Three Jewish Composers You'll Hear On 91Classical This Rosh Hashanah | Nashville Public Radio

Three Jewish Composers You'll Hear On 91Classical This Rosh Hashanah

Sep 7, 2018

Happy New Year to all our Jewish listeners! 91Classical will mark Rosh Hashanah on Monday by playing music each hour that is either based on Jewish or Israeli themes or written by Jewish composers. 

Here is a brief look at three of the composers who will be featured through the day:

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: The Immigrant

When Jews were driven out of Spain in the 15th century, Castelnuovo-Tedesco's ancestors made a new home for themselves in Italy; by the time he was born in 1895 they had been a fixture in Florence for generations. He was as Italian as he was Jewish, and in the 1920s he was hailed as one of that nation's up-and-coming pianists and composers. However, in 1938 the Italian Racial Laws made it impossible for him to perform or have his music played on the radio in his home country.

With the help of Arturo Toscanini and Jascha Heifetz, Castelnuovo-Tedesco emigrated to the United States, became a citizen, and ultimately made a new home for himself in Hollywood, where he wrote movie scores and taught the next generation of film composers, including John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.

We'll listen to one of the early compositions that helped Castelnuovo-Tedesco make a name for himself, Vitalba e Biancospino. It was written for his own instrument, the piano. Classical guitarists might be tempted to claim him as one of their own because he wrote a tremendous amount of music for guitar, but he actually never learned to play it. Here he talks about his writing for guitar and how it was spurred by his friendship with guitarist Andres Segovia in a 1958 radio interview with Michael Inman.

Yoav Talmi: Son of Israel

Born in a kibbutz, trained at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, Talmi is an Israeli Jew through and through.

Credit Yoav Talmi

Talmi made his name as a conductor with an ensemble that suprised him as much as anyone. Because his parents were the only members of his family to survive the Holocaust, Talmi initially refused to perform in Germany and avoided any association with German ensembles. But in 1976, while he was working in Europe, the sudden death of Rudolph Kemp left the Munich Philharmonic without a conductor. A delegation from the orchestra approached Talmi in person and urged him to take over for a scheduled concert and become their permanent guest conductor. He was moved by the musicians' insistance and decided to sleep on the offer rather than refuse it outright.

That night, Talmi called his parents back in Israel. His mother was opposed to the idea, but Talmi's father said it was a chance he shouldn't turn down. In interviews, Talmi has said he talked for a while with his father that night about the difference between forgetting and forgiving. By morning, he'd made up his mind to accept the job with the German orchestra. 

His time with the Munich ensemble was short, but it put him on the map as a conductor and lead to jobs with symphonies in Quebec, Hamburg and San Diego, in addition to two terms at the head of the Israel Chamber Orchestra.

Talmi also spent some time not too far from Nashville in his first years as a conductor: He was the music director of the Louisville Orchestra and the Kentucky Chamber Orchestra in the late 1960s.

As a composer, Talmi is largely focused on his homeland (he wrote the official march of the Israeli Army) and folk tunes from the Jewish tradition.

We'll feature his Three Israeli Songs, Three Jewish Songs from the Ghetto, and Suite of Israeli Songs in performances by the composer's wife, Er'ella Talmi.

Judith Lang Zaimont: Jewish American Phenom

Credit Judith Lang Zaimont

A case could be made for claiming Zaimont as a Tennesseean. She was born in Memphis in 1945, after all. But she's really a New Yorker. Soon after she was born, her family moved to Queens, where she grew up.

Zaimont was something of a child prodigy, performing piano regularly on national television and touring the country from the age 11 on. She started her studies at Juliard at 13 and began college as a 16-year-old.

As a composer, Zaimont's music is wide-ranging, but throughout her career she has come back again and again to her Jewish heritage with compositions such as her award-winning Parable - A Tale of Abram and Isaac and Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening. Listen on Monday for a selection from music Zaimont wrote specifically for Rosh Hashanah: Meditations at the Time of the New Year. "Dawn" is a subtle and atmospheric piece of choral music with subtle percussion accompaniment that contemplates the holiday's themes of renewal.