When we think of "Jewish a cappella," we think of campus groups like The Maccabeats. Or perhaps synagogue choirs on the High Holidays.
Chicago a cappella is both, and more. Their new concert series, "Melodic Migrations: Global Jewish Music," shines a spotlight on lesser-known, often ancient, Jewish a cappella music from around the world- from Europe to South America, from Yemen to Uganda, Iran to-of course-Israel (dates and locations below). There will even be a Yiddish tango, and other surprises.
Founder and Artistic Director Jonathan Miller prepared this compelling and fascinating look at Jewish global fusion. But Jewish music has been part of his life since he was a child, and Yossele Rosenblatt's "Kaddish" was on the program of his ensemble's very first concert.
For two decades now, this Lakeview-based ensemble has performed everything from spirituals and sacred works by classical composers… to folk songs and madrigals. Plus pop songs from before jukeboxes to after iTunes. "No one was doing that mix of music," explained Miller, as to what inspired his formation of the ensemble initially.
The ensemble performs a surprising amount of Jewish material, including some entirely Jewish concerts. One of their first to feature Jewish material, in 1996, was titled: "Christians and Jews in the Renaissance." In 2012, it was "Genius in the Synagogue: A Musical Portrait of Max Janowski." It was Janowski, in fact, who gave Miller his professional debut.
Last October, Chicago a cappella celebrated its 20th anniversary with a concert pulling from all of its influences- including the Jewish song "Lo Yisa Goy" by Chicago composer Stacy Garrop, but also everything from Rufus Wainwright songs to a medley from the musical Spring Awakening.
The majestic music of the High Holidays was presented twice, once in 2007 and again in 2011. Called "Days of Awe and Rejoicing: Radiant Gems of Jewish Music," it was released on CD.
Miller is quick to praise his versatile singers, who come from many diverse musical backgrounds: choral music, opera, gospel, and Early Music. Most also sing in the CSO Chorus, and in their auditions for him, they must prove their abilities to both solo and harmonize. "They are just the finest," Miller said, "I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with such a dedicated team." The ensemble even coaches a youth-chorus workshop.
Whether your taste runs toward Straight No Chaser, the King's Singers, or the Western Wind Ensemble, Chicago a cappella sings your favorite flavor of a cappella.
Melodic Migrations: Global Jewish Music
Saturday, 2/15, 8:00 p.m., Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston
Sunday, 1/16, 4:00 p.m., K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation, Chicago
Saturday, 2/22, 8:00 p.m., Congregation Beth Shalom, Naperville
Sunday, 2/23, 4:00 p.m., West Suburban Temple Har Zion, River Forest.