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Reviews from the press

 

 
Coming together for a single concert here is something of a supergroup of Jewish cantors. Alberto Mizrahi of Chicago, Benzion Miller of Brooklyn, and Naftali Herstik of Jerusalem are joined by London's Ne'imah Singers in the grand old Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam, which lets the listener partake in some exquisite acoustics as well. As with any good bout of cantorial music, the sound is incredible, with the power of the voices singly awe-inspiring, but together rivaling the better-known Three Tenors or similar. With the force of the Netherlands Theater Orchestra behind them, they can nearly overpower the recording equipment. The songs range around the sphere of Jewish influence, from proper synagogue cantorials to Yiddish folk to Sephardic ballads, to an occasional show tune. The musical quality remains high, and perhaps most importantly shows off the many sides of the repertoire of a good cantor, from the religious to the secular (a bit) and the spectrum between these ends. For someone interested in one of the more traditional and dignified forms of Jewish music, this album might not be a bad choice.

Adam Greenberg



 
 
On this companion to their popular PBS special, the Cantors present an hour-long program of Jewish music, from liturgical material to Yiddish folksongs and Sephardic melodies. Backed by a 40-piece orchestra and 16-voice choir, the Cantors sing an evening of Jewish cantorial and secular music in a concert taped before a live audience in Amsterdam's hallowed Portuguese Synagogue. In solos, duos, and trios, Naftali Hershtik, Chief Cantor of the Great Synagogue, Jerusalem; Benzion Miller, Cantor of the Young Israel Beth-El of Borough Park, Brooklyn; and Alberto Mizrahi of Chicago, Cantor of the Anshe Emet Synagogue, present a stirring portrait of a people in song.

Mark Schwartz



 
Each cantor had his forte
But most impressive vocal display came from Warschwaski
 
BY CLARKE BUSTARD  
   
September 19, 2006  
   

Monday's fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was marked in various ways in Richmond -- most profoundly, perhaps, when Naftali Herstik, chief cantor of the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem, sang the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.  Herstik was one of three stars of "Cantors," a concert of sacred and secular Jewish music presented by the University of Richmond's Modlin Arts Center to about 400 listeners at Congregation Beth Ahabah, the stately old synagogue in the Fan.

"Cantors," originally produced as a PBS special, is a "Three Tenors" spinoff that, like its model, applies serious vocalizing to music that varies in tone and substance.

In Monday's performance, the music-hall chestnut "Mayn Yiddishe Mame" and "Sunrise, Sunset" from "Fiddler on the Roof" segued into the Kol Nidre, the solemn prayer for Yom Kippur.

Less jarring, but still pronounced, changes of mood continued through the evening, as the singers sampled folk, popular and liturgical pieces in Hebrew, Yiddish, Englaish and Ladino, the language of medieval Spanish Jewry, still spoken in Sephardic communities.

The most impressive vocal display came from Benjamin Warschwaski, chief cantor of the Ezra Habonim/The Niles Township Congregation in Skokie, Ill., singing "Yiru Einelnu," an operatically fervent piece written for the voice of Richard Tucker.

Alberto Mizrahi, cantor of Chicago's Anshe Emet Synagogue, sang the program's most novel fare, three romances in Ladino.

The three cantors were supported by a male chorus and orchestra, conducted by Andrew Kurtz, in pops-concert-style orchestrations by Benedict Weisser.

 

 
   
May, 2004
 
I've searched long and hard for this album, not knowing whether or that it existed but hoping that it would. Now that I've finally stumbled upon it, it's turned out to be everything I imagined and then some. Recorded in Amsterdam's historic 17th century Portuguese synagogue, Cantors: A Faith in Song is an absolutely spine-tingling Jewish-style The Three Tenors event in a live setting masterfully recorded. Getting Alberto Mizrahi of the Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, Naftali Herstik of Jerusalem's Great Synagogue and Benzion Miller of Young Israel Beth-El of Brooklyn in front of Netherlands' Theater Orchestra, under the baton of Jules van Hessen and backed up by London's premier Jewish male choir, the Ne'imah Singers, was not only a massive stroke of genius but probably an organizing nightmare of the first order.

Thanks to Benedict Weisser, musical director and arranger, this event not only took place but was captured for posterity and our repeat enjoyment. To envision its profundity, think famous soundtrack to Schindler's List with its heartbreaking melodies of the Jewish repertoire rendered by Itzhak Perlman's lyrical violin. Now replace the small instrumental ensemble and background status of the soundtrack with symphonic forces recorded in a cavernous acoustics, fronted by three of the most famous Jewish tenors dishing out divine adoration and Yiddish folk humor by the ladle-full, glorifying the Heavenly King and the Yiddish Mame, the otherworldly Jerusalem and a balalaika-playing skirt-worshipping youth.

It's the passion of Black Gospel gussied up Middle-Eastern style: Different religious expression, same power. It's Mozart's Requiem without the formality but suffused by a revivalist spirit of jovial folklore instead. It's heroic unamplified tenors straight from the opera house, solo or duetizing, who veritably grab a huge congregation by their buttoned-up lapels to pour the spirit of the sacred occasion into them at the top of their lungs and lifting a few skullcaps and hairs in the process. This raw force conjoined to memorable melodies is moving beyond belief. Heathens and abstainers, believers and skeptics alike won't be able to help but shed a few tears and iron down goose bumps.

Unlike the parallel tradition of Arabian muezzins calling the devout to prayers, Jewish Cantors sing Western-style. Echoes thereof can be found in popular musicals like Fiddler on the Roof. Enjoying A Faith in Song thus doesn't require familiarity or sympathy with quarter-tone scales but takes place in a regular symphonic song context. Its 18 tracks give the lime light to the three soloists in succession or medley form. Rumbling tympani rolls, brass fanfares, Russian-style solo violin, dance cymbals and elegiac woodwind solos are but a few elements that make their appearances between thunderous audience applause.

You see, many people would feel far closer to religion were it not for certain conceptual 'blind belief' misgivings they harbor about the various faiths. Cantors is getting back to basic and down on the knees. It's not about mental concepts and esoteric complexities at all but letting the spirit move inside one's chest. And Messrs. Mizrahi, Herstik and Miller don't just gingerly knock on doors. They break them down like a glorious armada of berserk musical Vikings. It's a christening of epic proportion that I recommend to one and all without reservations - religion in the true sense of the word as re-ligio which re-connects us with that which is beyond words, thoughts and ideas.

 
 
February 21, 2004
 

“…a trio of perhaps the world’s greatest Jewish cantors…”

“…Miller’s V’Lirushalayim Ircho hypnotized the audience with its combination of strength and passion…”

 

 

 

February 15, 2004
   
 "Weisser is a sly orchestrator who hints at Minimalism, plays around with ethereal orchestrations and does something different for each number in his quest to bring the trance-like effect and deep spirituality of great cantorial singing to a popular medium."


December, 2003
 

"On a completely different note, the exquisite soundtrack from the Cantors: A Faith in Song video is a must for anyone who appreciates cantorial music. Recorded at the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, Benzion Miller of Boro Park, Brooklyn, Alberto Mizrahi of Chicago, and Naftali Hershtik of Jerusalem join musical forces to create, by turns, soothing and stirring music that, perhaps, could only be duplicated during the most intense moments in synagogue. The trio belts out loving versions of “Avinu Malkeinu,” “Mayn Yiddishe Mama,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Kol Nidre,” “Kaddish,” “Tzena Tzena,” “Tumbalalaika,” and “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem,” along with a Sephardi medley and a few others. Clearly, this work has an operatic feel, so it should come as no surprise that the production company behind this project is the same one that produced The Irish Tenors. This release bears repeated listening and deserves to take its place among the top recordings of Jewish music over the past quarter century."

Excerpted from a review titled "From klezmer to cantorial, a round-up of music holiday listening" written by Ed Silverman in the New Jersey Jewish News, December 2003

 

September 17, 2003
 
  "THREE CANTORS IN UNIQUE CONCERT"

"With this performance they (Alberto Mizrahi, Naftali Herstik, and
Benzion Miller) are established as the Jewish answer to The Three
Tenors, Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras."

"Big and powerful voices...."

 

   
 
September 2, 2003  
   
"GRANDEUR OF THE JEWISH CANTOR REVIVED"

"The world's three most prominent Jewish cantors performed... in the 
fairy tale-like setting of the candle-lit (Portuguese) Synagogue...

The exquisite orchestrations of Benedict Weisser are uplifting,
especially in the more whimsical numbers such as Tumbalalaika.... they
transport the usual klezmer repertoire to a whole new level."

"Simply sensational...."