"I like representing the underdog," said Noreen Green, founder of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.
Which is why her Aug. 21 concert feting 350 years of American Jewish life will not spotlight famous composers such as George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland.
"People can hear those mainstays at the Los Angeles Philharmonic," the 46-year-old conductor said from her CD-crammed Encino study. "Our symphony aims to perform new or seldom heard pieces, so I'm taking the same approach to explore the journeys that brought Jews here from every corner of the earth."
It's what one might expect of the maverick Green, whose well-received ensemble is the only Jewish orchestra of its kind outside Israel. Her upcoming concert, too, is unique because national "350" events are focusing more on lectures and art exhibits (think "From Haven to Home," which arrives at the Skirball Cultural Center Nov. 10).
After listening to 50 hours of music, the conductor selected "350" repertoire that tells the story in chronological order. The program opens with Meira Warshauer's "Like Streams in the Desert," Green's nod to the 23 Sephardic settlers whose families fled the Spanish Inquisition to Brazil and eventually to New Amsterdam in 1654. The modern classical piece weaves asymmetrical Eastern rhythms into Western-style canons and fugues (overlapping lines of the same melody) to suggest the experience of exile and return.
In the alternatingly lyrical and joyous "Self Portrait With [Mordecai] Gebirtig," American composer Joel Hoffman transforms songs by the celebrated Krakow folk musician into a klezmer cello concerto. While Gebirtig died in the Holocaust, his work reflects the Yiddish music brought here by 2.5 million Eastern European immigrants between 1881 and 1921.
"I recognized the characters in his songs, as if they might have been my own great aunts and uncles," Hoffman recalled.
When cellist Barry Gold -- also a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic -- slides his hand across the strings, the whine recalls a cantor bending his voice in shul.
Cantor/composer Meir Finkelstein will bend his own renowned voice when he performs his original compositions of prayers such as "Ma Tovu," reflecting the trend of new music in the American synagogue.
"Such melodies reflects the variety of Jewish life made possible in the United States," the conductor said. "It's like a smorgasbord."
For information about the concert at the Ford Ampitheatre, call (213) 805-4270 or vist www.lajewishsymphony.com.
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