Dr Chonon Lewis

The musicians’ doctor whose work was performed at the Royal Festival Hall


He was a physician, a hypnotherapist, a violinist and a composer whose orchestral work had once been conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazi.

Widely noted for his varied compositions, Dr Chonon Lewis ,who has died aged 89, was also appointed Honorary Physician to the musicians of the Philharmonia Orchestra as an accredited medical specialist in the performing arts.

Chonon [Elkan] Lewis was the eldest of the four children of Liverpool-born parents Miriam and Isaac Lewis. During the Second World War the family were evacuated to Southport where he attended King George V High School. Returning to Liverpool in 1945, Chonon studied at the Liverpool Collegiate School, following in his father’s footsteps a generation earlier. But classical music was a great love and as a teenager he studied violin, and a future in amateur orchestras beckoned.

He was also an avid chess player who played for the school team. Awarded a scholarship to read medicine at Liverpool University, he graduated in 1955 and worked as a house doctor at Whiston and Broadgreen Hospitals. He completed his National Service with the Royal Army Medical Corps with the rank of Captain.

Chonon then moved to London where he launched his own NHS practice in Leytonstone, supervising trainee doctors and working as a clinical assistant in psychiatry at Newham Hospital. He qualified as a medical hypnotherapist and was elected President of the Metropolitan Branch of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis. In 1982 he published an original article, Selective Use of Headphones and Tape Recordings in Hypnotherapy.

Retiring from general practice in 1993 he continued practising hypnotherapy at a private clinic in London.

Music remained a key part of his life. At Medical School he had also studied music theory and composition at the Liverpool Matthay School of Music with renowned organist Dr Caleb Jarvis. Now he continued his studies with distinguished Professors Alan Bush and Franz Reizenstein at the Royal Academy of Music. His output of over 60 compositions include orchestral, chamber, vocal, choral and liturgical music. He joined the Brent Symphony Orchestra, directed by Lev Parikian.

In 1954, he set the text of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf prayer Attah Zocheir to music for Chazan Herman Bornstein, accompanied by the Princes Road Shul Choir. It was incorporated into their repertoire and is sung there every year. The composition was recorded by Cantor Robert Brodie with the Zemel Choir under the baton of Benjamin Wolf.

In 1967 he composed Nachamu, a four section motet for four part choir, which premiered in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, and Shirat Yisrael (1972) set to a poem by H N Bialik, which he dedicated to the Kinor Choir. Both works plus six other choral compositions were recorded by the Zemel Choir and the Wallace Ensemble – Chamber Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Wolf.

An opera buff, he regularly attended Glyndebourne, the Royal Opera House and concert halls and opera houses throughout the world. He also participated in the annual Dartington Music Summer School for many years, for which he composed chamber music for the instrumentalists to play.

A cricket connoisseur and a member of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), he attended international Test Matches, including the West Indies and Australia. He built an extensive library of music, cricket, travel and Jewish literature and collected original musical manuscripts and cricket memorabilia, including cricket bats autographed by the famous W G Grace.

In 2001 he was commissioned by the Brent Symphony Orchestra to compose an orchestral work, Birthday Honours, to celebrate their 90th birthday which was premiered at their festive concert. Subsequently, it was performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy at the Royal Festival Hall. Ten years later the BSO commissioned him to compose another work for the orchestra’s centenary, entitled Scoring a Century.

In May, 2006 the Philharmonia, conducted by Hugh Wolff, played his earlier work Overture in a Classical Style. Chonon also possessed a fine bass-baritone voice and performed in two Jewish choirs – Liverpool’s Princes Road Synagogue choir and the Zemel Choir, based in London.

A modest, warm-hearted gentleman, he lived in Highgate, N London, for many years, was a keen Zionist and a member of Highgate Synagogue.

Chonon was unmarried and is survived by his brother two sisters who live in Israel and extended family.



Dr Chonon Lewis: born April 3, 1931. 
Died April 4, 2020

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive