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Voice of the Cantor: From Shtetl to Stage

Multi Media Concert Lives Up to Its Name

Submitted by David Mendelson
As the lights dimmed in the main sanctuary at precisely 7:30 on the evening of Monday, June 13,2013, many in the audience of over 1000 had not yet taken their seats. They did so as images of the world’s greatest past Hazzanim were flashed on the large screen set up in front of the Aron Kodesh. Just as all had settled, the “voice of the cantor,” Gideon Zelermyer, was heard chanting the Hinneni prayer from the back of the sanctuary and, evoking the somber mood of the High Holy Days as an introduction to the Mussaf service on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Dressed in white cap and gown, Gideon moved slowly down the long aisle and, once on the Bimah, joined the Synagogue Choir directed by Stephen Glass.
The Voice of the Cantor – From Shtetl to Stage, advertised as a multi media concert, lived up to its name as the evening’s program unfolded. The narration of Rabbi Dr. Allan Nadler transported us back to the shtetls in Eastern Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s tracing the origins of the cantor. This was highlighted by wonderful archival film footage, including the images and voices of Zavel Kwartin, Yossele Rosenblatt, the Koussevitskys and other legendary hazzanim. The combination of screen images and live performance, integrated in a most creative way, provided a multi-dimensional experience which held the audience spellbound.
Cantor Asher Hainovitz, of Yeshurun Central Synagogue in Jerusalem, demonstrated his remarkable talents as a unique interpreter of liturgical and Yiddish selections including “Kel Molei Rachamim” and “Vi ahin zol ich gein.” Cantors Zelermyer and Hainovitz were heard together singing Rosenblatt’s “V’af Hu.”
A most memorable few moments were reflected in the video, made several days before the concert, featuring Allan Nadler touring the old Jewish area of Montreal and pointing out some of the major former synagogues which were home to world class hazzanim. According to reports following the concert, many were in tears as this video evoked childhood memories of those who grew up in these synagogues and well remembered attending services there. One of the highlights was an audio of Hazzan Nathan Mendelson chanting a selection from the Slichot service while an image of him in full cantorial dress, standing in front of the ark at the Shaar, was projected onto the screen.
The concert, initially estimated to last about one and three-quarter hours, went on for two and one-half hours. And yet many members of the audience were overheard to say they wished it could have been even longer. Such was the impact of this incredible musical event presented by the Hazzan Nathan Mendelson Music Foundation of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.
The colourful and detailed program booklet was a fitting complement to the concert and made for a cherished memento of the evening.

View Concert Photos

The Concert in Full
We strongly recommend watching the concert in its entirety in order to fully appreciate the superb narration by Rabbi Dr. Allan Nadler, as well as the interaction between words, music and video.
Alternatively, you may scroll down to view selected highlights.

Selected Highlights


Sunday, July 14, 2024 8 Tammuz 5784