not fully present: Auer would agree, and my example is from early days on piano, as well as in more secular contexts.

One's sense of space and place, I also think has influences we are not aware of. We create contexts that identify us, give us peace of mind, and keep us connected to our worlds while alive. And in the rivers of life, there are further ancient cultural pools of survival and knowledge that we may not even be aware that we draw upon.

These however become very abstract, and live in the world of instinct--whether it be a mother's, twin's or cultural I think. So on some level, I think feeling "personally" invested yes, has spiritual and information type connections to the very foundations of why we express through music.

There are other non-religious groups and ethnicities I think, that share these same instinctive born sensibilities whether they are aware of them or not. Though since the middle ages a new sensibility has arisen, one can see through the urban viewpoint, more ancient sensibilities for better or worse.

The first sense of community and cooperation, borne of our agricultural past synthesized these images and meanings: urban landscape comes from the pastoral, street-smart comes from hunter gatherers and so forth I think. The urbane, comes from agricultural surplus....

Though this mobile thing we call humanity will continue to synthesize our images and meanings as we attempt to survive, I think they are nonetheless part of us, have to this point distinctive beginnings in our agricultural past, and resonate in our music when certain things are present; and, tellingly express various peoples experiences embedded in our ethnic minds.

The synthesis that became Blue-Grass music for instance, though very intense and jamming in pleasurable ways for me, felt new in my mind for some reason. Many years later as I came to understand 'real' mountain expressions and their history, I realized why Bluegrass misses the 'meaning' point for me. These are not abstractions or viewpoints, just simple 'real' experiences.

The real truth was that our family's history on many levels was very rural, agricultural, mountain-bound; and, music was an expression from a heart outward: the lullaby, the evening song, perhaps an ancient hymn or two.

So yes, clearly, I feel personally invested too in my endeavors. Though Jewish history has better parameters and constraints as a story of people's lives, every ethnicity has the same history in learning and projecting their experiences both outward, inward; and, I think in a perpetual sense always becoming.

September 17, 2007 at 12:08 AM · I think "musical elitism" as we use it around here is part of a larger general mindset of exclusion. I don't think elitism in the sense I see could exist without that. Now, I'm off for a couple hours of verrry loud blues and other nonmusical stuff. \ , , / all.

September 17, 2007 at 01:31 PM · Mara - I am not surprised that you love Czech music. I love it, too. One thing we tend to forget is that for all the national differences, most of the Central/Eastern European countries had a lengthy experience of being minorities in the Austro-Hungarian empire (and some additionally were minorities in countries like Hungary). This only really dawned on me when I saw that the 1880 US census forms listed my ancestors from Krakow, Poland, as being Austrian, and when I found out that the wife of a great great uncle from Krakow used to berate him by calling him "you Austrian." Thus, there is a certain commonality of experience that transcends the specific national differences which you point out so well concerning the Hungarian music. This may explain in part why Czech music appeals to you and me.

September 17, 2007 at 01:48 PM · The pieces that hit me the hardest emotionally, are the ones I can relate to the most. I'm not sure if that creates a superior performance, but I'd say it probably does. Emotions...do they all come from our life experiences, or is there some mass-sub-conciousness that penetrates our cores?

Oh, and if Chaim Potok chose to become a concert violinist, his playing of the Nigun would cross into other-wordliness, and I think I would die in bliss.

September 17, 2007 at 05:11 PM · Perhaps the success of any piece is dependant on intense identification with that piece by the performer?

September 17, 2007 at 05:24 PM · But David, what if what the performer identifies with is self-delusional? Or irrelevant to the piece itself (i.e. superimposed by the performer)? Surely we all know the sorts of people like the musicologist referenced in this quote from "www.insidecatholic.com":

"Meanwhile, in the sphere of gender and sex, terrible battles are being fought by another gathering of the extremely sensitive. From the feminist musicologist who recently announced that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was an expression of rape..."

(for a link to the full article go to http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=33&Itemid=48&limit=1&limitstart=1

So should that musicologist identify with her twisted perception of the Ninth, and then conduct her intense, personal "vision" of the piece, wouldn't it be laughable? Or, at least, disgusting?

September 17, 2007 at 06:03 PM · I don't think any performance where a personality or idea is superimposed is going to be worth hearing. Unfortunately, as you know, these are quite prevalent. And the tiresome, all too common post-modernist BS that Emil describes is probably one of the most vile of these impositions. With reference to the Nigun, which is about piety, suffering, pleading and feaverish reverence, all I can say is that the Chasidic Jews, and mainstream Jews, do not have a monopoly on these things. Therefore, I think any human with an accute awareness and connection with their own feelings and the outside world could play Nigun with as much meaning as anyone.

September 17, 2007 at 09:23 PM · Emil, we've all enjoyed performances where who knows what was going through the performer's head. Don't think conscious thought is relevant here in the way you think it is, much less that you're a mind reader. I'm amazed, literally amazed you aren't aware of all this, because you're supposed to have a good background. The error probably comes from your need to have it be an intellectual thing in order for it to be valid. The thought process in performance is an extremely abstract thing, way beyond concepts like "self-delusional" or "superimposed." And, if the 9th was a rape in the mind of the conductor, you'd never know it. You might even think, wow what a refreshing performance.

September 17, 2007 at 06:47 PM · jim, i think it is very refreshing to read emil's posts where he articulated on how some pieces relate to his being. i don't think he stated that his background allows him to play certain pieces better than others, or, more bluntly, jewish people play jewish music better than others. some of you are making up that implication.

he simply said he is more attached to certain pieces than other pieces. this is a saying that i am pretty sure also applies to you as well.

as a listener, i receive what i receive; it does not have to be an expose of the performer's psychological profile.

also, it is too convenient for some to call what they simply do not understand as elitist...duh.

September 17, 2007 at 06:42 PM · "jim, i think it is very refreshing to read emil's posts where he articulated on how some pieces relate to his being. "

Sure it is. The main thing I'm saying is don't imagine it magically makes a better performance than an Asian or other non-Jewish person could ever pull off. It doesn't.

"also, it is too convenient for some to call what they simply do not understand as elitist...duh. "

This doesn't make sense. Not only do I have the training to understand it, the "elitism" is admitted. I've understood it and rejected it. Exclusion that follows elitism I have no problem with. It's an inevitable natural result. When the exclusion leads and the elitism follows, I have a problem with it. It's not a good force in the world. You could even call it corruption.

September 17, 2007 at 06:33 PM · jim, emil or for that matter anyone else here did not make that claim. they simply stated that certain music holds dear to them. why can't we accept that and respect that? why can't we applaud those players with jewish background to give their take on something that affect them beyond music??? is it really that hard to imagine that each of us has come from very different background and therefore has very "peculiar" taste in life and music???

my second point on elitism was not meant for you, but as a general observation for people who sit on the front row and raise hands every 2 seconds instead of hitting the books on their own,,,

September 17, 2007 at 06:51 PM · Now I don't understand you at all :) But I hope you're still my pal. Now, the trend in the conversation was that only certain people could play it or were worthy, for such and such reason unattainable to most. It was picking up some subtleties of language, mainly. Anyway, I have more pressing things to think about now. I have a toothache, my car radio quit working, and my ears are ringing :)

September 17, 2007 at 06:48 PM · cool:) mutually misunderstood is one way to go.

could the buzzing in the ear coming from biting on the radio too hard? :)

take care.

September 17, 2007 at 06:58 PM · I think this discussion has been interesting, but perhaps we have lost sight of what generated it. The question was where to go to understand what the Nigun should sound like. I suggested that certain Jewish performers were probably a more reliable source of insight than others because they were less far removed in time, and in some sense, in mental/emotional/physical space from the world that produced niguns. I did not mean to imply that these performers produced definitive performances of the Nigun, only that they were probably a better source for understanding what a nigun entailed. That said, where you go after hearing their interpretation is up to you.

BTW, I take the same attitude with respect to those who ask about the proper interpretation of a mainstream work. I would start with a performance where the composer is conducting and/or playing, e.g., Elgar conducting Menuhin in the violin concerto, Rachmaninoff playing his music, Copland playing the piano in his piano concerto or conducting Benny Goodman playing his clarinet concerto. If you cannot get that, you go to someone who knew the composer quite well and/or was familiar with the general culture of the time. Thus, for the Nigun, the closest you probably can get in the absence of a recording with Bloch is to go to performers who have some connection with the culture.

September 17, 2007 at 07:23 PM · "Emil, we've all enjoyed performances where who knows what was going through the performer's head. Don't think conscious thought is relevant here in the way you think it is, much less that you're a mind reader"

There is a story told of the principal oboist in the NBC orch. under Toscanini. They had played a work with a long oboe solo and he had played it beautifully. During the break someone asked him what he was thinking about as he played, and he answered, "I just bought myself these brand new shoes and they feel so good!"

September 17, 2007 at 09:12 PM · I actually wrote a research paper on Bloch and this piece in particular, as I've played it often.

Working with one of the top Bloch researchers in the world, Dr. David Kushner, I was also able to look through the Robert Strassburg Collection of Ernest Bloch at the University of Florida, which contains numerous articles about him and from his life. (http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/spec/belknap/composers/bloch.htm)

According to Dr. Kushner, who spoke to Ernest Bloch's daughter when doing his own research about the man, she told him the intention of this movement was really to recall the majesty of the Jewish kings of old.

In other words, more majestic and intense, while contrasted by sections of lament and crying for the loss of that age. Bloch did not want the piece played too soppily, he did want power, energy, and a lot of passion.

My own version is personal, and I don't pretend I know exactly how he wanted it to be played, but there is a lot of liberty to experiment with the piece. (unaccompanied video I have here of it, played during a commemoration of Yitzchak Rabin's death - http://www.violinist.com/media/421/)

Good luck, and please message me if you have any other questions I might be able to help you with about Bloch - I spent a long time on that paper :$

September 17, 2007 at 11:04 PM · I think we should all record our versions of the Nigun and post them here for all to hear! What an idea! :-)

September 18, 2007 at 12:53 PM · Gosh this thread brought some interesting discussion.

I just wanted to share my experiences with you all as a Jew who has performed the Bloch Baal Shem Suite with the orchestra in the city of my ancestors.

Almost exactly one year ago (Oct. 2006) I was given the special opportunity to perform with the Philharmonia Czestochowa with the conductor Michal Nesterowicz. This was in conjunction with the organization called World Society for Czestochowa Jews and Their Descendants.

I was truly touched by this opportunity and I hope that I imparted my sense of gratitude and awe to the audience. You see, the hall where the Philharmonic Czestochowa now performs used to be the New Synagogue of Czestochowa. It was mostly destroyed by the Nazis but an article came out last week in a Polish newspaper attesting to the fact that certain "original" sections of the building were found that had previously been unknown to exist. This happened during some renovations of the building.

Anyway, my grandfather's side of the family was from Czestochowa and went back many many generations. I hope to have many more opportunities to perform for similar occasions.

September 18, 2007 at 04:21 AM · Regarding the question: do you have to be Jewish to really understand Nigun? Or to really do it justice?

Do you have to be German to really do justice to Beethoven or Brahms?

do you have to be from Vienna in order to really do justice to Schubert or Johann Strauss?

Do you have to be French to do justice to Debussy?

Do you have to be African-American to really play jazz?

History has shown that the answer to all these questions is a resounding NO! And that is equally true for the music of Bloch.

For me - and I am in fact Jewish but that's irrelevant -- Nigun speaks directly to the heart. You don't have to know any Jewish history, you don't have to know the story (if there is one.) If it doesn't speak to your heart don't play it. If it does speak to your heart, you will know how to play it in your very own way, with imagination, with color, with freedom, with passion, with that unique spoken quality that Bloch's music demands. And in addition to all that there is the undeniable virtuoso element which we can enjoy and revel in. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as id doesn't detract from the deeper musical expression that this music demands.

September 18, 2007 at 04:53 AM · Roy, Beethoven and Schubert are not ethno-specific as Bloch is. Thus I would venture to say that, while one needn't be Jewish to play Bloch, one does certainly need to know the history or background. Certainly one can intuit it, but that's a miracle akin to Bulgakov's Master intuiting the "true" story of Pontius Pilate. It makes for a transcendental literary moment but in quotidian life it happens only rarely.

It's not just Jewishness here; it's an ethnic specificity that's at the root of the question. Debussy's impressionism was not French a priori. We merely associate that watercolor element now, after the fact, with all things French. In fact, of all your examples that sought to elicit so resounding a "no", I would look most closely at Strauss. Need one be Viennese to play his waltzes? Certainly not, but to say one need never have absorbed the uniquely Viennese take on waltzes in general is, I think, wrong. Are they like Tchaikovsky's waltzes? Or like Musetta's little number? Surely not. But to authentically, NATURALLY play them with the quintessential, unmistakable Viennese inflection - not studied, but absorbed - one needs to have had some prolonged exposure to the town's essence.

It's like accents, I guess. Need one be born in America to speak without an accent? Of course not. But delivering Stanley's lines from "Streetcar" with a Scottish brogue or Russian accent will just render them silly. Not because they'd be less heartfelt, but because they'd transmit that sincerity less effectively.

September 18, 2007 at 05:04 AM · Well said.

September 18, 2007 at 06:02 AM · I never thought I'd see Emil join the authentic movement.

This is so ludicrous. Do you imagine you play Beethoven like a 19th century German? Why hold Nigun to a higher standard? Crazy. Flat crazy. No one in our time knows any more about Beethoven's culture than a man from Mars knows about Bloch's.

And we have direction from Bloch's daughter a few posts up that'll go completely ignored.

Get real and give me a break. Get real and speak English both.

September 18, 2007 at 06:33 AM · It's funny that Bloch said he doesn't want it played sloppily... sloppy and klezmerish is precisely what people do when they want to make it sound really "jewish", including members of the club. This raises some questions....

I have to defend Emil however. I have just finished Steinhardt's 2nd book, and he says that he (and surmises that other jews like him), learned about phrasing and expression from great cantors in schule. So like a Viennese waltz, there is something to be drawn from experience and immersion. As for totally secular Jews, much like Emil, from my own friends and acquaintences, I can tell you that regardless of their religious devotion, jewish boys and girls are made aware of their people's history, and obviously the suffering of Jews over the centuries. So when Emil says that he identifies with this kind of music, even though he is not a practicing jew, I understand what he means.

September 18, 2007 at 07:38 AM · "something to be drawn from experience and immersion"

Yes, but there are all kinds of experience, including modern experience which is good enough for ancient music. That gulf is much wider than the ethnic one we're talking about.

September 18, 2007 at 10:22 AM · I still think we should all record it...

Arnold Steinhardt told me once of a discussion he had with Jascha Brodsky. He asked him a question about something in Prokoffiev G minor. Mr. Brodsky replied: "I don't know. I only played the first concerto for Prokoffiev" .... to which Mr. Steinhardt replied (laughing): "Jascha, I didn't know Beethoven, but I still play his concerto!"

Anyway, I think Emil and Pieter speak truth about at least having some knowledge of what you are playing. That is true of all the repertoire, but could be even more important for highly stylized pieces such as Nigun.

Although, consider this:I recently (a few years ago..readers: don't get paranoid) taught this piece to a Jewish kid who had no clue. At his concert, people were commenting on how "Jewish" he played... so I must have had some correct concept of the style. But really, I have to say: it was inherent in the music. Was a mystery to me why he "had no clue". It seemed to be more about his musical immaturity than anything else.

September 18, 2007 at 10:59 AM · My former teacher, Rolando Prusak, once demonstrated his version and interpretation of "Nigun" in a masterclass. His playing was as touching and profound as his commentary.

"Nigun", he explained, meant "songs" or "tunes" and refers to the songs sung by the Schammes (the chassidic cantor) to recall the fate of Israel.

The piece has a quasi-liturgical frame, which consists of the call of the Schammes (beginnging of solo) and the congregation answering "Amen" (piano). This responsorial scheme returns time and again, and in the end concludes the piece. This framework is filled by different tunes (Nigun) depicting, e. g., the forty-year march through the desert (high piano tremolos) and other episodes that can't be named but need to me made up, so to speak, and played accordingly.

For me, the most important part appears to be that, playing the piece, you are in the position of a singer and storyteller. Your playing should ring with all the imagination and eloquence you can muster, even if the stories told can't be put into actual words. What we do know is that they are stories of suffering and exile.

Best,

Friedrich

September 18, 2007 at 01:11 PM · i remember a clip of stern conducting a masterclass in china where a young player commented that learning western music in china is one thing, but it is not the same as living the life (in the west to truely understand the music). i can appreciate that sentiment because the gap between the eastern culture and the western is a large one.

even though i agree with emil's assertion that one should have at least some basic understanding of the background of the music piece, the rest has as much to do with the player's craftsmanship as his emotional attachment. i can imagine many if not most jewish players are unable to make the piece sound that astounding for that reason. you have the goods, but what about delivery? but wait, do you really have the goods, or just happen to be at the right place?

if a player is not particularly keen on the jewish angle, but is a great player, in his hands even without the proper channel in his heart, the piece may sound as emotionally fitting to the right listeners. a competent storyteller does not have to believe the story but is good at making it believable, thus the difference between being professional and being personal.

further, IF a jewish player maintains that his playing of jewish related music is more convincing than other non jewish players, then, the logic follows that when the jewish player plays non-jewish music, he should warn his audience of his attempted emulation:) that will be crazy, won't it?

when you know the music piece well, and you know the player's background well, there is a good chance of you buying story before it is even told. hey, if you the player are on the receiving end of the good fortune, take it!

September 18, 2007 at 12:24 PM · I think the immersion factor facilitates a sensitive interpretation; and, evokes the passion of one's identifying with the history of the music. Someone noted Bloch didn't want it played not sloppily, but soppy-like was my reading. I think in this spirit, I like Josh Bell's recording.

Given this however, I'm privy to how protestant hymns changed in America since 1800. Even shape-note singing seems to have been a progression from that haunting beautiful perfect 5th harmony of earlier days.

But it as that point of immersion, that makes the musician make the music their own, in the current expression--and yes, I think poignantly given technique is in place. The reality is that a Jewish person could play Bloch poorly?

But the point, is in adding insight with which one is personally invested to that current expression that keeps music like religion, alive and in the land of the living--it's proper place.

Semantically, immersion is like bowing technique as a metaphor--having not a single interpretation at hand, but an encyclopedia of phrasing and expression not based in notes, but in meaning equally.

September 18, 2007 at 01:40 PM · I wonder if we would be having this discussion if the work involved were by Tan Dun(sp?). Certainly westerners play his works but I wonder if Asian violinists don't navigate their way through it a bit easier. The idiom is theirs, after all.

September 18, 2007 at 02:21 PM · Jay - if I were trying to figure out how to play a work by Tan Dun, I would certainly get a recording by someone Chinese to start with. After listening to that, I might then try someone else's recording.

September 18, 2007 at 02:18 PM · Dear Mr. Justice:

Why not do 'Seafood' on M-W-F.....

'Steak' on T-Th-S,

and watch the Chicago BEARS game on Sunday??

After all, Vincent Skowronski and Joshua Bell are both mid-Westerners!!

Sincere regards,

S:CR/vps

September 18, 2007 at 02:35 PM · Mr. Skowronski, That would be the Denver Broncos thank you very much! ;).

Sincerely,

Raggedy Al

September 18, 2007 at 03:21 PM · Interesting that for Chinese music it is conceded that leg up might be appropriate but for Jewish music it's not. No double standard there--just business as usual.

September 18, 2007 at 04:21 PM · not sure if one can consider tan dun's work as chinese in the original chinese sense. with his commune background, his maturing years were and are in the west in the past 20 years, with influence more from experimental music than from traditional western music. so, what to make of his music? because it is lunch time i am thinking fusion.

chinese root in a new sauce---a new book for everyone. his.

September 18, 2007 at 05:44 PM · Pieter: I know, isn't it? Sometimes I think in their efforts to get it to sound 'genuinely Jewish', some people over compensate. The piece really isn't Klezmer and wasn't intended to sound like it.

I have also grown up listening to music in my shul, and although of course you don't have to be Jewish to play a "Jewish" piece, I agree that it might mean more to me personally, as I've been exposed to the style for my entire life.

Interestingly enough, the Baal Shem Suite wasn't actually written Bloch's 'Jewish Cycle' , when most of his other Jewish inspired pieces were completed.

September 18, 2007 at 11:01 PM · Steffen,

This summer in Israel I had a masterclass with Haim Taub. Well he gave another one to an Israeli playing Nigun, and he too was very much against any kind of "sloppiness". In that part with the octaves (D A G# etc...), he kept getting in his face and saying "Beg! Beg!", in a way only Haim Taub could do (he basically stood with his hands an inch from my face, yelling at me during the Strauss...). I have to say, by the end, the kid was playing it much better. A lot of chuthzpah, and a lot of direction... not too much meandering. I think Mr. Taub was trying to communicate that whatever you do with the Nigun, there has to be a lot of purpose, and not too much "jazz"...

September 19, 2007 at 03:36 AM · Surprised no one made mention to Perlman's recording or it.

September 19, 2007 at 03:48 AM · Mr. Skowronski, it came to mind, , to mention that I like your interpretation equally, but for different reasons. I like your passion a lot; and, would likely dig in like that as well.

Bell's holding-back though. I think this was done somewhat ingeniously. I'm all about subtlety and restraint on one level. I'm the only person I know truly comfortable playing Air on G at 40; and on a good day pulling it off--on keyboard instruments.

Another experience: I practiced a pop-type-but-intense version of Rachmaninov's theme from Concerto in C for literally years. Adding layers and nuances, when I finally encountered an official version--'it was so close but different in ways!'. ;).

I trust myself in these things--even when I'm wrong ;).

September 19, 2007 at 05:30 AM · Haha very true Pieter, thanks for sharing that :)

September 19, 2007 at 04:19 PM · One of my very favorite of all musicians is the Cantor Yossele (Joseph) Rosenblatt. My best attempt to describe what it is that touches me so much in his performances would be to point out that in Orthodox Jewish tradition, the Cantor does not face the congregation. Rather his back is to the congregation and he faces the Aron HaKodesh, the ark in which the Torah scrolls are kept. When I listen to some cantors (or violinists) it sounds like they are facing the people, but when I listen to Yossele Rosenblatt it sounds like his back is to the people and he is singing to God. That's why I love his singing. There is no schmaltz, there is enormous intensity and enormous integrity in it. I would recommend hearing him, not only as a reference for inspiring insights into the Nigun, but also for inspiring insight into what a musical performance can be.

September 19, 2007 at 11:13 PM · What about Arthur Grumiaux, I have his DVD and thought he played the Nigun as emotionally as anyone who has suffered, after all a lament is an expression of unending sorrow. Sure every ethnicity has its own "spices" unique to the culture, however a smile transcends every language and culture as does a tear. I worked for an Hasidic community, the Yetev Lev Satmar congregation, called Kiryat Joel in Monroe NY for 20 years and I can tell you they adhere to a strict social stratum with the bottom layer belonging to ethnic or secular Jews. Their contempt and disgust for these "traitors" held no bounds. They were not Zionists and condemned the state of Israel. Even though I was a "goyer"(sp) they actually admired me more than what they called the liberal Jews when they learned I was catholic, catholicism being considered strict in comparison to other Christian religions, and they commended anyone who put the tenets of their allegiance to God over trivial pursuits and/or pleasures. From the Satmar Hasidic point of view none of the musicians you speak of could be "true" enough to play the Bloch.

-Laura's Mom

September 19, 2007 at 08:08 PM · Thank you, Ms. Madden. I didn't want to say what you just said for fear that it would upset some people. I don't know if this is true of all Hasidic Jews, but this is now at least the 5th time I've heard from someone who works closely with a group of them, or what is mostly the case, a Hasidic Jew himself, that Jews of the kind Stern belongs to are held in fairly low esteem. That's why I found it a bit funny that Stern would be considered such a messenger from a culture, which has at least a few sects who really wouldn't like him too much...

September 20, 2007 at 03:14 AM · "From the Satmar Hasidic point of view none of the musicians you speak of could be "true" enough to play the Bloch. "

LOL. End of one branch of the topic. That's so rich.

September 20, 2007 at 03:14 AM · What's so funny?

September 20, 2007 at 03:23 AM · Mara, read Laura's Mom's post very carefully.

September 20, 2007 at 03:25 AM · I did, still not seeing the joke...

September 20, 2007 at 03:20 AM · Although I would like to know all I can learn about a composer and his culture, I believe that the highest artistic level is not about playing the most Czech Dvorak concerto, the most German and Protestant Bach, or the most Jewish Bloch. Rather, I think that the greatest artists are those who rise above time and place, speaking to the universal human spirit. When Fritz Kreisler plays Liebesfreud you don't have to be Viennese to enjoy it, you need only to be a human being!

(That's why I think that the "authentic perfomance practice" movement is misguided, but that's a subject for another thread.)

September 20, 2007 at 05:03 AM · Mara, well Nigun is an Hasidic thing. A faction here says only I can do it because I'm Jewish or understand the spirituality and so on, but the Hasidic say no you don't. Straight from the horse's mouth. So the only hope to pull it off is what she is saying, what I have been saying, universiality and musicianship. It also gets into "self-delusion" and so on. Too rich to get into really.

September 20, 2007 at 03:36 AM · (edit: reply to Mr. Steiner) well, now my nationalistic fixation just looks stupid...

September 20, 2007 at 03:47 AM · Mara, you absolutely could never look stupid.

September 20, 2007 at 03:54 AM · My goodness, thank you. :)

September 20, 2007 at 03:49 AM · Eric Godfrey wrote: "apparently "Improvisation" is a more accurate English translation."

Actually, "Improvisation" is not a good translation. Nigun means, simply, tune or melody.

****************************************************************

Mara Gerety wrote: "well, now my nationalistic fixation just looks stupid..."

Mara Gerety,

Don't put down the valued contribution of Mara Gerety!

September 20, 2007 at 04:03 AM · :-)

September 20, 2007 at 04:59 AM · "My goodness, thank you. :)"

...Just wait till my chops finish--I'm gonna melt you with Bartok!

September 20, 2007 at 05:13 AM · Put the little accent mark over the "o" first, and then we'll talk. :P

September 20, 2007 at 03:07 PM · I think it's important to distinguish between two thought processes here....

1) Those who claim that by having blood-line ties to a certain ethnic or religious group they can play certain music better

2) Those who claim that by being a part of a culture that shares stories, common experiences, and lives their lives by various beliefs and actions they can play certain music better.

If you read carefully, there is a difference between nos. 1 and 2. I believe that No. 2 is what is necessary for an "authentic" performance of a work. The reality, however, is that no performer will ever get into the composer's mind 100%. One can try but cannot ever accomplish this fully, even if the performer is of the same religion, race, or creed.

So, you might ask....how can someone play Nigun as authentically as possible? Well, it's my belief that someone non-Jewish can play Nigun more "authentically" than someone born Jewish if he/she has immersed him or herself in the literature and music necessary to convey the messages of the Nigun.

Someone Jewish, like Isaac Stern might not have been a practicing Jew, but he no doubt had a certain upbringing that connected him to the traditions and history of his 5000 something year old religion.

Yes, there is an element of "being" the part instead of playing the part, but we must remember that it is the composer's job to be the part and our job to convey the message.

Daniel

September 20, 2007 at 06:19 PM · Oh, I can find those things out pretty well.

September 20, 2007 at 10:01 PM · Wow, I'm coming late to the party. I've been trying to stay away, but here I am. I attempted to slog through everything on this thread, but I must admit I got quagmired, so let me just say I appreciated Emil's first post because it gave me more information about religious setting I didn't know before, and after that, I think I had another dizzy attack (prone to dizzy attacks, sorry everyone).

This is definitely a piece worth connecting to. I think the book of Job is a particularly lovely text for a "cry/prayer to God." To me, that story is a beautiful treatment of reconciliation, struggle and release. I think those are worthwhile subjects for musical endeavor. Without diminishing the importance and absolute relevance of Jewish culture to this piece, I'm sure a good musician of any faith could find a way to know within himself the most human themes which find their way into all cultures, which we share. And, when it is done sensitively, what a lovely way to honor Jewish culture--to share it.

Good Luck, Brian. This is a wonderful piece, a good choice. Make sure to nail those octaves--pivotal.

September 20, 2007 at 10:06 PM · Hmm, I did this recently for my recital.

I find the slower recordings to be more attractive to me. I think I listened to a copy of Bell's, Stern's, and Perlman's and I listened to Perlman's the most, then Stern's.

What helped me was I downloaded actual Baal Shem music from other artists, so I "listened to the real thing."

Also, I forget if I read this link on this page or somewhere else, but it's worth checking out...

http://www.rebbe.org/prayer.html

September 21, 2007 at 02:56 AM · Bartók--There ya go Mara! (practicing my etudes really intensely now!) ;)

Having copied Bartók to a text file for future reference, further having become lazy learning to insert chr(), I'm ready for the future. Incidentally that is chr(162).

September 21, 2007 at 03:43 AM · I see both sides of this argument. There are advantages to being Jewish because one doesn't have to put in the work to understand the context of the music. But if one puts in the work to understand the essence of the piece, I believe that one is in no way handicapped to being able to play the piece.

Anthropological ethnographies, which are complete evaluations of certain cultures, are always done by someone outside of that culture. i.e., if you are Icelandic, you are not the best qualified to perform an ethnography on Iceland.

In fact, there is a book called The Anthropology of Iceland in which the meetings were held in Iowa City, Iowa. The anthropologists thought it would be better to be away from Iceland so they could write an objective and fair ethnography. Rejkyavik was considered but rejected as the location in which to have the meetings.

Given that line of reasoning, perhaps someone who is not Jewish, if (and only if) educated on the history of the music and immersed in the style, could play Jewish music best. They would be best able to have a truly objective viewpoint on a proper, clear, not-overly-nostalgic-and-potentially-lagubrious, interpretation.

September 21, 2007 at 03:54 AM · But since when is musical expression an objective matter??

September 21, 2007 at 03:56 PM · I think that musical interpretation should be as objective as possible in the sense that one is always trying to achieve the proper proportion, the proper balance. The subjective element will always be there because we are all human.

Wow! I hadn't realized that this thread had reached 99 posts so quickly! Sorry for chiming in so late - hope someone has some final statement to put closure to all of this. Or, I suppose it could continue in another thread...

September 21, 2007 at 04:26 PM · Just let the Big Horse run!!

Best to all with "Il Segreto del Ernsto Bloch."

Shalom,

S:CR/vps

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Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

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