was born in Haifa, and studied composition at Tel Aviv University.
Later he studied in Geneva with Pierre Wissmer and Alberto
Ginastera, further still in Detmold and finally with George
Crumb and Richard Wernick at the University of Pennsylvania.
The pieces recorded
here span some fifteen years of his composing life. The
Shtetl Songs is the first piece that the composer
wrote after having settled in the States. This song-cycle
on various texts by poets writing in Yiddish depicts life
in the East European Jewish communities. The songs are in
turn serious and humorous, sometimes slightly ironic. They
make for a hugely varied effect and are set in a straightforward,
though very effective manner. The full cycle comprises nine
songs, of which only six are recorded here. There also exists
a version for mixed chorus.
81 for treble voices and percussion is a lively
setting full of dance-like, foot-stamping rhythms that perfectly
suit the celebratory character of Psalm 81. It is more or
less the same in approach as Steve Reich’s Tehilim,
although Ben-Amots’ music is neither minimalist nor repetitive.
It rather brings Britten, Kodály and Bartók to mind, when
these composers wrote for treble voices. This is a very
attractive, outdoor setting of great rhythmic verve, although
it may be just a bit too long for some tastes. It is one
of the most enjoyable pieces in this release.
– Song of the Angels is a recent piece. It is apparently
based on a tune sung to the liturgical text hashkivenu
that the composer heard in a synagogue in Geneva. He used
it in his Hashkivenu Variations (1980) for
string quartet and, later still, in short choral movements
in his opera Fool’s Paradise (1993). The setting
– or version – heard here is seemingly a later reworking
of these choral movements from the opera, and includes some
new, original material to the tune heard in Geneva some
twenty years earlier. The scoring is for mixed chorus, some
percussion and organ. Both organ and percussion are used
quite discreetly, though effectively, adding colour to the
melismatic vocal writing. The work has an appropriately
Dialogues is a hybrid work, “a stylistic confrontation”
(the composer’s words) between a klezmer clarinet solo and
cantorial vocal passages. The piece is considerably varied,
alternating settings of religious texts with popular, folk-like
instrumental material, the latter often reminiscent of the
village scenes evoked in the Shtetl Songs.
The scoring is for cantor, clarinet and small orchestra
- actually strings and percussion.
recorded in different venues, are fine; the recording likewise.
This further instalment from the Milken Archive of American
Jewish Music sheds interesting light on the output of a
younger composer whose well-made and deeply sincere music
was new to me.
by Gary Higginson