Wayne Hinton is a Methodist, and he understands what Jewish audiences will feel when they hear a performance by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.
"It's like when you hear a Frenchman conducting French music," said Hinton, the symphony's executive director. "It's akin to their soul."
The soul, or more specifically the soul aflame, will anchor the symphony's Dec. 19 performance at Temple Israel of Hollywood, where the shul's Nimoy Concert Series will host the West Coast premiere of "Souls on Fire," an oratorio based on Elie Wiesel's book on centuries of Chasidic leaders.
The concert series' namesake, actor and philanthropist Leonard Nimoy, will narrate the piece. He will be joined on stage by almost 100 performers, including four soloists, actress Laraine Newman and the 45-member choir of Valley Beth Shalom, plus the 45-member Jewish Symphony and its artistic director, Noreen Green. Before the "Souls" piece begins, violinist Lindsay Deutsch will open the concert by performing Ernst Block's "Baal Shem" suite.
The concert will be a classic merging of Jewish sensibilities and irony: a Reform shul hosting a Conservative choir singing a piece about Chasidim that no Chasidic man would see, because the choir includes women.
"Unfortunately, that's absolutely right," Nimoy said. "There's a loss in there somewhere."
Nimoy said that when he first narrated the "Souls" musical piece a few years ago in a studio isolation booth, "I had a sense even then it was a very powerful and inspiring piece of work. It humanizes the major leaders of the Chasidic movement, and it takes some of the mystery out of some of them. Some were great mystics, others were great organizers."
While the concert will be the piece's West Coast premiere, Nimoy has narrated "Souls" in Detroit, Philadelphia, New York's Lincoln Center and Boston.
"That's my hometown, and there was a homecoming feeling," Nimoy told The Journal. "The theater where we played in Boston was within walking distance to what had been my home."
Nimoy's 3-year-old Temple Israel concert series (the shul's Rabbi John Rosove is the cousin of Nimoy's wife) has twice as many subscribers now as a year ago.
"This concert will by far be the largest," he said, adding that the series in February will host Michigan's Envision orchestra of young musicians, then an Arab-Israel orchestra in June, plus Chicago's Sephardic cantor Alberto Mizrahi next fall.
Green, the Jewish Symphony conductor and artistic director, as well as Valley Beth Shalom's choral director, said the post-Chanukah, Dec. 19 date gave event organizers some unusual freedom for a Jewish event in December.
"This really has nothing to do with Chanukah; it's around Chanukah time," Green said. "If you do the concert during the eight days of Chanukah, you're kind of locked into doing a Chanukah program, but Leonard has been championing this particular piece of music. How do you say no to Leonard Nimoy?"
The 70-minute "Souls on Fire" stands out because it is based on a book by a writer so heavily identified with his Nobel Prize-winning Holocaust writings. But here, Green said, "I don't relate this work to him as a survivor."
"When you use music to highlight text, it brings another dimension to the word," she said, "Music gives it an emotional impact that you wouldn't have without the music."
Green also believes the 12-year-old L.A. Jewish Symphony has earned Jewish communal respect and also the respect of its classical music peers.
"People now trust my selection of music," the conductor said. "I try to make it fun; I'm entertaining up there. We started this off not really knowing where it was going to lead or what we wanted to perform."
The "Soul on Fire" concert will be Sunday, Dec. 19, at 3 p.m. at Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd. For tickets, contact the Nimoy Concert Series , (213) 805-4261 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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