The Jewish National Fund Postcard Project: How a New Musical Culture Was Conceptualized for an Emerging State of Israel. A Composition Master Class with Michael Isaacson
February 28, 2011 7:00 pm
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Founding Music Director of The Israel Pops Orchestra, and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, Michael Isaacson enjoys a distinguished career as a composer, conductor, producer, and educator with over 500 Jewish and secular musical compositions published, including instrumental, vocal, sacred and secular arrangements, editions and educational works, the two-volume, five hundred page Michael Isaacson Songbook, and over 40 produced CDs and album recordings. His book and double CD entitled Jewish music as Midrash: What Makes Music Jewish? is now in its second printing.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 22, 1946, he received his early education at Yeshiva Rambam, and James Madison & Sheepshead Bay High Schools. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from Hunter College, a Master of Arts in Music Composition under Robert Starer from Brooklyn College, keyboard studies at the Juilliard School with John Mehegan, ethnomusicology with Israel Adler at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he went on to study with Samuel Adler and Warren Benson at the Eastman School of Music ultimately earning his Ph.D. there in Composition.
In 1973 Dr. Isaacson taught theory, composition, orchestration and conducted the Festival Chorus at SUNY Fredonia. In 1974 he was simultaneously appointed instructor at Case Western, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Music Director of Tifereth Israel Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. There, at the request of Rabbi Daniel Silver, son of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, Isaacson composed new music each week for an alternative woodwind quintet and choir morning worship service exploring new modes of contemporary synagogue prayer and produced the Temple’s first album of Jewish music The Loom and the Cloth. He met and married educator Susan Weisblatt and in 1976 moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music for the media.
In Los Angeles, from 1976-1990, while fulfilling adjunct teaching positions at Loyola Marymount, Cal State-Long Beach, and UCLA, Dr. Isaacson composed and conducted original scores and arranged for many well-known television series including John Williams & The Boston Pops with Joan Baez, Rich Man, Poor Man II, Little Women, Bionic Woman, Hawaii Five-0, Time Travelers, and the daytime dramas Loving and Days of Our Lives. As an arranger, orchestrator, and conductor for feature films, he has had the pleasure of assisting composers John Williams, Alex North, Elmer Bernstein, Walter Scharf, and Charles Fox.
Dr. Isaacson has conducted, toured, and produced new recordings of symphonic music with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tel Aviv Symphony, the Munich Philharmonic, the Mexico City Philharmonic, the Vermont Symphony and Chorus, the Bulgarian National Symphony, and the Czech Chamber Orchestra. His recordings with The Hollywood Pops, which he also musically directs, may be heard on the Sony label.
Music albums composed, orchestrated, and/or conducted for the Los Angeles Jewish community include: Regeneration and Legacy with Cantor Nathan Lam at Stephen S. Wise Temple, Guardians of the Heart, Hope For the Future, and Kol Truah with Cantor Jay Frailich at the University Synagogue, From Sinai to Sinai with Cantor Meir Finklestein at Sinai Temple, and Windows: The Songs of Rabbi Moshe Rothblum with Cantor David Silverstein, of Temple Adat Ariel.
When Hebrew Union College awarded Prime Minister of Israel Yitzchak Shamir an honorary doctorate in November 1991, Dr. Isaacson was selected as music director for the convocation and commissioned to compose a large musical work in Prime Minister Shamir’s honor. The resulting dramatic work for men, and children’s voices, brass and percussion is entitled Psalms for a Leader.
From 1990-1993, Dr. Isaacson served as Founding Artistic Director of the Milken Archive of 20th Century American Jewish Music. In this capacity, he conceived and structured the original concept for the Archive and curated, conducted and/or produced 14 CDs of newly recorded music masterworks of the late nineteenth and twentieth-century American Jewish community. Now, with over 80 CDs completed, The Milken Archive is the most extensive recorded documentation of a Jewish musical period ever conceived.
1994 -1996 Musical Activities: Produced the exhibition film music with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for Los Angeles’ Skirball Cultural Center which opened in 1996. Produced double CD set for Arabesque Recordings of two operas and choral music composed & performed during the Holocaust in Terezin, completed a CD of his music, Made In America, performed by Cantor Faith Gurney Steinsnyder, composed and premiered cantata: To Celebrate a Miracle: Images of Jerusalem, libretto by Samuel Rosenbaum, narrated by Tovah Feldshuh and sung by the University of Miami Chorus at the opening night of the International Hadassah Convention, and taught a new course in Composing Music for Worship at the University of Judaism.
1997 Musical Activities: Completion of the entire symphonic music for 18 films and permanent exhibitions at New York’s new Museum of the Jewish Heritage recorded by the Israel Philharmonic. The new museum built in Battery Park overlooking the Statue of Liberty, opened in 1997. Produced Ten Lessons in Jewish Music Composition, a five-hour recorded course distributed by TARA Music for the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles. Israel Pops arrangements performed by the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Memphis, and L.A. orchestras/choruses.
1998 Musical activities: Weekend scholar-in-residencies at temples, conducted concerts with the music of The Israel Pops in Florida, completed composition and produced accompaniment CD of L’Maaseih V’reisheet – To Recreate the World – A one hour children’s Sabbath Eve service for the new century, co-commissioned by forty-three congregations across America and Canada and premiered simultaneously by them on Shabbat Shirah, January 21, 2000. Produced King Sings Isaacson, a CD of twenty compositions recorded at Gindi Hall of the University of Judaism by Hazzan Thom King of Baltimore accompanied by Joseph Abell, taught Ten Lessons in Composing Jewish Music at University of Judaism., Performances of his works in Montreal, Memphis, the new L.A. Getty museum and Santa Barbara, production of Drivetime Judaism’s Sparks of Light, An introduction to Kabbalah taught by Rabbi Steve Robbins.
1999 Musical Activities: January 29-31 Atlanta Isaacson Music Festival, Nishmat Chayim, premiere Shabbat Prelude for Winds, February: 2/7 -Pasadena Temple Lecture, 2/12-Valley Beth Shalom Shir Ari, Production of the choral version of To Recreate The World, Production of Drivetime Judaism’s The Time of Your Life and Out of the Rabbi’s Hat featuring Rabbi Ed Feinstein, 4/20/ Santa Barbara, Congregation B’nei Brith Scholar in Residence, 6/13 Dayton, Ohio – conducted the Kettering Children’s Choir and recorded his Yizkor for the Children of the Holocaust with them. 8/1 Produced CD of Aminadav Aloni’s synagogue music, September 3-5 conducted the Bulgarian National Symphony in Sophia.
2000 Musical Activities: On January 21, 43 co-commissioning congregations in U.S. and Canada perform Isaacson’s sacred service for children L’maaseih V’reisheet -To Recreate the World. He completes Havdalah Suite for Temple Emanuel in San Francisco. In the spring both the Cantors Assembly Convention in Detroit and the American Conference of Cantors Convention in Los Angeles present L’maaseih V’reisheet – To Recreate the World with concerted children’s choirs from across America and Canada. Hazzan, Hazzan composed and recorded in honor of Jay Frailich, TMP Publication of Seder Songs, More Than Enough (A Chanukah Song), produced Kol Simcha, and a CD of Isaacson’s wedding music. Newsletter in August and September. Shehechiyanu composed for Walter Scharf’s 90th birthday, There Are Stars in memory of Rachel Simon, six Jewish folksong arrangements to inaugurate The Michael Isaacson Choral Series by Transcontinental Music Publications. Musaf K’dusha commissioned by The Cantors Assembly, V’higad’ta L’vinchem for UAHC Open Door Haggadah, Ut’shuvah and Listen to My Heart’s Song commissioned by Rabbi Harold Schulweis for Valley Beth Shalom Temple, Encino.
2001 Musical Activities: Composed Ben Shahn Suite for Piano, A Little Past the Middle musical, recorded Havdalah Suite, ten choral arrangements for The Michael Isaacson Folk Music Series, produced LIBI B’MAARAV, composed & recorded Yih’yeh B’seder and We’ll Still Sing America, composed an oratorio exploring the giving of the Ten Commandments: A Covenant of Wonders with a libretto by Marcia Hain Engle, organized fifty songs for the Michael Isaacson Songbook Vol. I., supervised post-production of In Good Company CD; Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale’s recorded performance of Robert Strassburg’s and Dr. Isaacson’s choral music.
2002 Musical Activities: Completed composition and produced recording of A Covenant of Wonders. Guest edited and contributed articles to the winter ’02 Journal of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Conducted Israel Pops music with the Florida Philharmonic, lectured at the first Nowakowsky Choral Festival in Los Angeles, arranged five Hassidic choral arrangements for the M.I. Folk Music series, composed After Seder Songs, and A New Moon (Birchat Hachodesh), produced The Michael Isaacson Songbook Volume I companion CD, composed new songs with Doug Thiele for Roslyn Kind: The Promise of Time CD which he also co-arranged and produced.
2003 Musical Activities: Presented The Michael Isaacson Songbook Concert in San Pedro, CA with The Isaacson Singers and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Roslyn Kind debuted Promise of Time CD at Cedars Sinai Board of Governors celebration, works performed at ACC/GTM regional in Santa Barbara, Covenant of Wonders premiered in St. Paul Minnesota on June 5th, Shavuot, composed twenty-eight new songs for a musical adaptation of two Hans Christian Andersen stories The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling collectively called Two Hans Please!, five new English adaptations and choral arrangements for the Michael Isaacson Jewish Folk Music Choral Series, Psalm 130 for conductor Paul Salamunovich, Welcoming Our Daughters for Rabbi Morley and Margarete Feinstein, Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem for Rabbi Jim Kaufman presenter and panelist at Only In America Milken Archive symposium at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. Los Angeles Jewish Music Commission to compose Aliyah for Bb Clarinet and String Quartet, recipient of an IAJM recording grant to record his three sacred services.
2004 Musical Activities: Composer-in-residence at Temple Israel, Westport and HUC-JIR School of Sacred Music, NYC, recording of double CD Three Sacred Services and a Suite for the Sabbath in Prague, production of Michael Isaacson Songbook Volume II CD, 36 songs composed for new Shir Chadash Haggadah, Nigunim for Transcontinental, We Remember Them, and Build Me A Sanctuary for University Synagogue, Baruch Sheamar and V’atem Hadveikim for Cantor Linda Kates, L.A. Interfaith Symposium on Psalms panelist. Appointed Visiting Professor of Jewish Music Liturgy at Hebrew Union College in LA where he created and taught two courses, The Balanced Bimah for student rabbis and Temple Musicianship for cantorial soloists.
2005 Musical Activities: Composed and recorded Renewal Suite for University Synagogue and conducted 5th Anniversary Alumni performance of To Recreate the World there. Produced, mastered and wrote CD Notes for American Jewish Summer CD for JMG records, composed Halleluyah for Women’s Chorus, artist-in-residence – Omaha Nebraska, and Pensacola, Florida, The Covenant with lyric by Marcia Hain Engle for Morgan Fein, An American Hallel for large chorus, Five Angels for harpist Gayle Levant, Berlin ’05 for French Hornist Jennifer Kessler, Avinu Malkeinu Orchestral Prelude for University Synagogue, Pitchu Li for Hallel, Tavoh for Temple Aliyah, L.A., A Jewish Musical Calendar (A piano suite of holiday songs) for TMP, Marvelous in Our Eyes (Psalm 118) for Temple Ner Tamid of Glen Cove’s 50th Anniversary, The Shul in My Right Mind for clarinet and string quartet for L.A. Jewish Music Commission and produced A Little Jewish Night Music concert for them. Circles, a wedding song for Cantor Donna Gold’s daughter’s wedding, Dear and Treasured Child with lyric by M.H. Engle for the Turkat family, Encino Frailich for Zonovy Goro.
2006 Musical Activities: Ashirah Vaazamrah for the ACC/GTM Israel Convention 6/29, taught at the ACC/GTM Western Regional in Redondo Beach, CA, and at the College of Judea and Sumaria in Ariel, Israel. Our Song of Songs for wedding of Lonee Frailich, article in Journal of Synagogue Music, choral arrangements of Ocho Candelikas and Sha Shtil for M.I. Folk Music Choral Series at TMP, Eitz Chayim for Temple Keneseth Israel, produced and conducted recording of Stephen Richard’s Ballad of Ruth with the Israel Philharmonic, and M.I.’s The Shul in My Right Mind with clarinetist Ron Selka and The Israel String Quartet in June.
2007 Musical Activities: Hear a Small Voice Whispering, a Bat Mitzvah Song for Emily Plutsky, lyric by M.H. Engle, Mayn Rue Platz, and Dem Milner’s Trern arranged for the M.I. Folk Music Choral Series at Transcontinental Music, Let Us Honor the Generations for the new Mishkan T’filah prayerbook, composed the three movement Klezmer Suite for clarinet, violin and piano for Zinovy Goro, presented six new choral works at the Choral Taste of L.A. sponsored by the NACM, set Debbie Perlman’s poem One as Because I Know You Will Hear Me — A Soldier’s Prayer for his son, Flight Surgeon Lt. Ari Isaacson serving in Iraq. In February, Dr. Isaacson joined authors Maya Angelou, Salmon Rushdie, and Astronaut Sally Ride as a Thomas P. Johnson Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Dr. Isaacson gave a lecture entitled: Jewish Music as Midrash illustrating his observations with his own compositions. Created setting of V’sham’ru/When you Keep the Sabbath commissioned by Temple Ner Tamid in Henderson, Nevada, April premiere, Five Snaphots of Friends for piano, Men Like That and How Dare He! For a new musical “Willie and Winnie” lyrics by Pamela Phillips Oland. Kol Chatan V’Kol Kallah, a wedding service and Under the Canopy – lyric by M.H. Engle, a wedding song for the marriage of Amy Willensky to Andy Isaacson in June 2008, Water from A Stone a solo piano suite for Andrea Anderson for a March ’08 L.A. Cathedral concert, cantor and choral setting of Hashkiveinu for Cantor Jay Frailich, University Synagogue.
2008 Musical Activities: Lecture/book signings in Southern Florida, Raleigh, Durham, University Synagogue, Temple Israel, Workman Circle, Temple Judea, Adat Shalom in L.A. March 2nd premiere Gift of Love Mass, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, March 9th premiere Five Angels, L.A. Interfaith Symposium, April 5th premier of Water From A Stone at L.A. Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, March-April taught JMAM course at Valley Beth Shalom Temple, Nightsong/Hashkiveinu for Cantor Marcus Feldman. June 22 performance of Kol Chatan V’Kol Kallah Wedding service at son Andy and his bride Amy’s wedding, composed fifty double woodwind pieces for Trevco Music (see their catalog) – Isaacson profiled the work of Cantor Faith Steinsnyder, Inon Zur and reviewed A Test of Faith for the Forward newspaper. M.I.’s book was reviewed by Jill Timmons for the Jewish Review. He consulted at Linfield College-Portland. Composed Fish, a duet suite for Viola and Piano for Jill Timmons, taught at Rochester, NY at Eastman School’s Institute of Musical Leadership, spoke at Temple B’rith Kodesh, composed Seven Deadly Sins for SATB Choir, Rediscover Sinai, a Bar Mitzvah song for Joseph Plutsky, Jewish Wedding Songs Suite and Motor On – A Duet for Bassoon and Vibraphone for Trevco, Annotated M.I. music program for WXEL, Palm Beach and spoke at Temple Sinai in Del Ray, FL
2009 Musical Activities Composed Quetzacotl Poem Chant for flute and eng. Hn. and La danse du Harem for heckelphone and crotales, and The Naked Truth for oboe and piano for Trevco, Yo Milt! For Milton Babbit’s 93rd birthday Taught Musicianship for Cantors at AJR-CA, Composed duet Teach My Lips A Blessing – Lamed et Siftotai for Cantors David Perper and Faith Steinsnyder, composed Ur’ei Vanim L’vanecha for Cantor Nathan Lam, spoke at Temple Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah, New Jersey, prepared and edited third volume of the Michael Isaacson Songbook. Composed Sh’ma Koleinu for cantor and Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, both for SATB Choir. Premiered Seven Deadly Sins and An American Hallel with Maestro Tim Koch and the Carolina Master Chorale, Myrtle Beach SC, Laila Laila for M.I. Choral Folk Music series, produced JMAM/A Audio book for Oysongs.com , The Caravel String Quartet premiered The Shul in My Right Mind at MOBIA, Lincoln Center in NYC, composed A Presence of Its Own for University Synagogue’s Rededication.
2010 Musical Activities – 1/22 Isaacson music at Valley Beth Shalom w/ chorus and soloists, composed Kohelet for Carolina Master Chorale
The Michael Isaacson Songbook Volumes I, II and III is published by URJ/Transcontinental Music Press, NY
Jewish Music As Midrash: What Makes Music Jewish? is published by ECM Books. It is also available as an audiobook from Oysongs.com
Is It a Sin to Whistle? Biographical anecdotes is awaiting publication
Awards Michael Isaacson is the recipient of grants, honors and awards from The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Meet the Composer Inc., the Eastman School of Music, the Schubert Foundation, ASCAP, the American Conference of Cantors, Hebrew Union College and the Cantors Assembly’s highest tribute for lifetime achievement in synagogue music; The Kavod Award.
Dr. and Mrs. Isaacson have been married for 33 years and reside in Encino, CA. They have two married sons – Ari Joel Isaacson, M.D. is a resident radiologist in Chapel Hill NC and married to Lara. Andrew Jordan Isaacson, MA, a programmer at Pipeworks is married to Amy.