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In 2015, Philharmonia launched its Jews & Music Initiative – a permanent effort to explore and understand the relationship between Jews and music from the 17th to the 21st centuries.

The initiative brings Jewish historical context to a range of classical music including:

  • The works of Salomone Rossi, Monteverdi and the Jews of 17thcentury Italy;
  • An exploration of George Frideric Handel and his relationship to the Jews of London and the major Jewish biblical figures that feature in his works;
  • Later composers such as Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn, Maurice Ravel and Ignaz Moscheles; and
  • The experience and heritage of contemporary Jewish musicians, such as acclaimed cellist Steven Isserlis.

Philharmonia’s Jews & Music Initiative also embraces new works rooted in the Jewish experience, with a new commission in 2020 featuring a cantata by young, acclaimed composer Matthew Aucoin, set to text by German language poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan, whose parents died in the camps. The piece will be staged and sung by the American Modern Opera Company, an ensemble founded by Aucoin and director/choreographer Zack Winokur. 

The initiative provides opportunities for significant collaboration with SFJCC, the Jewish Contemporary Museum, Oshman JCC, and The Magnes Collection at UC Berkeley, among others. In 2016, Harvard and Yale universities invited PBO to present “Jews of the 17th Century Italian Jewish Ghetto” featuring works by Salomone Rossi and Monteverdi. The program was reprised at the University of Chicago in April 2018 to rave reviews in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Classical Review.

PBO Music Director Nicholas McGegan is known worldwide for his work with both period instrument and modern orchestras and he champions new music as a way to understand the music of the past. As a foremost scholar on Handel and with deep knowledge of early and later Jewish composers and musicians, McGegan is uniquely suited to explore the interwoven context of social and political considerations surrounding Jews and music.

Click to read more about this initiative in Rob Gloster’s article in J. Magazine published 12/7/2017. 

Generously Sponsored By

Drs. Ross E. Armstrong &
Jonas (Jay) K. Stern
Jews & Music Fund

Presenting Partners:

San Francisco Jewish Community Center

The Magnes Collection
at UC Berkeley

Harvard University

Yale University

Oshman Family JCC

Contemporary Jewish Museum

University of Chicago

American Modern Opera Company (AMOC)

Dartmouth College


PBO SESSIONS: Jewish Songlines
Performers, Patronage, and Prejudice
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 | 8pm
Bing Concert Hall Studio, Stanford

Philharmonia’s Jews & Music Scholar Francesco Spagnolo joins forces with Nicholas McGegan once again, this time on a journey to the world of Mendelssohn and 19th-century Germany, a period in history rife with socio-political tensions, rich musical splendor, and religious conflict. As part of our Jews & Music Initiative, this riveting program offers musical reflections paired with dynamic discussion.


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PBO SESSIONS: Jewish Songlines – An Exploration of Music and Heritage

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