Since its inception in 2015, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale’s Jews & Music initiative has taken audiences on journeys of discovery that deepen connections for Jews and non-Jews to historical, political and social contexts that inform the creation of music. Philharmonia is the only major American orchestra with a permanent initiative dedicated to exploring the relationship between Jews and music from the 17th to the 21st centuries.
Jews & Music (JAM) is a continuous exploration that probes the rich legacies of Jewish composers and performers; non-Jews who worked with Jews or drew inspiration from them; the socio-political milieu they inhabited; and Jewish themes that have emerged across music and visual art over time. Programs illuminate the achievements of Jewish composers such as Felix Mendelssohn, as well as those who were obscured by time and persecution, such as Salamone Rossi and Ignaz Moscheles. Canonical oratorios by George Frideric Handel gain historical heft and depth when revisited with insightful analysis of his scriptural sources and the social forces that supported his music. Rare gems of the repertoire that draw inspiration from Jewish culture, such as Maurice Ravel, a non-Jew who wrote one of the most famous adaptations of the Kaddish, shines a light on the inspiration of Jewish history, heritage and music.
JAM’s unique programs bring together dynamic musical performances and conversations in a deep dive into the arts and history. Events are presented in a multimedia format that connects major conductors, guest artists and scholars, with audiences. Each program provides for audience participation and a wine reception with the artists and scholars. Over the past five years, Music Director Laureate Nicholas McGegan has led these vital programs; Music Director Richard Egarr and other major artists will participate in future years. JAM also maintains its own Scholar-in-Residence, Francesco Spagnolo, curator of the Magnes Collection at UC Berkeley. He participates in and moderates every program.
JAM is woven into the fabric of all of Philharmonia’s artistry, and serves as a platform to collaborate with peer organizations and commission new works that are Jewishly-inspired. JAM has become very popular and the programs have taken place throughout the Bay Area and across the country, with plans underway for appearances in New York and in Europe.