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Natan Shahar

(b Yekatrinoslav [now Dnepropetrovsk], Dec 5, 1894; d Tel-Aviv, April 2, 1982). Israeli composer and singer. He emigrated to Palestine from the Ukraine in 1906. He studied at the Teacher's Seminary in Jerusalem where his teachers included Abraham Zvi Idelsohn. During World War I he moved to Egypt and enlisted in the British Army. After the war he returned to Palestine and, while earning his living as an accountant, took singing lessons with Jehuda Har-Melaḥ. A countertenor with a phenomenal ability to improvise, he travelled to the USA in 1923 to further his singing studies; there he specialized in improvisation and distinctive vibrato singing, similar in style to Arab-Bedouin singing or ululation. Commissioned to write an orchestral accompaniment for songs improvised in a Bedouin style, he enlisted the compositional assistance of Lazar Seminski, who encouraged him to continue to compose. His first songs, Ya leil (‘Oh night’) and ...

Article

Eliyahu Schleifer

(b Kiev, June 1, 1898; d Tel-Aviv, Jan 27, 1964). Israeli cantor and composer of Ukrainian birth. Born into a family of cantors (both of his grandfathers were cantors, as was his father), he made his cantorial début in Kiev at the age of eight. At the age of 14 he became the choir director at his father's synagogue, where he helped to introduce the 19th-century polyphonic repertory. He studied the piano and theory at the Totovsky Conservatory and later counterpoint and composition with Glière. In 1920 he moved to Chişinău, now in Moldova, where he served as cantor and continued his studies with Abraham Berkowitsch (known as Kalechnik), an authority on cantorial recitatives. After emigrating to the USA in 1926 he served as cantor for congregations in New York and Los Angeles. His extensive recordings with Asch and RCA Victor made him famous in Ashkenazi Jewish communities. In ...

Article

Alma Kunanbayeva

(b Erbol [now in Kokchetav province], 1831; d 1894). Kazakh traditional composer and singer. He was born to the family of Turlybai and began composing songs at the age of ten. He belonged to a special category of artists in Kazakh society known as sal and seri, masters of the art of song who usually functioned as part of a group which included those skilled in wrestling and horse-racing, dömbra players, storytellers, jewellers and masters of wit. Birjan was a talented aqyn (poet-singer) and took part in numerous aitys (contests), the most famous of which was with Sara Tastanbekova. He travelled throughout Kazakhstan and became well known. Many of his songs became widely popular, notably Birjan-sal (an autobiographical song), Leyailam-shrak (a girl's name meaning ‘my dear flame’) and Zhonïp aldï (literally ‘polished’, ‘shaved’). He also composed two songs based on verses by Abai Kunanbaev, in whose household he was on occasion a guest. Birjan's songs were characterized by a number of features including melodic originality, indissoluble unity of text and music, and the inclusion of his own name in the texts of his songs, many of which were autobiographical. Several legends concerning the creation of his songs also became well known. In ...

Article

Motti Regev

(b Kiriat Haim, Dec 25, 1950). Israeli singer, composer, guitarist and bouzouki player. During the 1970s he played in various rock bands which performed mainly at weddings. One of these bands became known as Benzeen in the early 1980s, when Poliker established what was to become a fruitful and long-lasting creative partnership with the lyricist and critic Yaakov Gilad. Benzeen became highly successful with its hard rock sound, but disbanded in 1984 after the release of its second album. In 1985 Poliker made two albums of rock-oriented interpretations of Greek songs, with Hebrew lyrics by Gilad; these recordings widened Poliker’s popularity beyond the young audiences of rock and marked his shift towards a sound based on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern elements. In 1988 he recorded Ashes and Dust, in which he and Gilad explored their experiences of growing up in Israel in the 1960s as sons of survivors of the Holocaust, and this album is widely considered Poliker’s masterpiece. His later albums, two of which are purely instrumental, include virtuoso performances on guitar and ...

Article

Michal Ben-Zur

[Kar’el]

(b Heidelberg, Nov 13, 1897; d Jerusalem, Jan 15, 1974). Israeli composer, conductor, singer and keyboard player of German birth. He studied the organ with Philipp Wofrum and composition with Richard Strauss. From 1920 to 1926 he held the position of conductor at the Hamburg Neues Stadt-Theater, and from 1931 to 1932 was baritone and stage director at the Deutsche Musikbühne. He emigrated to Palestine in 1933, where he was appointed programme director of the newly founded Palestine Broadcasting Service (PBS, later Kol Israel [‘The Voice of Israel’]), a position he held until his retirement in 1962; he founded the PBS Orchestra (later the Kol Israel Orchestra) in 1938.

Many of Salomon’s early works were destroyed. His music from 1933 is tonal with modal inflections, combining European traditions with folk influences to create a light, accessible style. The Sepharadic Suite (1961) incorporates Spanish melodies; popular material is also used in the Second Symphony ‘Leilot be’Cna’an (‘Nights of Canaan’, ...