Current Events, Israel, Judaism, Reviews

A Night at the Opera – Jewish style (no… not the Queen album)

It’s been quite an eventful past few days with Purim and the shabbaton… and it only got better with a special symphonic treat.

Last night, the family and I made our way downtown to the magnificent Roy Thomson Hall for Sing for the Children 2 – a concert presented by Chai Lifeline Canada, a Jewish group dedicated to providing and helping children with serious health illnesses.

It was a fantastic show. I’m not the biggest fan of Jewish music  (I should be), but this was something unlike any other musical performance I’ve ever experienced. And Roy Thomson Hall is by far, the best concert venue in the city, no matter what the genre of music.

Ever since I listened to Metallica’s S&M album, where the band performs alongside a symphony orchestra, I’ve always wondered what certain songs would sound like with an orchestra. Even Jewish songs. One of my favourite pieces of the evening was the rendition of “Baruch K’el Elyon.” Normally sung shabbos afternoon, the song has several tone changes and builds up in speed and excitement as it progresses. The performance really captured that kind of feel, catching myself and others humming along. There was also a medley of wedding songs, aiming to capture the essence and emotion of the wedding process and experience.

The performers included Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, who was flat-out amazing. He even broke out a little Pavarotti singing a stunning rendition of the famed Nessun Dorma, which brought everyone to their feet.

Other performers included The Toronto Choral Ensemble, a male choir conducted by Cantor Benjamin Maisner of Holy Blossom Temple. One of the members is a close friend of the family, who attends or synagogue.  Pianist Yaron Gershovsky, the Yisroel Lamm conducted “Philharmonic Experience

Dr. Mordechai Sobol provided conductorial services, in addition to his narration in the videos played in between performances. Those videos gave the audience and those unfamiliar with the world of Jewish cantorial music a crash course in the subject. If you have a conception that orchestral music is dull or boring, this concert would’ve changed your mind. Guaranteed.

But the most intriguing performance was something outside the box. Near the end of the show, a young man named Zack Salsberg, appeared on screen talking about his battle with cancer when he was younger. Today – at age 26 and healthy, he’s using his musical gifts to help those who he was once like. Zack is also volunteer for Chai Lifeline Canada. Unlike others, Zack performed an original composition on piano, and sang in English – others had sung in Hebrew or Yiddish.

In fact, Zack and I go way back. He was actually my camp counsellor  at Camp Northland in Haliburton, Ontario nearly ten years ago. We reunited back in November while being staff  on an NCSY shabbaton. Heck, we didn’t even know each other was observant, let alone staffing together.

All in all, it was a great night for a great cause. Everyone involved should be commended for their work.

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