the Baroque orchestra and choir of the Philharmonie, a San Francisco-based ensemble known for their historically informed performances, released virtual programs from their Jews and Music series on December 1.
Each of the 12 published programs, which explore the legacy of Jewish composers and performers as well as non-Jews who drew inspiration from Jewish art, are available for free online as a “gift to the public in the spirit of Hanukkah,” said Executive Director Courtney Beck.
“[The program] is designed to be a bridge to show the relations between Jews and non-Jews, and where music brought us together at a time when Jews and non-Jews were sometimes very far apart, ”said Beck, who launched the initiative in 2015. “It’s a way to create an inclusive experience for the audience. ”
The series combines pre-recorded performances by Philharmonia with the narration of Francesco spagnolo, Assistant Associate Professor of Music at UC Berkeley and Curator of Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, as well as the DPB researcher in residence for the Jews and music initiative. It covers a range of topics, from the heroes and villains featured in Handel’s oratorios to the multicultural composition of music in Italian ghettos.
“We bring a minority perspective on the cultures of the dominant majorities,” Spagnolo said of the series. “We are doing it with one of the oldest minorities in Europe, the Jews. In doing this, we question the canon.
For Spagnolo, baroque music offers a unique way of rethinking music. He is fascinated by the idea of intercultural and interfaith encounters – “a Petri dish of possible cultural contaminations,” he noted during our interview.
The ghettos, for him, are the perfect example of “music that was hardly meant to be” – testimonies of the unstoppable power of creative power. Designed to control, monitor and separate marginalized populations, the ghettos in Italy have become places of cultural mixing and places of “incredible creativity” despite everything.
“The unique format brings Jewish history and often breathtaking music to life,” said Stephanie Singer, director of arts and ideas at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco. “It never fails to delight and challenge our understanding of history at the same time.”
The themes of intercultural development continue to resonate to this day, added Spagnolo.
“We don’t just listen to music,” said Spagnolo. “We think about history and culture and how people come together and live together, whether they want to or have to. ”