Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Day for Musicians


Today, Jewish Treats honors two musicians who were born on January 6: Maurice Abravanel and Menahem Avidom.

Maurice Abravanel (1903-1993), who was the descendant of Don Isaac Abravanel (the famous biblical commentator from Spain), was born in Salonika (now Thessaloniki, Greece). In 1909, the family moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where they lived in the same house as Ernest Ansermet, the conductor of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, with whom the young Abravanel played piano.

In 1922, Abravanel moved to Berlin and began to study with Kurt Weill, who would become his life-long friend. He left Germany as the Nazis gained power. In 1936, he became the youngest staff conductor at the New York Metropolitan Opera. After two years at the Met and a few years working on Broadway, Abravanel accepted a position at the Utah Symphony Orchestra. In 1947, this was a small provincial orchestra. By the time Abravanel retired 40 years later, the Utah Symphony was internationally renowned and had recorded on major music labels. Abravanel passed away on September 22, 1993.

The acclaimed composer Menahem (Mahler-Kalkstein) Avidom was born in Stanislav, Russia (then Hungary), in 1908. Shortly after emigrating to Palestine when he was 17, Avidom studied at the American University of Beirut and then at the Paris Conservatoire. He then spent four years in Egypt before returning to Tel Aviv to teach at the Music Teacher Training College and at the Tel Aviv Conservatory. He also worked as a music critic, served as the general secretary of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (1946-1952), chaired the Israel Composers’ League (1958-71) and held several other prestigious positions.

Avidom’s composing style was deeply influenced by his travels. He mixed Mediterranean and Asian folk music and French culture into his music. His work in atonal composition influenced  music in Israel and brought him great acclaim, as did his later experiments with 12-tone technique. Avidom won the Engel Prize (1947), the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Prize (1951), the Israel Prize (1961) and the ACUM Prize (1962). He died in Tel Aviv, Israel, on August 5, 1995.

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