Jonathan Miller to receive award and premiere new work

Mar 11, 2013

Jonathan MillerJonathan Miller, Founder and Artistic Director of Chicago a cappella, will receive the 2013 Rabbi Hayim Goren Perelmuter Memorial Award from K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation on Friday, April 19, 2013, at K.A.M. Isaiah Israel, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd., at 7:30 P.M.  The special Shabbat service, The Art of Prayer, Poetry, and Music, will highlight the world premiere performance of a new composition by Jonathan Miller, Out of the Land of Heaven, set to a poem by Leonard Cohen, for four singers and composer as baritone solo.

Jonathan Miller is being recognized for his leading role in Chicago area Jewish music: he is principal guest conductor of Kol Zimrah, the Jewish Community Chorus of Metro Chicago; for many years on the guest faculty at the North American Jewish Choral Festival; and currently the High Holidays Cantor at Congregation Rodfei Zedek. He has composed more than fifty choral works in a variety of genres and languages, and his international accolades include the 2008 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal from Chorus America.  Miller's compositions have been performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the Lincoln Memorial and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and heard on BBC Radio.  In 2012, MacArthur International Connections Fund grant was awarded to support Chicago a cappella’s cultural exchange with Mexico. Mr. Miller holds a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Out of respect and love for his former mentor and teacher, the late Max Janowski, Jonathan Miller directed Genius in the Synagogue at KAMII in October 2012. Miller hold as a great honor his role as publisher of Max Janowski's Catalogue.

K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation created the Rabbi Hayim Goren Perelmuter Award to honor the memory of their beloved teacher, friend, and spiritual leader with an award in his name presented to an individual or organization that exemplifies the values he transmitted and represented in his devotion to the Jewish faith. Previous Perelmuter Award recipients: Robert “Bud” Lifton; Catholic Theological Union; Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer; Professor Michael Walzer, Ph.D.; Daniel C. Matt, Ph.D.; Samuel D. Golden and the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center; and Joel M. Hoffman, Ph.D.

It may be of interest that Rabbi Perelmuter, Leonard Cohen, and A.M. Klein, another poet to be featured in the Shabbat Service April 19, are all Canadian Jews.

There is no charge for attending the special Shabbat service, The Art of Prayer, Poetry, and Music, and the festive Oneg Shabbat (reception) that follows.  For more information call (773) 924-1234 or visit

Chicago a cappella partners with mental health and social service organizations to inspire community

Jan 30, 2013

In the wake of recent tragedies such as Sandy Hook, and at a time when the need for positive action is so great, Chicago a cappella will use its upcoming concert performances of Spirit/Breath/Voice as a way to inspire community service to mental health and social service organizations. At each performance, Chicago a cappella will welcome an organization from the community to share the concert and use it as a platform for audiences to learn about the organization and its volunteer opportunities.Partner organizations will offer inspiration to audiences beyond the music, offering opportunities for community service and allowing audiences to reflect on what is truly important in their lives.

We invite you to learn more about each organization:

Chicago: National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Chicago, providing information and referrals, education, support, and advocacy to those whose lives are affected by serious mental illness

Oak Park: Thresholds, Illinois’ largest and oldest provider of mental health services for those with a severe mental illness

Evanston: Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center, an innovative and award-winning outpatient mental health center providing care and relief to residents throughout metropolitan Chicago

Naperville: 360 Youth Services, providing life-changing services to youth through prevention education, counseling and shelter.

Composer Gwyneth Walker here for February concerts

Jan 6, 2013

Gwyneth WalkerWe are excited that composer Gwyneth Walker will be coming to Chicago to hear us sing the Midwest premiere of her work Songs of Ecstasy.  The three-movement cycle is a setting of texts by the Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton.  Ms. Walker will join us for two performances of our concert Spirit/Breath/Voice on Feburary 15 (in Evanston) and 17 (in Naperville).  Following each concert, she will join us for a question-and-answer session.   We have performed a number of Gwyneth's pieces in the past, including a pair of works on our Red Carpet of Sound concert, and several performances and a recording of her wonderful "Christ-child's Lullaby."  We are thrilled to give this early performance of one of her newest choral works

Chicago cappella receives MacArthur Foundation Grant

Dec 3, 2012

We are thrilled to be the recipient of a grant from the International Connections Fund of the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation!  This grant will support a cultural exchange project, bringing conductor/composer Jorge Córdoba Valencia to Chicago and sending our artistic director Jonathan Miller to Mexico.   The first part of the exchange has already been a great success, with Mr. Córdoba preparing the ensemble for performances of "Navidad en México" in December 2012.  He is returning to Chicago in early January 2013, and during that trip he will meet with choral composers and conductors from the Chicago area and attend an additional performance of "Navidad en México" in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood.  Then, in 2013-14, Jonathan will travel to Mexico, meeting composers and conductors, researching repertoire, and sharing his own programming and choral music expertise.  The overriding goal is to more fully connect Chicago a cappella with Mexican choral music so that it becomes a recurring part of our ensemble's musical repertoire.  The work already supported by this grant has been very exciting, and we are looking forward to continuing this work in the years ahead.  Thank you to the MacArthur Foundation for this wonderful opportunity.

Live “Impromptu” appearance on 98.7 WFMT

Sep 11, 2012

Chicago a cappella will make a live "Impromptu" appearance on 98.7 WFMT on Thursday, October 11, at 3:00 pm (CDT).  The ensemble will sing excerpts from Genius in the Synagogue: A Musical Portrait of Max Janowski as a preview of the concert performances October 13-21.

Be sure to tune in to 98.7 WFMT, Chicago's Classical Radio Station. You can listen online via WFMT's free streaming!

Celebrate the life and music of Max Janowski

Jul 12, 2012

This fall Chicago cappella will present a concert in celebration of Max Janowski’s centenary year, Genius in the Synagogue.  Janowski had a major influence here in Chicago, and his works continue to resonate in Jewish musical life all over the world.  He is remembered for his great achievements and holds a dear place in many hearts.  We invite you to share your personal memories, stories, thoughts and feelings about Max Janowski and his music. Your contributions will commemorate this important occasion and we will share some of your thoughts with our concert audiences.

2012-2013 Guest Music Directors announced

Apr 24, 2012

Chicago a cappella will welcome Guest Music Directors for three concert programs in 2012-13, with Artistic Director Jonathan Miller returning to direct the season-opening concert in October 2012. Get to know our international cast of directors:

Jorge Córdoba Valencia
Music Director, Navidad en Mexico

Composer and conductor Jorge Córdoba did most of his musical studies at Mexico City’s National Conservatory, with later work in Composition and Direction in Spain, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, the U.S., and Hungary.

He has received various awards, including the Bartók Recognition Award and the Kodaly Medal (both issued by the Hungarian government) and First Place honors in the 4th and 5th annual National Choral Composition Contests (in 2003 and 2005, respectively), as well as First Place in the 7th annual National Composition Contests for Children’s Choruses, held in 2006. 

He has participated in the World Music Days celebrated in Romania (1999), Ljubljana, Slovenia (2003), Croatia (2005), and Hong Kong (2007).

In 2002, his work The Divine Image was commissioned for, and performed at, the 6th World Symposium of Choral Music, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Córdoba conducted the string orchestra of the Kuronoma Academy of Mexico City in some of his own pieces. during a tour of  Japan in 2005.

In 2006, he obtained a residency in the Visby International Composers’ Center in Gottland, Sweden, and in October of this same year he attended the 21st Annual Festival of Havana,  Cuba, as a conductor, composer, and lecturer. 

In 2007 he was a participant in Mexico City’s International Forum for New Music. His music was performed by the Vancouver Chamber Chorus (conducted by Jon Washburn) during this ensemble’s “Music of the Americas” Canadian tour. Córdoba was also a composer and lecturer in the América Cantat Festival, celebrated in Havana, Cuba. He was one of the featured composers within New York City’s North/South Consonance Cinco de Mayo Celebration, with Houston’s  Schola Cantorum, conducted by Doborah King.  In Panama, he offered workshops and lectures in the International Caribbean and Central-American Choral Festival.  He also was invited to participate with his cantata La esperanza es nuestra (Hope is Ours) in the inaugural concert of the Universal Cultural Forum of 2007, held in Monterrey, Mexico.

Since 2001, Jorge Córdoba has coordinated and directed the radio program entitled Horizontes de Nuestra Música (Horizons of Our Music), transmitted in Mexico by the Opus 94 Radio Station (94.5-F.M.)

William Chin
Music Director, Spirit/Breath/Voice

William Chin, founder and artistic director of The Oriana Singers, is also the Assistant Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, director of the Symphony Chorus for the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest, and the director of the Sanctuary Choir at Anshe Emet Synagogue. Other appointments include Artistic Director of the Pro Musica Youth Chorus in Oak Park, IL and Director of Music Ministries at First United Church of Oak Park. In 2003 he started the Music At First concert series, also in Oak Park. He was the Artistic Director of the Chicago Children’s Choir from 1993 to 1999 and led them on several national and international tours, including appearances at The White House.

Mr. Chin is active as a professional singer and has been on the adjunct faculty for both DePaul and Roosevelt Universities. He is the recipient of a Joseph Jefferson Citation, is active as a choral adjudicator and clinician and is a past vice president and founding member of Early Music Chicago, an advocacy and service organization.

John William Trotter
Music Director, The A Cappella American Songbook

John William Trotter is a rapidly rising conductor on today's concert music stage.  His work from the podium has been recognized internationally through numerous prizes, grants, and guest conducting invitations.  To date, he has conducted more than a dozen professional orchestras and choirs in seven countries.  He is currently Associate Conductor of Canada's outstanding professional choir, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, an ensemble he has conducted in over twenty-five performances throughout Canada, Taiwan, and Japan.  His December 2010 performance of the Vivaldi Magnificat was hailed by the Vancouver Sun as "a radiant performance of this work that overstated nothing and brought out all of its freshness and charm."  In September 2011, Dr. Trotter's season opening concert with the Vancouver Chamber Choir was recorded by CBC Radio for national broadcast. 

As part of his work with the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Dr. Trotter has established and enhanced new and existing outreach/engagement programs for composers, conductors, singers, and audiences.  He also serves as Music Director of the Pacifica Singers, a newly-formed small vocal ensemble which provides experienced and motivated choral singers with direct exposure to the world of professional music making.

Read Mr. Trotter's full biography

Thank You Patrick Sinozich!

Feb 27, 2012

An important change on our artistic team will take place this spring, as we bid a fond farewell to our music director, Patrick Sinozich. Patrick will be moving on to pursue new musical opportunities after a very successful five year run as Chicago a cappella’s first-ever music director.  (Before that, he served as our occasional rehearsal coach, and even accompanied our very first auditions in 1993, so our musical relationship goes back almost 20 years!)  Although it will be tough to see him go, we are looking forward to working with three Guest Music Directors during our 2012-13 season, as well as artistic director Jonathan Miller, who will take the helm for our opening concert. 

Patrick will always be part of our musical family – in fact, we are designating him Music Director Emeritus – and we know that the years ahead will continue to include some of the marvelous arrangements he’s created for us. He will music direct April’s All About the Women, as well as the May Gala, Come Together. We’ll relish these final chances to celebrate the great musical gifts Patrick has brought to Chicago a cappella, and we wish our beloved colleague only the best.

Jonathan Miller blog: “Wade in the Water”

Feb 1, 2012

Artistic Director Jonathan Miller was a guest contributor to composer Paul Carey's "Musical Mayhem" blog.  Jonathan discusses the upcoming "Wade in the Water" concert of spirituals.  Enjoy! 

Jewish Music in Chicago:  What I Learned Over the Weekend

Jan 31, 2012

Jonathan Miller, Chicago a cappella artistic director

Recently, I was honored to be guest conductor of a large combined chorus and soloists for the centenary birthday celebration of Chicago's foremost composer of Jewish music, Max Janowski (January 29, 1912-April 8, 1991), held at the historic KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Hyde Park where Janowski served as music director for 53 years. While there, he created a new musical language for Jewish liturgical music for Reform and Conservative congregations in the Midwest and had a profound influence on hundreds of musicians and dozens of congregations. KAMII also will be one of the four venues for Chicago a cappella's own Janowski-themed concerts this autumn.

The weekend began on Friday evening, 1/27/12, with a Shabbat Eve service led by Cantor Mirian Eskenasy and Rabbi Batsheva Appel.  The music was an all-Janowski compilation of music from across his career. The selection of music was a revelation for me.  By way of a little background:  I am a bit of a Janowski expert, partly because for 14 years I have been curator of the published Janowski works. I have come to know quite well the 150 pieces that were published by Friends of Jewish Music.  However, Cantor Eskenasy cast a net far and wide, including some wonderful research into the congregational archives at KAMII, and she found an "Avodath Hakodesh" (Sacred Service) that was composed early in Janowski's career, as well as the cantata "Bayom Hahu" which I had seen on paper but had never heard or sung.  Probably a half-dozen pieces came from these two major collections.  Just when you think you know a composer's work....

The soloists for the evening included Kurt Hansen, now professor of voice at Northwestern University's School of Music, who was one of the singers whom I most idolized as a young boy--Kurt could do no wrong, never missed a note, always spun out a magnificent, glowing, golden line of melody.  He sings Max's music so beautifully, with passion and conviction and fire and great technique.  His big solo was in the anthem "Mi Eyl Kamocha" ("Who is like unto Thee, O God?"), and it was magnificent.  Other soloists included Cantors Joanna Alexander and Ben Rosner, young professionals who also grew up at KAM, as well as Student Cantors Lauren Phillips and Faryn Kates from the School of Sacred Music in New York.  Yours truly contributed the solo in Janowski's "R'tsey Vimnuchateynu," an early work for Shabbat.  People came from far and wide, and it was wonderful to have about 150 people in all, including members of Rodfei Zedek down the street, where I serve as high-holiday cantor. There were also many people who had grown up at KAM and whose lives were similarly enriched by knowing Max Janowski and his music.  It is music that touches the soul deeply.  The ever-capable Tom Weisflog played the piano, and KAMII's capable choir of volunteers and professionals sang beautifully.

On Saturday afternoon, there was a dress rehearsal for the big Sunday afternoon concert. 

Sunday morning, there was a symposium in the morning.  It was held in the small Stone Chapel, as the Friday night service had been. The symposium consisted of three lectures:  one by Prof. Philip Bohlman from the University of Chicago, one by Prof. Judah Cohen of Indiana University, and one by yours truly.  Phil Bohlman is, in my opinion, a rock start of musical scholarship; fluent in a gazillion languages and deeply respectful of different cultures, he told us stories and showed us documents and played us songs from the 19th-century Berlin that shaped the young Max Janowski's cultural outlook.  I was fascinated to see magazines and newspapers for cantors, that included advertisements for shoes as well as books (I stand for three hours straight when I serve as cantor on Yom Kippur, and I know how important good shoes are!).  Phil also talked about the transformation of Jewish identity at the time, from a mindset that was centered in prayer and ritual -- more of an insular, almost provincial mindset -- to a cosmopolitan, "aesthetic" mindset where Judaism was part of a sophisticated, urban, international community where ideas and influences were exchanged.

Judah Cohen dove deeply into the KAMII congregational archives and told us the fascinating story of Max Janowski's hire at KAMII.  The blockbuster for me and for Cantor Eskenasy was the relevation in the archives of the role that KAM's Choir Committee played in Janowski's his early activities.  The kicker was the fact that the Choir Committee directed Max Janowski to start composing music that captured and perpetuated elements of traditional cantorial nussach, partly to help foster a greater sense of Jewishness in the music and also to appeal to younger congregants who needed, it was felt, things to help them identify as Jewish in a time of great assimilationist pressures. 


KAM Isaiah Israel Chicago a cappella JanowskiThe big Sunday concert was held in the main sanctuary, shown at left. This is the place where, as a boy, I was awestruck by the sound of Max Janowski's choir and his organ playing and the cantor and soloists for the High Holidays.  On January 29, the 100th anniversary (to the day!) of Max's birth, an expanded roster of soloists combined with roughly 90 voices from four different choirs, singing in various combinations on different songs.  They were the KAMII choir;  Kol Zimrah, the Jewish Community Singers of Metro Chicago, a wonderful volunteer group of about 60 directed by Richard Boldrey;  "Voices of Harmony," the Milwaukee Community Jewish Chorale, directed by Enid Bootzin Berkowitz;  and St. Pauls United Church of Christ Chancel Choir, directed by Kurt Hansen. All the cantors from Friday night were there, augmented by Cantor Cory Winter, one of the three direct Janowski protegés, who came in from California and performed magnificently as singer and pianist (and conducted the amazing "Ashira Ladonai" from the piano);  Cantors Deborah Bard and Menachem Kohl, both former cantors from KAMII; and Cantor Arik Luck from Beth Emet in Evanston.

Ohmygosh, was the singing amazing!  I had the best seat in the house from the conductor's podium. One of the special highlights was the world premiere of a new work commissioned by KAMII from Bob Applebaum just for this occasion, a glorious setting of "Tov L'hodot" ("It is good to give praise to the Lord");  Cantor Eskenasy took the solo, and the combined choral forces for that piece were more than 60.  This was followed by other pieces, and the first half ended with a beautiful performance of Sim Shalom, with all possible singers up on the bimah (podium).  I was so moved by all of the singers up there, and moved further still by the audience's singing along on the refrain, as well as the truly beautiful and heartfelt solo that Cory Winter provided.  Here is a man for whom Max Janowski's music and spirit truly courses through his veins. 

This concert also taught me a few pieces of Max's music that I hadn't known before.  "Kol Dodi" is a sweet text from the Song of Songs, and Max set it for a simple duet of voices.  In this case, Cantors Rosner, Bard and Alexander teamed up with our visiting oboist to create a lovely chamber-music performance with an intimate feel. The other new discovery for me was "Kineret," a song by Mark Lavry (an Israeli composer of Latvian birth), a beautiful setting with a lovely piano part, performed with a gorgeous soprano solo by Lauren Phillips. 

Part of what I am enjoying about this program in hindsight is the connection to Chicago a cappella's own upcoming concerts in honor of Max Janowski, to be held this fall. As part of the project, I am arranging eight of Janowski's works for a cappella choir, including several that were on this concert in their original accompanied form; of these, "Sh'ma Koleynu" and "Sim Shalom" are probably the most famous. These new settings will be premiered at CAC's concerts, and it will be a particular honor to get to perform these at KAMII.

If you have personal memories of Max Janowski, please contact me to let me know of your experience. These memories are precious and help to hold on to the legacy of this remarkable musician and big-hearted man.

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