By Yochanan Gordon
Tuesday night marked the 11th annual cantorial concert in memory of Beth Sholom’s late patriarchal cantor Moshe Ehrlich. Cantor Ehrlich was a leader in the Orthodox cantorate for over 50 years until his sudden passing in June of 2003. Every year, to memorialize Cantor Ehrlich’s life and influence as a cantor, Congregation Beth Sholom has hosted a night of cantorial music spearheaded by its very own Cantor Joel Kaplan and the Jesse-Aaronson choir led by Eric Freeman.
This year’s lineup featured Cantor Aaron Bensoussan, who is of Moroccan descent. Cantor Bensoussan is a master cantor and singer/songwriter who is comfortable performing in both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic traditions. Cantor Bensoussan was trained by David Koussevitzky, Noach Schall, and is a graduate of the Belz School of Music following which he held posts as lead cantor at various congregations in Queens where he lives with his family. Cantor Bensoussan blends soulful Sephardic tunes with the classical cantorial liturgical genre appealing to diverse audiences and was well received by the sellout crowd.
For the seventh consecutive year, the Five Towns was proud to welcome Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgott back to the Beth Sholom cantorial stage. Cantor Helfgott has undoubtedly caused the biggest resurgence of cantorial music for a generation which had lost the interest and passion that it had generated in previous generations. Cantor Helfgott, who serves with distinction at New York’s Park East Synagogue, is that one voice in a generation–joining the ranks of yesteryear’s chazzanim the likes of Rosenblatt, Koussevitzky, and Oisher–who continues to set new standards in musical excellence. He is coming off a world tour with the world famous violinist Izhak Perlman following a bestselling album that the two collaborated on titled, “Eternal Echoes.” Cantor Helfgott’s repertoire was markedly diverse, singing both cantorial and popular tunes such as Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and A Dudeleh which was featured on his latest album with Perlman. A mainstay to this and practically every other cantorial venue worldwide is the piano accompaniment of Cantor Gildar who interprets the cantorial numbers as no one else.
Perhaps a slight departure from the norm brought the up and coming musical star Simcha Leiner to the Beth Sholom stage. Leiner, a graduate of the Belz School of Music, has wowed audiences the world over with his rich and robust coloratura, elastically wide vocal range, and his unwavering control moving from one register to the next with ease. Simcha Leiner has established himself as a cantor and wedding singer and is anticipating the release of his debut album before the end of the year.
We were once again privileged to hear from Beth Sholom’s choir, led by Eric Freeman. Cantor Freeman is a master vocalist and a piano virtuoso–bringing life and enthusiasm to the stage and bringing out the best in the choir. The choir this year performed an eclectic array of numbers which spanned both liturgical and popular genres and added to the overall enchantment of the evening.
This year’s concert was sponsored by esteemed members Lynda and Ben Brafman in memory of Mr. Brafman’s parents, Solomon and Rose Brafman, as well as by Dr. Sherry and Joel Weiner in honor of Dr. Weiner’s father, Colman Steuer.
Selling out year after year, the Five Towns seems to be holding strong to the cantorial legacy and continues to feature the brightest stars. It’s a most fitting tribute to Cantor Ehrlich. While his presence and voice have been missed these last 11 years, his legacy continues to live on through Cantor Kaplan and the Choir, and due to the dedicated fans who come out to pay homage to this cantorial giant. v