WEST HARTFORD –”Mediterranean Melodies”, the final orchestral concert of the 2010-11 Music Series at Beth El Temple, will take place on Sunday, June 5 at 7 p.m. _The program includes the musical traditions of Spain and South America, as well as the rich heritage of the Sephardic Jews. Highlights include performances of Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” and Argentine folk composer Alberto Ginastera’s “Harp Concerto.”
Internationally renowned tenor and composer, Cantor Aaron Bensoussan, will perform his original Sephardic and Arabic compositions, as well as traditional melodies. Cantor Joseph Ness of Beth El Temple will conduct the Beth El Orchestra and soloists.
Tenor Cantor Aaron Bensoussan was born in Morocco to a prominent rabbinic dynasty that can trace its lineage back to Maimonides. His grandfather, Rabbi Haim Bensoussan, was the Chief Rabbi of Morocco in Casablanca.
When he was eight, Bensoussan taught himself to play the oud (lute) and darbouka (goblet drum). Around the time of his bar mitzvah, his mother took him for lessons with Moshe Afriat, one of the great Moroccan masters of the oud and piyutim (Jewish liturgical poems).
“I can still remember feeling faint from the beauty of his playing and singing and Moshe asking his wife to bring me a drink of water before I fainted!” Bensoussan recalls.
Bensoussan immigrated to the U.S. in 1968 and most of his family subsequently left Morocco for Israel and France. He studied at Queens College in New York, the Yeshiva University Belz School of Music, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He received his cantorial training with Cantors David Koussevitsky, Moshe Ganchoff, Noach Schall, Daniel Guildar, and Jacob Ben-Zion Mendelsohn.
At age 24, Bensoussan began his cantorial career as Hazzan at the Sephardic Jewish Center in Forest Hills, N.Y., a position he held for five years. After graduating from JTS in 1986, he served as Cantor of Temple Gates of Prayer in Flushing, N.Y. and then as cantor of Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights, N.Y. for 11 years. _In addition to his cantorial work, Bensoussan has throughout North America, Israel, Europe, and Australia. Most notably, he has performed at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem Theater in Jerusalem, and Carnegie Hall in New York. He often accompanies himself on Arab musical instruments including the oud and darbouka.
“In a nutshell, Sephardic music is comprised of influences from the music of the lands that the Sephardic Jews settled – Spain and the Arabic-speaking countries,” Bensoussan says. “Just like Western music is a complex harmonic system, so is the Sephardic music a complex modal and microtonal system which is influenced by Middle Eastern, Flamenco, and Andalousian modes.”
A prolific composer, Bensoussan fuses together the Sephardic music he grew up with and the Ashkenazic music he studied in New York. “Both styles are so part of my neshama,” he says. “In other words, I love my cous cous and hot sauce but I also enjoy a nice shmaltz herring.”
Bensoussan attended JTS with Beth El Temple’s Cantor Joseph Ness. “Even back then, Cantor Ness was known for his great musicianship and skill in writing orchestrations,” says Bensoussan. “When he heard ‘Joyous Chants,’ which I recorded with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, he talked about bringing me to his synagogue for a big concert. He has always loved my compositions and I have always loved his orchestrations. Now we finally get to put our talents together!”
“Mediterranean Melodies” will be presented on Sunday, June 5, 7 p.m., at Beth El Temple, 2626 Albany Ave., West Hartford; preceded by a Mediterranean-themed dinner . For more information call (860) 233-9696 or visit www.bethelwesthartford.org.