David's lyre in a London shul
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We have, musically speaking, been punching below our weight. It feels as though something is missing from the UK Jewish community. Not talent, to be sure - there are plenty of top Jewish musicians to be found in our cities every day, from Murray Perahia to young Benjamin Wallfisch, son of the cellist Raphael and an increasingly successful conductor and film composer. But something is missing.
In Judaism it has always struck me as important not only what and how we learn but, crucially, where we learn. This last is perhaps more true outside of Israel than within it, because in a small community such as that in Britain, the synagogue assumes a totemic importance.
It is, literally, concrete proof that we even exist as a community. It is the place where we know we will meet other Jews and where we can engage with the world through the prism of being Jewish. We cannot help but move our minds and our hearts into 'Jewish gear' when we are there.
And so, in many ways we reach out most confidently from our synagogues. We engage with the nation as Jews within it, proud of our culture and our heritage and our ways of thinking and eager to contribute to our country.
Music reveals who we are as Jews
An oversimplification? A purple-prose love letter to our shuls? Perhaps. But there's nothing wrong with aspiration, and there are some aspirations that those beautiful buildings make possible.
Music is about aspiration and about community too, and it seems obvious to me that we cannot exist as a Jewish community in music unless there too we have our totem, our physical centre.
Which is why I'm delighted to announce a project I have been working on with Chasan Stephen Leas of Central Synagogue in London's Great Portland Street - the creation of a world-class classical concert series at Central, a series for the British Jewish Community.
It is the perfect place, an iconic and beautiful shul with wonderful acoustics and a very special sense of the shared experience. And it is in central London, where it can make a statement about our culture at the heart of our capital city and be a beacon around which Jewish musical life can somehow crystallise.
Every concert will have something to do with Jews or Jewishness. That theme can be obscure, there to be uncovered, or it can be obvious, but it will always be there somewhere - and with every concert to be accompanied by an essay about its Jewish aspects, we hope that the series will really add to Jewish cultural life.
Why bother? Music Shmoozick. Because music reveals who we are as Jews, as people. It has been so for us since the beginning. The first mentions of musical instruments in human history are in the Torah - David's lyre, the instruments of the priests in the Temple. There is a reason for that.
Come along and discover that reason for yourself and support this brave venture at the same time (the JC is – it has come on board as media partner). The first event is on 8th July, when the stunningly talented American violist David Aaron Carpenter and soloists from his New York orchestra will play "Music from the Jewish Diaspora" (Gershwin, Kreisler, Mendelssohn et al).
It will be high energy with the dazzling showmanship that is his trademark. But in the middle of the toe-tapping and the jaw-dropping virtuosity, you might just hear what the 19th century Jewish scholar Gustav Karpeles meant when he wrote of Jewish music, "Whoever has heard, will never forget Israel's melodies, breaking forth into rejoicing, then cast down with sadness…they convey the whole of Judah's history – his glorious past, his mournful present. His exalted future promised by God."
Or you might just have a really great time.
David Aaron Carpenter and soloists of the Salome Chamber Orchestra play the International Concerts Series at Central Synagogue on 8th July. Tickets are £20 – Tel: 020 7580 1355 / email: firstname.lastname@example.org