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Leonard Bernstein to be celebrated at Shaar concert

Leah Edwards

The centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth will be celebrated at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim with a gala concert on May 29.

Tonight, Tonight! is part of “Leonard Bernstein at 100,” a two-year global tribute to one of the 20th-century’s greatest composers, who died in 1990.

The multimedia concert features Broadway actress and soprano Leah Edwards, alongside the Shaar’s own tenor, Cantor Gideon Zelermyer.

The varied program includes Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and excerpts from West Side Story, Candide, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the Concerto for Orchestra.

In addition, the program highlights music that inspired Bernstein, including selections of symphonic works by Gustav Mahler and Aaron Copeland.

Shaar music director Roi Azoulay and Boris Brott conduct the McGill Chamber Orchestra (MCO), as well as the choirs of the synagogue and St. Matthias Anglican Church, in this first-time collaboration.

“Leonard Bernstein was very proud of his Jewish identity and also exceptional in his ability to touch so many styles and worlds. At the Shaar, we appreciate this excellence and wish to pay tribute to someone who represented these values in his life,” said Azoulay.

He is enthusiastic about the Shaar’s new creative partnership with the St. Matthias choir and its music director, Scott Bradford.

“Today it is more important than ever to unite with our friends and neighbours. Through our shared love of music, we have a beautiful opportunity to create community,” said Azoulay.

Edwards, who will sing such well-known songs as “Glitter and Be Gay,” made her Broadway debut in 2011 in Terrence McNally’s Master Class. She has appeared in numerous shows off-Broadway and with the Encores! series at New York City Center, including the Emmy-nominated production of Carousel with the New York Philharmonic, which was broadcast on PBS live from Lincoln Center.


Bernstein frequently conducted Mahler’s works. Most famously, this included conducting Symphony No. 2 in a televised tribute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy, two days after his assassination. Five years later, he conducted the “Adagietto” from Symphony No. 5 with the New York Philharmonic at Robert Kennedy’s funeral.

Bernstein’s 1961 recording of Copland’s Appalachian Spring with the New York Philharmonic is considered the definitive version of the 1944 ballet score, with its distinctly American sense of expansive, open spaces, noted Azoulay.

The concert is in keeping with the Shaar’s long musical tradition. Azoulay, Zelermyer and the Shaar male choir came to international attention for their accompaniment for Leonard Cohen’s final album, You Want it Darker, which went on to win Juno and Grammy Awards in 2018.

In addition, Zelermyer and the choir have toured North America and the United Kingdom, and their series of recordings, The Music of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, has received widespread critical acclaim.

In 2016, Azoulay led the cantor and choir in a performance at the United Nations in New York, to mark the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.

Zelermyer, now in his 15th year at the Shaar, has performed around the world as a featured soloist. Azoulay has conducted the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Chamber Orchestra and the Israeli Sinfonietta, and was previously the music director of the Great Synagogue Choir in Strasbourg, France.

The MCO, which has been conducted by Brott since 2005, has presented concerts in 17 countries on five continents. Founded by Brott’s parents, Alexander and Lotte Brott, the MCO is celebrating its 80th anniversary this season.


For tickets, call 514-937-9474 ext. 139, or visit shaarhashomayim.org/event/concert2019.

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