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.
As the author of National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe, I have roamed thousands of miles around Europe's historic Jewish heartland, bringing Jewish heritage to light for on-site explorers and armchair travelers alike. On this blog I will post photographs, links and personal experiences related to Jewish heritage sites and travel, particularly in the countries of east-central Europe.
Aside from clearly marked quotations, links and pictures, all material on this blog is copyright ⓒ Ruth Ellen Gruber
I'm an American writer, photographer, and public speaker long based in Europe. I've chronicled Jewish cultural developments and other contemporary European Jewish issues for more than 20 years and currently coordinate the web site www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu. My latest books are "National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe," published in 2007, and "Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere)," published in 2008.
I also am working on "Sturm, Twang and Sauerkraut Cowboys: Imaginary Wild Wests in Contemporary Europe," an exploration of the American West in the European imagination for which I won a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEH summer stipend grant. In 2015 I was the Distinguished Visiting Chair in Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston, SC.