Pro Musica Hebraica

Pro Musica Hebraica is an organization devoted to presenting Jewish classical music — much of it lost, forgotten, or rarely performed — in a concert hall setting. It is the project of Charles and Robyn Krauthammer (respectively, the chairman and the chief executive officer). Charles Krauthammer discussed the project in some depth during this interview with the Jerusalem Post.
Pro Musica Hebraica’s concerts take place at the Kennedy Center here in Washington. Each concert focuses on the music of a particular era and a particular venue.
Last night, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending what I believe was the third concert. Its focus was on baroque music from Holland and Italy in the 1600 and 1700s. The music was performed, wonderfully, by the Apollo Ensemble of Amsterdam, which was making its United States debut.
Two of the selections were by Salamone de Rossi, described as the premier Jewish composer of the Italian Renaissance. The “show-stopper,” however, was a piece called “Dio, Clemenza e Rigore” (God, the defender, and the prosecutor). It is an anonymous composition from 1733, created in the Jewish community of a small town in the Piedmont region of Italy for the seventh day of Sukkot. Its origins, however, go back to 16th century Safad, an amazing town in northern Israel and the center of Jewish mysticism.
In this composition, God summons Clemenza and Rigore to argue for and against mankind before He issues His final verdict. Rigore makes a compelling case against us all (the lyrics were translated on an overhead screen for the audience), while Clemenza pleads for forgivenes.. Ultimately, God rules in favor of compassion.
“DIo, Clemenza e Rigore” is operatic, presumably in the fashion of the Italian operas of the time. But it also reflects both the Jewish liturgical tradition and the influence of the new mysticism.
The musical score was lost for two centuries until finally being discovered in 1964 at the Lenin State Library in Moscow, of all places. In 1992, it was edited in Israel and made available for artistic revival.
Pro Musica Hebraica’s next concert will be on April 29, 2010. It will consist of an evening of French Jewish music from the 19th and 20th centuries. We don’t intend to miss this one, and I’m hoping that Power Line’s regular music critic, Scott Johnson, will be able to make it to town for the occasion.

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