“Kol Nidre Variations” represents Ben Zebelman’s major recording debut. This full-length, instrumental interpretation of the ancient Jewish prayer was released by Madacy Entertainment in August, 1999. Joining Ben on piano are cellist Maureen McDermott and violinist Elizabeth Chang. Each of the work’s four movements, The Vow, Voices of the Heart, Dance of the Spirits, and Redemption, reflect the variety of classical and contemporary influences that inspired Ben to reinterpret this centuries-old chant.
The origin of the Kol Nidre prayer is unknown and its significance has been the cause of controversy for hundreds of years. Originally, the Kol Nidre (literally “all vows”) was thought to be a means for Jews to nullify vows during Yom Kippur. Some scholars, however, now believe that the text of the Kol Nidre was actually derived from ancient practitioners of Jewish mysticism who believed that the prayer could nullify human curses and oaths, which were to be carried out by earthly demons.
As for its haunting melody, Ahron Beer, a Cantor in Berlin, is credited with writing the earliest known musical notation of the Kol Nidre in 1765. Beer’s version contains most of the fundamental melodic elements of Kol Nidre that continue even today, although many variations and arrangements have been created through the years. In the 1880’s, Max Bruch transcribed an arrangement that has been recorded by various ensembles. In 1938, Arnold Schoenberg used the basic Kol Nidre motifs for a version scored for voice chorus and orchestra. The opening theme of Kol Nidre can even be heard in Beethoven’s String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131.
Ben originally conceived “Kol Nidre Variations” for full orchestra. During the writing process, however, it became evident that the composition’s texture and spirituality were best expressed in a more intimate arrangement for piano, violin and cello.
The world, live premiere of “Kol Nidre Variations” took place on September 15, 1999 at the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue in lower Manhattan. Ben’s concert, as well as part of the proceeds from all sales of the CD and digital downloads, benefit efforts to restore the synagogue as an ongoing cultural center.
With “Kol Nidre Variations,” Ben has breathed fresh life into an ancient chant, infusing its spirit with classical grace and contemporary meaning for the 21st Century.
For more information about the Eldridge Street Project and their efforts in the restoration of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, please visit: www.eldridgestreet.org
Ben premiered “Kol Nidre Variations” live before a sold-out audience on September 15, 1999 at the Eldridge Street Synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side.
The concert benefited the Eldridge Street Project’s efforts to restore the synagogue, a National Historic Landmark, and to further its prominence as a cultural center.
As the final notes of Ben’s music swelled through the elegant sanctuary, the audience rose for an extended ovation. As noted by one reviewer, the “…packed house stood for Ben Zebelman, violinist Elizabeth Chang and cellist Maureen McDermott. But they were standing for Eldridge Street, too, and for all those before them who had come to the holy place that still stands, that still dazzles with a haunting visual music that is its own kind of awe.”
What the critics are saying about “Kol Nidre Variations”…
“Pianist Ben Zebelman has attempted something remarkable with Kol Nidre Variations. Does it work? Yes. The simple, centuries-old chant – transformed here into chamber music in four pieces – ends up sounding fresh and (thankfully) still powerful as an instrumental work. In all, it’s 39 minutes of moving, serene, and soulful music.”
- Jason Verlinde, Amazon.com
“This exquisite composition begins with the haunting strains of the Kol Nidre melody, but soon branches off in directions both lovely and fascinating.”
“Movements of this work would be appropriate for worship services, and the music’s inherent beauty should appeal to even the most casual classical listener…there is a structure and power to this gentle work that will have me returning to it again and again. Recommended.”
- Ralph Graves, Nine X
“…highly inspiring and spiritual.”
- David J. Oestreicher, Town & Village