New Work by Philadelphia Cantor Premiers in Germany

Hazzan Jack Kessler

Hazzan Jack Kessler

The Interreligioser Chor (Interfaith Choir) of Frankfurt, Germany commissioned and performed a setting of Psalm 90 for choir and Hazzan by Philadelphia-based Hazzan Jack Kessler.

The premiere performances were held on On June 1, 2015 at the Gemeindezentrums in Frankfurt am Main, and June 4 at the große Halle in Stuttgart. The Hazzan/soloist was Hazzan Daniel Kempin, the well known singer of Yiddish repertoire who is Cantor of the Egalitarian Minyan of Frankfurt, ordained in 2015 as Hazzan through the ALEPH Cantorial Program.

The Interfaith Choir of Frankfurt was founded in 2012 with the goal of opening new avenues of interfaith dialogue through music. Led by Protestant Church Cantor (organist and choir director) Bettina Strübel and Hazzan Daniel Kempin, the all-volunteer choir presents two psalm projects each year. Each concert is a program of multiple settings of one Psalm from different faith traditions. This year Psalm 90 תְּפִלָּה לְמֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים A prayer of Moses, the man of God, was the featured Psalm.

The Psalms are an important bridge between Judaism and Christianity. For centuries musicians of both religions have created a wealth of new musical settings for liturgical use as well as for the concert stage.

The choir has also attracted Muslim singers, who know the Psalms as “az-Zabur.” Rehearsals as well as concerts offer a platform for intensive interfaith exploration of music and theology. During the concerts music is interspersed with interfaith podium discussions on the featured psalm.

Said Hazzan Kessler; “Psalm 90 presents a range of challenges to the composer, especially when commissioned to compose a for presentation of the entire Psalm, not merely excerpts. It is one of the longest psalms. The text moves through a series of moods: recognition of God as eternal supreme Presence; exploration of the humility needed to receive the Presence; fear of God’s anger; and finally a majestic call for God’s grace. In this piece the hazzan begins unaccompanied, with a stirring a cappella solo and each section opens with a dramatic call to the chorus. Then the chorus responds with a musical expansion of the text. The last section of the piece is a reprise of one of the opening themes of the piece in contrapuntal treatment by solo quartet, and the coda is sung by the hazzan, once again with the unaccompanied voice alone.”

Bettina Strübel, director of the Interrelgioser Choir: “Your composition was the highlight of the program. Some of the chorus members have expressed sadness that the Psalm 90 project is over, as they loved rehearsing this piece. The audience responded with tremendous enthusiasm.”

Hazzan Daniel Kempin, soloist for the premiere performances added: “This is powerful and affecting music! I was deeply moved by the way you explored the different moods of the Psalm. After the end, where my voice sings the finale by myself alone, there was a moment of magical silence in the hall before great applause!

Hazzan Jack Kessler was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and went on to have a twenty-year congregational career. He has a Master’s degree in voice from Boston Conservatory and pursued studies in composition in the graduate department of Brandeis University. A lyric baritone, he has performed opera, oratorio, and premiered new works, in addition to his ongoing career as a singer of hazzanut, the cantorial art, and other musical projects. He directs the Cantorial Program of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal for which he teaches the multi-year core hazzanut curriculum and coaches students in the cantorial art.