On the evening of Sunday 14th January, 2024, New West End Synagogue played host to an audience of some 300 Jews and non-Jews for an outstanding and varied concert of a capella choral music by the shul’s resident choir. Mosaic Voices, with their conductor and NWES Musical Director, Michael Etherton, and with additional solos provided by NWES chazan, Marc Joseph. This recital formed the opening event of the European Cantors Association’s ‘From Our Lips’, a celebration of synagogue music. Between now and April there will be a further nine events at shuls in the London area.

The recital opened with its major work, the premiere of a four-movement piece for 8-person double choir and chazan, entitled ‘Time’, by NWES composer-in-residence and member of Mosaic Voices, Benjamin Till. This tour de force counterpoints the Hebrew text of part of Kohelet – the section beginning “To everything there is a season … a time to be born and a time to die …” – with extracts from reports in the Jewish Chronicle detailing events in the nearly 150 years of NWES history. The first movement included the initial proposal for a new synagogue in the West end, its opening, the installation of electric lighting, and the demonstration on Yom Kippur 1913 by suffragettes – this last item was re-enacted as part of the piece! The following movement dealt with events during both the First World War (including a very moving final letter from a soldier, sung with heart-rending emotion from the bimah by bass Dickon Gough) and also the Second World War, with settings of articles on the exodus of Jews from Europe and a Chanukah party in an air raid shelter. Movement 3 included the recollection of the whole congregation rising as Herbert Samuel mounted the bimah for an aliyah one Shabbat in 1955, the ‘Louis Jacobs Affair’ and its consequences, and an antisemitic attack on the shul in 1965. The final section included a visit by Charlie Chaplin, the Grade 1 listing of the shul, the resident ghost, and the 2019 JC report by the Secret Shul-Goer.

Much of the rest of the programme consisted of pieces that are standards of the Shabbat Additional Service, many of them original compositions by Till and others in arrangements by him. We heard his Finchley Kedushah, Yismechu, and Mechalkeil, as well as three settings of Adon Olam (including a new piece based on an ABBA song); the Avinu Malkeinu made popular by Barbra Streisand; and Yerushalayim shel Zahav. The concert concluded with a lively rendering of Im Nin’Alu, the Ofra Haza setting of words from the 17th century.

Truly an inspiring evening of synagogue music from its resident choir, chazan, and composer. There really was something for everyone: many of the members of the audience were in tears at the emotions provoked by the astonishing musical array. If you attended and want to hear more of the Mosaic Voices – or if you were not there but now wish you had been – you can hear them every Shabbat morning at NWES. We love having visitors!

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