Jewish composer premieres new music at socially-distanced concert

Noah Max and the Echo Ensemble performed classical repertoire at the ambitious event


Jewish composer and conductor Noah Max and his Echo Ensemble performed a “scary but glorious” socially distanced outdoor concert on Sunday, which featured the world premiere of his new piece ‘Etz Chayim’.

The hour-long event, which took place in Central Square in Hampstead Garden Suburb, had been organised by Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association and was attended by over seventy people.  

Mr Max said that performing before an audience, in Echo Ensemble’s first live event since the lockdown, “completed the circuit”, adding that it made the musicians “communicate our music-making in an entirely different way.”

The chamber orchestra, which was founded in 2016, played music largely from the classical repertoire, including pieces by Edvard Grieg, Henry Purcell and Béla Bartók.

They also premiered Mr Max’s ‘Etz Chaim’, or Tree of Life.

Mr Max said he had felt compelled to write the piece as it was “one of my favourite texts in the Jewish liturgy.”

“There are certain elements of the liturgy that always live with me and resonate with me, and that text – that moment in the Saturday service – has been one.”

The group had been scheduled to close this year’s St Jude’s Festival until the coronavirus pandemic forced its cancellation, and have also previously performed at the Royal Albert Hall.

The outdoor event was dubbed by the Echo Ensemble “one of the most ambitious and exciting live cultural events to take place in the UK since March”.

Mr Max added that the social distancing in place at the event made the performance “unnerving” to many of the musicians, as they were unable “to communicate directly with each other.”

“There was no natural resonance, and every musician felt like they were on their own flying saucer,” he added.

“It was challenging,” he said, “but all the players rose to the occasion spectacularly. They all felt that they thrived on the experience.”

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