It’s not every Jewish girl whose parents commission a new work by a renowned classical composer for her bat mitzvah, but then Dora Schoenberg’s lineage made a musical tribute all but mandatory.
So when some 800 listeners gathered on April 7 at Sinai Temple for a “Community Celebration Concert,” Dora’s two great-grandfathers, Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl, were there in spirit and song.
A third composer was Samuel Adler, whose work for organ, “From Generation to Generation,” had its world premiere to honor the bat mitzvah and her paternal great-grandfather.
Adler included harmonies from the Viennese master’s fragmentary sketches for a “Jewish Symphony” and spelled out the name DORA through a musical formula too complex for the untutored mind to grasp.
The evening was hosted and sponsored by Dora’s parents, Pamela and E. Randol Schoenberg, with the latter explaining it is a family tradition to mark b’nai mitzvah celebrations with the works of the two musical patriarchs.
The first half of the concert was devoted to Schoenberg, the second half to Zeisl. Both men were born in Vienna and resumed their careers in Los Angeles after escaping Hitler. The program included, in addition to the Adler work, the world premiere performance of Zeisl’s “Psalm 29, God’s Glory in a Thunderstorm.”
Both composers emphasized their Jewish biblical roots after fleeing Europe, and much of the concert expressed both the solemnity and joyousness of a prayer service.
The contrasting moods were conveyed masterfully by the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale under conductor Nick Strimple. Initially, there were 16 choral voices, later expanded to 50, standing on the sanctuary’s bimah, which had been transformed into a concert stage. Iain Farrington, a young British organist, pianist and composer, performed the organ solos.
The impact of the evening was summed up by Rodney Punt, the principal of Arts Pacifica SoCal, who was in the audience and enthused, “What an ear-stretching experience.”