Azrieli Music Prizes Concert to be Live Streamed for Free

Oct. 8, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— The biennial Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP) concert – the world premiere of the most recent winning compositions of orchestral Jewish music and Canadian art music – goes virtual this year due to the pandemic.

The concert is scheduled to be live streamed from the Salle Bourgie of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 22 at 8 p.m.; on the classical music channel Medici TV, and on the AMP Facebook page, free of charge.

Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM), which is resident in the U of M’s music faculty, will be making its debut on Medici TV under the direction of its founder, Lorraine Vaillancourt. Soprano Sharon Azrieli, who created and heads the AMP project, and Hungarian-Canadian mezzo Krisztina Szabò join NEM as soloists.

The performances are part of the total prize package each AMP laureates receives, valued at over $200,000, including $50,000 cash. Two later international performances and a recording of the winning works, to be released on the Analekta label, round out the package.

Keiko Devaux, the inaugural winner of the new Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music, is cited for her work, Arras, which “weaves together the tapestries of her French and Japanese-Canadian heritage.” She is currently completing a PhD in composition at the U of M.

“These collective sonic memories that we have held onto, shared, diffused and celebrated together are what define the Canadian sound to me,” she said.

Yotam Haber’s Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music winner is Estro poetica—armonico III, written for mezzo-soprano solo, chamber orchestra and pre-recorded audio, reflects his interest in the music of the Jewish community of Rome.

“As a composer of Israeli background, I have spent years thinking about how I should look back at my past while looking forward at my future,” he said. “I wished to compose a work using text by modern Israeli poets sung by a mezzo-soprano in conjunction, or in opposition to, traditional cantillation and liturgical texts found in the Leo Levi recordings, virtually always recited by men,” he explained.

Haber is an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory.

Yitzhak Yedid, winner of the Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music, wrote KadoshKadosh and Cursed, which consist of 20 tableaux, or musical scenes, that bridge very different musical traditions.

“My attempt in this composition, and my endeavour for over a decade, has been to broaden the esthetic resources of Western art music through the incorporation of musical elements of Sephardic Jewish music,” explained Yedid, whose ancestry is Syrian and Iraqi. The result is “a strange, surreal atmosphere.”

He is currently a lecturer in composition and piano at the Queensland Conservatorium of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

In addition, Canadian composer Jonathan Monro has created a new arrangement for NEM and soloist Azrieli of Pierre Mercure’s classic song cycle Dissidence, which expresses modern humanity’s search for happiness through faith, which is also on the program.

Established in 2014 by the Azrieli Foundation, the biennial AMP accepts nominations for original works from individuals and institutions of all nationalities, faiths, backgrounds, and affiliations, which are then submitted to its two expert juries.

“The three AMP prize packages, valued at $200,000 per laureate, currently makes it the largest music competition for music composition in Canada and one of the largest in the world,” said Azrieli.

On the Record – Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

SAMY ELMAGHRIBI/SALOMON AMZALLAG (April 19, 1922 – March 9, 2008) Singer-Songwriter, Cantor, Poet, Oud Player

July 22, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

By night, Samy Elmaghribi was dubbed the Moroccan Charles Aznavour – with a pop singer’s global reputation.

By day, he was Salomon Amzallag, the first Moroccan cantor at Montreal’s famed Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue. Known as Shearith Israel, on St. Kevin Street in Montreal since 1960, it’s Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation, established in 1768. Cantor Amzallag served there from 1967 to 1984.

Cantor Salomon Amzallag

Two cantors have since sung from the Spanish & Portuguese bimah, including Yehuda Abittan and present-day chazzan Daniel Benlolo, who was one of Amzallag’s students.

Amzallag was Benlolo’s mother’s cousin, and so the Montreal synagogue became their family’s new home.

“He’s the inspirational reason I became a chazzan and his shul was where I received my training,” Cantor Benlolo said. “He was a wonderful mentor. Over the years, I have been privileged to serve Sephardic and Ashkenazi congregations in Ottawa, New York, Atlanta and Caracas, to name a few. Two and-a-half years ago, I was pleased to return home to Shearith Israel to work and live in Montréal.”

Amzallag was born in Safi, a city in western Morocco. His family moved to Rabat in 1926. Growing up, he taught himself to play the oud, a short-neck, lute-type pear-shaped string instrument that dates to Assyria.

Early on, young Samy familiarized himself with Arab-Andalusian music, attending the Conservatoire de Music de Casablanca. Starting at age 20, he studied with many of the great Andalusian masters of his time.

Christopher Silver, an assistant professor of Jewish History and Culture at McGill University, has called him “a mid-twentieth century Moroccan superstar.”

“From his debut in 1948 through his professional zenith in 1956, he was a ubiquitous presence on radio and in concert,” Silver wrote in a recent issue of the International Journal of Middle East Studies.

Samy El Maghribi - Cantor Salomon Amzallag

As radio spread across Morocco, Elmaghribi’s live performances on radio and constant playing of his records on air “helped cement his status as the nation’s voice during a formative political moment.”

His popularity spilled over to commercial advertising: Elmaghribi  became an official spokesperson for Coca-Cola in Morocco. “His spoken dialogues and musical hooks for the soft drink company were played in heavy rotation on Radio Tangier International over the next several years,” wrote Silver. During this period, he became the sound of brands like Gillette, Palmolive, Canada Dry and Shell Oil.

A popular entertainer, Elmaghribi built a world-wide fan base and reinforced his Arab-Andalusian musical heritage with performances in Caracas, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Montreal and New York, as well as playing for Moroccan fans in Oujda and Rabat. Listen to his music here.

Yet, he was committed to his cultural roots and to the sacred liturgical genre, said his daughter, Yolande Amzallag, who helped create Fondation Samy Elmaghribi.

Samy Elmaghribi and Cantor Salomon Amzallag “were one and the same person,” Yolande Amzallag told the Morocco World News at the foundation’s 2015 launch, “despite the fact they performed in different settings whose integrity was never challenged by the apparent dichotomy between the sacred and the secular.”

Her father’s allegiance to God was matched by his allegiance to art, she went on, “and he aspired to spiritual elevation both as an artist and as a practicing Jew.”

After he retired, Amzallag moved to Israel and founded Merkaz Piyyut Veshira, a centre for Sephardic music from where, from 1988 to 1994, he was pedagogical director, according to his biography.

He also co-founded and performed with the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra. In 2006, the orchestra won the country’s highest honour, the Israel Prize.

In November 2008, a few months after his death, Elmaghribi was posthumously recognized by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who awarded him the Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite medal for Meritorious Service to Morocco.

His wife, Messody Cohen-Amzallag, died in Ashdod on April 5, 2015. The couple’s children created the foundation “to perpetuate their teachings of respect for tradition, openness to others and generosity through the love of music.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr and is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.