A Test of Faith

Test of Faith Poster
Friday, November 21, 2008
Valley Beth Shalom

A Test of Faith One of the Bible's most dramatic stories, the story of the Akedah, the near-sacrifice of Isaac, occurs in the Torah cycle this year ending on November 21st, as well as most prominently, on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Depending upon where one is in life – father, son, mother, believer, agnostic -the questions take on distinct shadings from other years and other circumstances. There is no story that has inspired more midrashic interpretations and attempts to fill in the narrative silences than this story of a covenant of faith hinged upon the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Music and text entwine this year on Erev Shabbat, Friday evening November 21st as the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of its proudest award recipients – composer Lawrence Goldberg's chamber opera "A Test of Faith" by offering an encore performance free to the public in the sanctuary of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California. Premiered twenty years ago when it won the Jewish Music Commission's top honor for a new musical work based on a biblical story, "A Test of Faith" with libretto by Marcia Hain Engle and music by Lawrence Goldberg, has always been remembered in the L.A. community for the unique interpretation it offers. No other dramatic interpretation has captured and riveted an audience, and evoked more gasps from a congregation while being entirely faithful to the midrashic legacy of the rabbinic literature. Lawrence Goldberg has gone on to become a prominent conductor on Broadway and an associate working on Charles Strouse's latest musical "Minsky's" opening here in Los Angeles this winter. Twenty years ago, the young composer/conductor was set to conduct the premiere of his music when suddenly he became ill and was replaced by Dr. Michael Isaacson. Consequently, he has never heard a live performance of his operatic work. This will be remedied this year when he comes to Los Angeles to conduct its 20th anniversary performance. Dr. Richard Braun, Chairman of the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles, has announced that two major star performers in Southern California will appear in the key roles in the 20th anniversary performance of Goldberg's pulpit opera A Test of Faith. Ron Li-Paz, prominent operatic bass-baritone and cantor, will be singing the part of God and the Angel, and renowned opera and concert tenor Jonathan Mack will be singing the role of Abraham. Both are extraordinary musicians who will bring great musicality and interpretive powers to the formidable roles before them. The composer Lawrence Goldberg, a well-respected conductor on Broadway and at concert venues around the country, will conduct the performance at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino on Friday evening November 21, 2008. Following the performance, Mr. Goldberg and the performers will be engaged by Rabbi Edward Feinstein, senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom, in a discussion of the composition and the story of the Akedah. It is the Jewish Music Commission's plan to enable more performances at schools and seminaries throughout the community as a way of making the Torah come alive for this generation of students in Los Angeles. Support, advertising, and sponsorship of this artistic project are available by contacting Dr. Richard Braun of the Jewish Music Commission at (818) 907-7194 or by e-mailing him at: jmcla@socal.rr.com

Forward.com Bound Up for Two Decades: A Test of Faith By Michael Isaacson Thu. Dec 04, 2008 Twenty years ago, young composer Lawrence Goldberg entered his one-act opera about the binding of Isaac into The Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles’ competition for a new pulpit opera. Of the resultant piece, “A Test of Faith,” Dr. Richard Braun, chairperson of the commission, reported: “It was just the kind of piece that we hoped for … integrating an eloquent midrashic libretto by Marcia Hain Engle with a sophisticated but tuneful score by the composer. We were thrilled and granted it First Place.” Following other notable musical interpretations of the Biblical drama by Benjamin Britten and Igor Stravinsky, “A Test of Faith” helps congregations experience the dynamism of the Bible in new and compelling ways. It presents both literary and musical midrashic insights that significantly amplify the traditional views of the “Binding of Isaac,” as it is read from the Torah, both on Rosh Hashanah and shortly after Sukkot. Along with the $5,000 prize money, the commission committed to mounting a full performance of the opera, which the composer himself was to conduct. Just as he was preparing to come to Los Angeles, Goldberg fell ill and could not travel. The show was premiered to general acclaim, but the composer was not present to conduct Cantor Gerald Stern as Abraham, nor indeed did he ever manage to see his opera performed at all. This year, Braun was reminded of its 20th anniversary and wondered whether Goldberg was available to try again. Goldberg was now a busy Broadway music director, however, who had just finished conducting the road company of “The Drowsy Chaperone” in Seattle and, as assistant music director, was about to begin rehearsals on Charles Strouse’s new musical, “Minsky’s.” Looking at his calendar, Goldberg noted that he did have one week available — in the interval between the shows — just before Thanksgiving. The Jewish Music Commission seized the moment and brought Lawrence Goldberg out to Los Angeles to conduct his own opera 20 years later. The anniversary production, at Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue in Encino, Calif. starred the noted Los Angeles tenor Jonathan Mack as Abraham, baritone cantor Ron LiPaz as the Angel of God, and boy soprano Jonathan Zur as Isaac. Goldberg conducted the singers and the seven-piece chamber ensemble along with a shofar sounding in the final moments of the one-act opera. The libretto, expertly crafted by well-known New York poet and author Marcia Hain Engle, was fashioned after Goldberg’s vision. He, in turn, arrived at his interpretation through the study of Shalom Spiegel’s “The Last Trial” — a book exploring the history of the portion as it has been understood in Judaism and Christianity. In this way, composer and librettist embellish the Biblical story using several midrashic interpretations that attempt to fill in the silences in the narrative. Bound Up for Two Decades: A Test of Faith - Forward.com" http://www.forward.com/articles/14654/ 1 of 2 12/5/08 7:46 AM Following the performance’s dramatic, pregnant silence and the audience’s standing ovation, the composer and performers took part in an engaging question and answer session, led by Rabbi Ed Feinstein, exploring both the creative and performing process and the gnawing midrashic implications of the dramatic work. When asked how it felt to re-encounter a younger incarnation of himself after so long, Lawrence Goldberg reflected: “While obviously I might compose some passages differently today, on the whole I think the work holds up well and I’m very grateful to the Los Angeles Jewish Music Commission for giving me the chance to find shleimut, completeness, by finally getting to conduct my own work after two formative decades.” Dr. Braun added: “The Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles, realizing that many American Jews are not able to read this and other Bible stories in the original Hebrew, is committed to finding new musical and theatrical ways in the 21st century to engage congregations and reacquaint them with the inherent drama that is their great Biblical legacy.” From the enthusiastic reception to this encore performance, the commission, the composer, and the audience were convinced that many profound stories of Judaism, set to dramatic libretti and insightful new music expertly performed are necessary, ageless, and are well worth the wait. Michael Isaacson is a composer, conductor, lecturer and educator working in Los Angeles (michaelisaacson.com). Thu. Dec 04, 2008 Email to Rabbi Feinstein: Dear Ed, Thank you so much for your help and leadership in making Lawrence Goldberg's Test of Faith so well received. I think both the JMCLA and VBS can hold up this evening as one of our finest efforts. Additionally, you will be heartened to hear that many people I spoke to afterwards were grateful for the nexus that you created between the artists and the audience through the post performance Q&A . Some said it was appreciated as much as the performance itself. Mark and Elie Lainer were ecstatic. The cost of the evening was well worth it in creating an image and memorable impression of VBS as a center for future cultural/spiritual happenings presented on the highest level. For all this I add my gratitude and thanks to you for your scholarship, sensitivity and, as always, menschlikeit. B'shalom, Michael Isaacson


Pulpit Drama in one act based on Binding of Isaac First Prize winner in Jewish Music Commission competition 1987* Score - Lawrence Goldberg; libretto - Marcia Hain Engle. Abraham - Jonathan Mack, tenor; God, Narrator - Ron Li-Paz, baritone; Isaac - Jonathan Zur - boy soprano; Lawrence Goldberg, conductor; Michael Isaacson, producer,. Instrumental ensemble