Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cantor Lawrence Avery in Concert

The 1970s seems so long ago. Jimmy Carter was President, my one-bedroom on W. 69th rented for $450, and the Upper West Side was horrified when Häagen Dazs opened on Columbus Ave, charging one dollar (!) for a cone. 

FM radio was still something you could listen to for long stretches, and Sony's new Walkman made it possible to enjoy Paul Simon's latest as you walked past his co-op near Central Park. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion was (then) only a block away from Paul Simon's digs, but half-a-century removed in time. It was another world. And, like the brownstones on W. 68th, HUC-JIR had a charm of its own (as you can see, above.)

One of the jewels in HUC's crown was Cantor Lawrence Avery, z'l. After his recent passing (read my memorial tribute) I combed through my cassette tape collection and found a treasure trove of audio memorabilia. No, much more than memorabilia: amazing, incredible music that sounds as vital today as it did four decades ago.

HUC-JIR had a Sunday afternoon concert series featuring students and faculty in song. Here are Cantor Avery's performances from two of those concerts during the 70s. I recorded them myself, using simple equipment that I no longer own. Complete track info can be found on Soundcloud. While Avery's "Israel" set is particularly beautiful, the "Kwartin Memorial" pieces are especially touching. Cantor Paul Kwartin had long been a fixture on the New York scene, and he sang together with Cantors Avery and Ramon Gilbert in a traveling concert series called Cantica Hebraica. In tribute to their friend, Avery and Gilbert sang their arrangement of "V'af Al Pi Chein" with Paul's voice part missing. Near the end of the set is this gem, a rarely heard piece by Dmitri Shostakovich (Opus 79 No. 2), all the rarer because it was written for soprano and alto!

Israel in Song, April 13, 1975
Cantor Lawrence Avery, accompanied by David Schiff

The Cantor Paul Kwartin Memorial Concert, May 13, 1979
Cantor Lawrence Avery, accompanied by Joyce Rosenzweig, with guest Cantors Sarah Sager and Ramon Gilbert

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