Tuesday, September 9, 2008

European Day of Jewish Culture -- Italy

European Day of Jewish Culture events took place in more than 55 towns and cities in Italy, and there were hundreds of activities to choose from. The Day was marked Sunday in more than a score of European countries. (Here's a link to events in Bulgaria.)

In Italy, Milan and Mantova hosted the "keynote" events.

I chose to go to Siena, where I attended a concert Saturday night in the lovely Baroque/Rococo synagogue just off the famous Campo. The music was special -- it was the suite of Baroque music (for male singers and chamber orchestra) that was composed by the Jewish musicians Volunio Gallichi and Francesco Drei, for the ceremony inaugurating the synagogue at the end of May 1786. This was the first time that the music was played in the synagogue since then. Very, very interesting; it sounded like Handel, or someone like Handel in his "Water Music" or "Royal Fireworks" mode, sung in Hebrew -- very far from what is considered today "typical" Jewish music like klezmer and mournful prayers. The performers were Siena's Rinaldo Franci orchestra, directed by Michele Manganelli.

My friend Francesco Spagnolo, an Italian musicologist who is now research director at the Magnes Museum in San Francisco, introduced the performance with a talk describing the music and the role it played in the dedication ceremonies, which took place over several days. Using such music, he said, represented an act of modernity at the time of the Enlightenment, just as Jewish were about to gain civil liberties. As part of the inauguration ceremonies, specially written Hebrew poems were recited and, on May 27, processions from two older synagogues in the Siena ghetto wended their way to the new synagogue, chanting and bearing Torah scrolls.

Italian speakers can read an article Francesco wrote about Jewish music in Italy, including the music played in Siena, by clicking HERE.

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