The Voice of the Jewish Cello

From April ’10 Spotlight: I went down to the University of Chicago last month to hear Racheli Galay introduce a packed room to the work of Joachim Stutschewsky. Born into a well-known Ukrainian Klezmer family in 1891, Stutschewsky managed to stay one step ahead of disaster for decades, performing in Leipzig, Jena, Zurich, and Vienna before making aliyah in 1938. By the time he died in 1982, Stutschewsky was widely recognized as one of Israel’s preeminent classical musicians.

In her presentation, “The Voice of the Jewish Cello,” Galay traced the evolution of Stutschewsky’s compositional style, pausing frequently to play examples on her cello (accompanied by pianist Ilya Levinson). In addition to three pieces from Hassidic Suite (an artistic rendering of the music of his youth), they also played selections from Six Israeli Melodies, and a beautiful rendering of Hannah Senesh’s beloved poem Eli, Eli. (“My God, my God! Make it last forever…”)

When I contacted her, Galay explained that Stutschewsky is best known in Israel today as one of the founders of “the Mediterranean Style,” a synthesis between Oriental melodies and Western compositional techniques.

“Jewish European composers who arrived in Palestine during the 1930′s were fascinated by the melodies they heard in the Sephardic communities (from Yemen, Morocco, Persia) and from the Bedouin and Arab communities,” Galay told me. “From that special moment in history, a new sonority and musical style was created. ‘The Mediterranean Style’ reflects the composers’ feeling of rebirth, freedom and independence, and their excitement from the new landscapes, languages, and traditions they encountered. This mixture of old and new, East and West, gave birth to ‘the Mediterranean Style’ in Israeli music.”

You can hear most of the pieces Galay and Levinson played on the CD In Hassidic Mood (distributed by Beth Hatefutsoth Records in Tel Aviv, and available from Amazon and other sources). Galay’s next local performance will April 25, at a benefit concert for the Association of Reform Zionists of America. For details, call (847) 239-6974 or visit www.arza.org.

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