A musical tribute to Denburg
Jewish Independent, Nov 1, 2019
Moshe Denburg’s music will be featured in a tribute concert by the Orchid Ensemble on Nov. 10 at the Annex. (photo from Orchid Ensemble)
The Orchid Ensemble is giving composer Moshe Denburg a most appropriate gift for his 70th birthday – a concert.
The Nov. 10 tribute at the Annex will feature Denburg’s music, as well as the world première of a new work inspired by the melody of one of his first recorded songs. Denburg has collaborated with the Orchid Ensemble over the years and has been a driving force in intercultural music in Canada, including being the founder of the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, in 2001.
On the Orchid Ensemble’s tribute program are the three pieces Denburg wrote for the group’s Road to Kashgar (2001), which was nominated for a Juno Award; “El Adon” (2009), a four-movement work that will be performed consecutively as a suite for the first time (one movement being a world première); “Petals of the Flame” (2012), which will be performed with flamenco dancer Michelle Harding; and the North American première of “In Midstream” (2010), a solo zheng (Chinese zither) work performed by Dailin Hsieh.
The icing on the cake, so to speak, will be the performance by the ensemble – Lan Tung (erhu/Chinese violin), Hsieh (zheng) and Jonathan Bernard (percussion) – of “And Gather Our Dispersed from the Ends of the Earth,” by Denburg’s nephew, composer Elisha Denburg.
“I haven’t heard it yet, so I can’t say much about it at all!” said the elder Denburg. “As he has said, it is based on a musical melody of mine, which I set to the liturgical text ‘Gather our dispersed from the ends of the earth….’ This song appears on one of my first albums, and was recorded in New York City in the mid-’70s with a certain well-known ensemble there called the Neginah Orchestra. For many years, it received regular airplay on Kol Israel Radio. I am really looking forward to hearing what Elisha did with it. I will plug him here – he is a composer of depth and originality.”
The younger Denburg’s music has been commissioned, performed and recorded across Canada, as well as in the United States. The award-winning composer has collaborated with numerous artists and his music has aired on CBC Radio 2. Essential Opera commissioned him, with librettist Maya Rabinovitch, to create a one-act chamber opera, titled Regina, about the first female rabbi, Regina Jonas, who was ordained in 1935.
About how his uncle’s melody inspired him, Elisha Denburg told the Independent, “It is a song that invokes very specific and special memories for me, singing around the Shabbat table with him and my family when I was young. It also espouses a key Jewish value: the strength of community. This is why I always try to incorporate it into my chanting whenever I help lead Rosh Hashanah services at my synagogue in Toronto (First Narayever Egalitarian Congregation). In composing a new work for intercultural trio, inspired by this melody, I am attempting to give back to him and our community the musical and spiritual gifts I have been so fortunate to receive in my life so far.”
In looking back at his professional life and how his composing has evolved, Moshe Denburg said, “At the beginning, I was mainly a songwriter and melodist, though I did take it seriously and I still consider a good song and a well-formed melody to be a real achievement. However, over the years, I delved much more deeply into the art of composition, and by that I mean writing for larger forces (like orchestras) and utilizing a broader musical language.”
Denburg has been creating music for almost all of his 70 years; his first composition coming before he was 10 years old. “As a child,” he said, “I improvised melodies, even at the age of 4 or 5. I believe it was when I was 8, I improvised a melody to the words of the synagogue prayer ‘Hashiveinu Hashem eilecha …’ (‘God, bring us back to you …’), and it stuck. It was very cantorial, as this, being the son of a rabbi, was my first influence and inspiration – the modes of synagogue prayer.”
The interest in world music came later. “For many of my generation,” said Denburg, “this connection with and attraction to the music of other cultures started in the 1960s, with the Beatles and others, who were incorporating non-Western instruments – tabla and sitar, for example – into their works. It was a great new stream to draw upon, in order to create something new and exciting. I still think of intercultural music-making as having unlimited potential, with a much larger palette of sounds, and a noble endeavour and homage to everyone’s humanity.”
Retirement is not in Denburg’s plans. He said, “There are three prongs to my musical life, which continue unabated:
“1. Tzimmes, my Jewish music ensemble, is back in the studio, working on some tracks both old and new. Some tracks were begun in 2005-06 and have sat on the back burner for many years. Some pieces are newly composed and arranged. I hope to release them, perhaps as an album or perhaps singly online, over the next year or two.
“2. The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO) continues to be a going concern and, though I have stepped back from being hands-on in the organization, I am still involved creatively, contributing compositions and participating in a variety of concert and recording projects.
“3. Apart from the VICO, I am still a composer for hire. In fact, Lan Tung, the leader of the Orchid Ensemble and my musical colleague of many years, recently initiated a project that would see me, funding permitting, commissioned to write for another intercultural ensemble of hers, the Sound of Dragon Ensemble.”
In addition, Denburg has at least two “bucket list” items: “Writing a large-scale work of many movements for the full Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (25-30 players); continuing to record my works, both Jewish and intercultural.”
For tickets to And Gather Our Dispersed from the Ends of the Earth – Moshe Denburg Tribute Concert at the Annex on Nov. 10, at 4 p.m., visit mosheorchid.brownpapertickets.com.