Music Genres

Jewish music stems from ancient prayer chants of the Levant some 3000 years ago. The musical notation that developed and that we find in the bible today is one of the most ancient forms of notated music, and yet it is still in current practice all over the world today.

Jewish music has been constantly adapting to new conditions and yet retaining its identity in many widely differing ethnic, social and religious environments.

Through its daughter religions, the music of Judaism is one of the fundamental elements in the understanding of the sacred and secular traditions of Europe and the Near East, first having influenced, and then having been influenced by, the music of Christian and Islamic cultures.

The study of Jewish music encompasses many genres of religious, semi religious and folk music used in the Synagogue and in the Jewish home and also art music using Jewish texts or themes. The study of Jewish music combines distinctively, the essential elements of musicology, ethnomusicology and interculturalism.

Jewish music today encompasses a wide diversity of musical traditions and Jewish songs are sung in many different languages.


The Jewish contribution to Western Classical Music could be said to have begun over 400 years ago with court composer Salamoni de Rossi of Mantua. Since then, many well-known international composers and performers of Jewish heritage have included traditional Jewish sacred and secular material as part of their work and inspiration.


The JMI actively promotes the work of one composer in particular, Ernest Bloch, through our partnership with the Bloch Society.

We are particularly interested in the work of contemporary composers such as Phillip Glass and Steve Reich and the ways in which their Jewishness serves as a source of creative inspiration for these artists. The JMI also focuses on music on Jewish themes by non-Jewish composers and how music has been the medium of cultural, religious and philosophical dialogue since the Enlightenment.

JMI endeavors to explore and represent as many different aspects of classical music in its academic and performance programmes and we have a particular remit to support contemporary composers in the creation of new Jewish music. Most recently, the JMI commissioned Israeli composer Menachem Wiesenberg to compose his ‘Suite Concertante for Klezmer & Classical Violins’ for Sophie Solomon and Dora Schwarzberg which received its UK premiere with the Yehudi Menuhin School Orchestra and its Israeli premier with the Israel Sinfonietta.

Ernest Bloch Society

Ernest Bloch was so admired in his heyday that many considered him the fourth ‘B’ after Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. He was one of the most original composers of the 20th century whose music, whilst intellectually challenging, was accessible to a wide audience. His works were regularly performed from the 1920s to the 1950s, particularly in the USA, UK and Italy.


Bloch has often been referred to as a ‘Jewish composer’ because of the substantial number of his works that carry Jewish titles. Yet his repertoire incorporates a variety of influences such as Renaissance, neo-Classical, neo-Romantic, Swiss, Native American, Chinese, and Gregorian chant. Although he never founded a ‘school’ of composition, many of the most prominent American composers of the 20th century were his students.

International Ernest Bloch Society

This Society revives the original one set up in London and New York in 1937 which had Albert Einstein as Hon. President and numbered Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Henry Wood, Bruno Walter and Ralph Vaughan Williams amongst its illustrious Vice Presidents. Original officers.

The new International Ernest Bloch Society was established in London in 2008 in time to commemorate in 2009, the 50th anniversary of Ernest Bloch’s death in July 1959. Sir Charles Mackerras was the initial President and since 2012 the Society is honoured to have cellist Steven Isserlis CBE as President, and the new Vice Presidents include contemporary conductors, composers, musicians and the heads of music establishments the world over.

More information can be found here:


The Israeli music scene is thriving and eclectic. Since its inception, JMI has been very active in bringing Israeli music to the UK.


One aspect of JMI’s work promoting Israeli music in all its guises, under the general guidance of musicologist Dr Malcolm Miller,  has been to establish a Visiting Israeli Composer position to facilitate workshops, masterclasses, seminars and exchanges between professors and students in British and Israeli Music Colleges.

Menachem Wiesenberg was chosen by JMI as the first visiting Israeli composer. Wiesenberg opened many doors and made a significant impact on London music colleges. He was invited to take part in discussions about Jewish, Israeli and Arabic music at the South Bank Centre, and had concerts dedicated to him at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Northern College of Music. His grand finale was to compose a ‘Suite Concertante for Klezmer & Classical Violins’ commissioned for Dora Schwarzberg and Sophie Solomon and premiered with the Yehudi Menuhin Youth Orchestra at London’s Arts Depot.

Michael Wolpe, the Head of Composition, Conducing and Music Theory at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance was the second Visiting Israeli Composer and visited the UK several times during his residency. He created meaningful connections with lectures, workshops and masterclasses between British and Israeli musicians and institutions across the country. He was the Artistic Advisor for the JMI Jewish Culture Day at the South Bank in 2008 (Musical Dialogues: British and Israeli Music) and was on the advisory panel for the International Conference on ‘Art Music of Israel’, organised by the Conference Director Dr. Malcolm Miller, held at SOAS in 2011.

The conference included papers from international academics and composers and performances were held every lunchtime and evening celebrating the diversity of Israeli Art Music. The Art Music of Israel Conference is an example of the important work that JMI does to support academic research in the sphere of Israeli Music.  JMI has also brought to the UK well-known Israeli pop and world music artists, with a particular focus on those inspired by traditional musics and bridging cultural boundaries with their work.  These include Idan Raichel, known for his fusion of electronics, traditional Hebrew texts, Middle Eastern and Ethiopian music, composer and double bassist Daphna Sadeh, Israeli Ladino singer Mor Karbasi, and esteemed Oud player, fusionist and peace activist Yair Dalal who performed as part of the Art Music of Israel Conference in 2011 and gave a special concert of Vocal and Instrumental Repertoire from Jewish-Arabic Traditions with Yaniv d’Or (counter-tenor) and Erez Mounk (percussion).

The JMI supports the International Israeli Music Competition which was inaugurated in 2008 by its Chairman Sagi Hartov.  The competition aims to expand awareness of Israeli music repertoire amongst both professionals and students and to reach a wide listening audience through the Prizewinner’s Recital.


Part of the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, klezmer is the music that was played at Jewish weddings and other communal ceremonies in the Old World of Eastern Europe leading up to the Second World War.

The word klezmer itself can be divided into two Yiddish words, ‘klei’ (meaning vessel) and ‘zimmer’ (meaning song). Although we know this music as ‘klezmer’, originally the term was used to describe the musician playing the music rather than the genre itself – “play that music, Klezmer!” or Shpiel Klezmer Shpiel.  Many practitioners of klezmer liken its technique to making one’s instrument ‘speak in Yiddish’ and like all folk genres klezmer has its own set of ornaments, traditional forms and rhythmic patterns.

Early bands consisted of four to eight musicians with sometimes two or more violins serving as the lead instruments. The accompanying ensemble or kapelye typically included one or more sekund fiddles (playing rhythmic chordal lines), a tsimbl (hammered dulcimer), flute and bass. By the 19th century the ensemble had expanded to include the brass instruments that Jewish conscripts had played in Tsarist army bands, but it was still led by the prima violin. Indeed, the band was often known by its first violinist’s name, and he was paid extra for the privilege.  Few of the musicians had received formal musical training, yet many were virtuoso artists with established reputations. They performed primarily at Jewish weddings, which could last from two to eight days, and at other major festivities of the Eastern European community. They played at the courts of chasidic rebbes and provided entertainment also for non-Jews, especially the rural aristocracy. They even appeared at the court of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph.

The bands’ diverse repertoire for celebrating Jewish festivities included the stately Dobri Den that welcomed guests on the morning of a wedding, the tear jerking semi- improvised solo obligato passages played during the veiling of the bride and the foot stomping freylekhs and other whirling frenzied dance tunes that went on late into the night. The repertoire also included instrumental versions of popular Yiddish folk and theatre songs and chasidic and semi-liturgical music. They were also required to know the music of local non-Jewish and Roma communities, popular traditional dances and even some classical pieces for when they performed for the aristocracy.

With the large-scale Ashkenazi migration to America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the music expanded to encompass jazz big band influences and the clarinet came to dominate klezmer music, characterizing the Lower East Side sound.  A klezmer ‘revival’ began in the USA in the 1970s with musicians such as Andy Statman, the Klezmer Conservatory Band and Brave Old World and has since grown into a vibrant global scene.

Klezmer is a core element of JMI’s activities from the annual Klezmer in the Park event in Regents Park to workshops and Summer Schools including Klezfest London. Over the years, JMI has brought the leading lights of the world klezmer scene to the UK from Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars to Brave Old World, from Budowitz to the Strauss Warschauer Duo.  JMI has also been instrumental in the creation of new klezmer bands including She’koyokh, formed at JMI Klezfest London, who went on to become one of Europe’s preeminent groups with a busy touring schedule to match.

Klezfest London

For over ten years KlezFest London has offered an intensive one week workshop in klezmer music for all levels of instrumentalists from amateur to professional. JMI has brought together an esteemed international faculty each year. Artistic Directors of the festival have included Dr Alan Bern (Piano/Accordion, Berlin) and Frank London (Trumpet, New York) as well as other members of the most renowned klezmer bands such as the Klezmatics, Brave Old World, Budowitz, Veretski Pass, Strauss/Warshauer Duo, Khupe and Klezmer Alliance. KlezFest offers entry-level classes for beginners as well as detailed study into style and repertoire, master-classes for professional groups and live performance and jams each night of the course.


Around the UK

JMI regularly organises concerts and klezmer workshops outside London. Sign up to our newsletter to receive monthly updates. If you live outside London, there are lots of exciting events on offer.




In Manchester, we currently support the Michael Kahan Kapelye, taught by clarinetist Ros Hawley at The University of Manchester Music Department. For more information contact Dr Richard Fay.

JMI jointly-sponsors Ros’ MKK teaching, and Ros and Richard share this teaching (is the web information clear in this regard?)
This site will provide you with all the backstory to The University of Manchester’s klezmer activities as well as listings of performances and ensembles and resources.

Listings for the NW-based (and beyond) klezmer activities.

“Klezmer in Manchester: people and passions” documentary?


The enthusiastic Kleznorth team organise intensive weekend workshops in Youlgreave, Derbyshire for keen klezmer musicians of all abilities. 2012’s event was a celebration of the 1912 Recordings of Belf’s Rumanian Orkester, with guest teacher clarinetist Christian Dawid (Berlin). More information at Kleznorth.



Gica Loening


Josh Horowitz on Klezmer Modes
Ari Davidow’s Klezmer Shack

“Klezmer in Manchester: people and passions” documentary


Liturgical Music

“Music is the pulse of Jewish spirituality – song charts the biorhythms of the Jewish soul.”  – Former Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks


Music is a potent part of the act of Jewish prayer. Every phrase in the bible has a sign to show how it should be sung or chanted. This is possibly the oldest known form of musical notation – and yet it is completely contemporary as it is still sung in synagogues around the world in a very similar way every week. It is also constantly being refreshed with new compositions for cantors, service leaders, choirs and the congregation. This has enabled participation on every level: vocal, emotional and intellectual over more than two thousand years.

JMI encourages the appreciation and best practice of prayer-leading, cantorial and choral music, across the spectrum of Jewish worship. From 2003 – 2011 JMI ran an active programme in choral and cantorial music which included male and mixed choral festivals, school choir events, concerts, workshops, prayer leading summer schools and Cantors Conventions focusing on the High Holidays, the Sabbath and the three Pilgrim Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkoth. JMI brought a dozen outstanding teachers and cantors to the UK teach and inspire local prayer leaders of all Jewish denominations.

Michael Jolles’ Encyclopaedia of British Jewish Cantors, Chazanim, Ministers and Synagogue Musicians: their history and culture


Current Activity

JMI is supporting and collaborating with the newly formed European Cantors Association which has as its aim to ensure that the beautiful and unique music of Jewish prayer continues to enhance synagogue services for future generations. JMI supported the 8th European Cantors Convention in July 2013.


The Sephardim are Jews descended from those exiled from the Iberian Peninsula, the South of Spain and Portugal who spoke the Judeo-Spanish language, ladino.

The Sephardi world extends to parts North Africa such as Morocco and Tunisia and other areas of the Eastern Mediterranean including Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Sephardi music is best known for its beautiful love ballads with musical influences from Flamenco inflections to Arabic rhythms. Typical instruments include the lute or saz (Turkish lute) and  frame drum or tambourine.  Many of the famous Sephardi melodies and songs sung today were popular across these regions and have been recorded and performed by artists including Flory Jagoda, Gerrard Edery, Judy Frankel, Ruth Yaakov and more recently Judith Cohen, Monica Acosta, Mor Karbasi and Yasmin Levy.

The Babylonian Jewish world encompasses music, poetry and culture of the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa.  Here the traditional instruments are Oud (fretless lute), Qanoon (zither) and Darbuka.  In the first half of the 20th Century, Jews were an integral part of the Arab culture and made significant contributions to the music of that time. Before the massive immigration to Israel the Jews dominated the music scene especially in Iraq where, up to 1951, the leading musicians of the period were the brothers Saleh and Daoud Alkuwaity who composed most of the popular songs of the time.

JMI has celebrated Sephardi culture over the past 25 years by putting on concerts and Sephardi music festivals, organising workshops in Sephardi song and Middle Eastern instrumental music. Past events include a concert of Sephardi Kantos by the Monica Acosta Ensemble, the album launch of ‘Shir Hodu: Jewish Song from Bombay of the 1930s’ and workshops in Sephardi song led by Judith Cohen.

We are continuing to develop our relationship with the thriving Sephardi community London and the rest of the UK bringing musicians, locally and abroad to be part of our performance and education programmes. In 2012, Klezmer in the Park will include a partnership with Harif, a London-based charity representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. We are currently planning a diverse programme of Sephardi and Babylonian music for 2013.


JMI has been deeply involved in developing and promoting the research, recording, and performance of works by classical composers who were stopped from working, forced into exile or killed by the Nazis.


The International Centre for Suppressed Music (ICSM), a forum of JMI, is as a platform for bringing together those working in the field of suppressed music. The aim of the ICSM is to re-examine the work of composers whose careers were affected: to recover music suppressed by totalitarian regimes and later neglected and to restore, publish, perform and record the music. ICSM is also collecting an archive of interviews with surviving composers, musicians, their families and friends as well as manuscripts, scores and other documents showing how composers and musicians tackled both their musical and their political challenges.

In 2008, JMI with Michael Haas, Director of the ICSM, presented a conference on ‘Music, Oppression and Exile: The Impact of Nazism on Musical Development in the 20th Century’. The ICSM has also produced many significant recordings of suppressed works and presented concert series to celebrate the works across the UK, Europe and America including the Aurora Orchestra’s ‘From Vienna to Weimar’ residency) at King’s Place, London and ‘Thwarted Voices – Music Suppressed by the Third Reich’ at the Barbican Centre. The ICSM publishes an online music journal in response to the growing interest in the music affected by the policies of the Third Reich and other political interference with the natural growth of music and culture.

ICSM Archive

The Lost Songs of Hollywood, BBC Radio 4

Listen here

The classic film soundtracks of the Golden Age of Hollywood feature some of the most quintessentially American music you’re likely to hear. But the music for King Kong, Casablanca, High Noon and many other movies was actually written by Europeans – exiled classical composers, many of them Jewish, arriving in the USA in the 1920s and 30s.

Opera singer Julia Kogan was forced to leave the Soviet Union with her parents. Fascinated by the impact of exile on other artists, she goes in search of the songs many of these composers wrote away from the Hollywood spotlight, which until recently remained unpublished, hidden away in family archives.

What can these songs tell us about the emotional impact on these musicians, of being uprooted from their homelands and starting anew in a culturally alien world?

Kogan visits Los Angeles, to unearth and perform songs by multiple Oscar-winning composer Dimitri Tiomkin and by Erich Zeisl, a little-known composer whose fortunes took a rather different turn after leaving Europe. And she meets the last surviving exiled composer in Hollywood, Walter Arlen. At his 95th birthday celebrations, Kogan asks how a lifetime away from his native Austria is reflected in the songs that are only now seeing the light of day for the first time.

We hear Julia performing Tiomkin’s ‘Sweet Surrender’ (with Alan Steinberger at the piano), Eric Zeisl’s ‘Prayer’, and ‘Es geht wohl anders’ and ‘Wiegenlied’ by Walter Arlen (all with pianist Edan Gillen).

For more information on the music and contributors, please visit For more information on Walter Arlen and Eric Zeisl, visit

Presenter: Julia Kogan
Producers: Chris Elcombe, Dave King and Julia Kogan

A Somethin’ Else production for BBC Radio 4.

Forbidden Music by Michael Haas

Michael Haas (Director of the ICSM) has published his new book “Forbidden Music; The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis” on Yale Press. Michael Haas looks at the actual contribution of Jewish composers in Germany and Austria before 1933, at their increasingly precarious position between then and 1939, at the forced emigration of composers and performers before and during the war, and at the emaciated post-war musical life of Germany and Austria, while many of the exiled composers and musicians flourished in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. These composers were at the leading edge of Europe’s pre war and interwar avant-garde and Michael Haas examines and celebrates their contributions to the making of the modern classical repertoire we enjoy today.

Forbidden Music Seminar

Peter Gellhorn Cultural Engagement Project

The cultural engagement project ‘Exile Estates – Music Restitution: The musical legacy of conductor/composer Peter Gellhorn (1912-2004)’ commenced operation in February 2016 and is now well under way.

Project Supervisor Norbert Meyn and Cultural Engagement Fellow Terence Curran have recruited a team of research assistants to conduct archival research and to transcribe manuscript scores of works by Gellhorn for performance in a series of workshops being conducted at the Royal College of Music.

The first workshop exploring compositions by Peter Gellhorn took place on Thursday 7 April at the Royal College of Music. Composer Toby Young led the workshop, in which he and the Alke Quartet spent three hours exploring Gellhorn’s String Quartet No. 2. The Royal College of Music also had the pleasure of welcoming Mary Gellhorn, Peter Gellhorn’s daughter, as a special guest to observe the workshop. Mary returned to the college on 14 April for an interview in which she discussed aspects of her father’s life and career. Photographs of the project team at a recent training event with film maker Tony Britten, Toby Young working with the Alke Quartet at the first workshop, and of Mary Gellhorn (with the gold medal awarded to her father by the Berlin Akademie in 1933) are attached.

Five more workshops will take place over the coming weeks, three in April and two in May (see details below), exploring further works by Gellhorn.

It has also been confirmed that a special event celebrating Peter Gellhorn and his music will take place on the afternoon of Sunday 3 July at the Royal College of Music. Further details will be announced in due course but listings of all events can be found on the RCM website.

Workshops in April and May

The following workshops exploring compositions by Peter Gellhorn will take place at the Royal College of Music in April and May. A limited number of places will be available for observers. Please note that the workshops will be filmed. For more information and to reserve a place please email:


Sunday 24 April*

Jakob Fichert & Eleanor Hodgkinson piano duet
Ingrid Pearson & Janet Hilton clarinets

Thoughts on a Chinese Tune for Two Clarinets and Piano Duet
Sonata for Two Pianos
Totentanz for Two Pianos

Room 204 | 2-5pm

*Please note that this event is now fully subscribed and a waiting list is in operation.

Tuesday 26 April 26

Alke Quartet

String Quartet No. 1

Opera Room 2 | 5-8pm

Thursday 28 April

Alke Quartet

Male vocal quartet (tbc)

Mooragh for string quartet and male vocal ensemble
Andante 1940
Trio Suite
The Cats Isle of Man 1940

Room 301 | 5-8pm

Wednesday 4 May

Eunsley Park violin
Aleksandar Djermanovic piano
Rebecca Watt oboe
Lucy Colquhoun piano

Cappriccio and Intermezzo for violin and piano
Kleine Suite for oboe and piano

Room 101 | 5-8pm

Friday 6 May

Louise Fuller soprano
Katie Coventry mezzo soprano
Lucy Colquhoun piano

Songs and Duets

Opera Room 1 | 10am-12pm

Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret
with Meow Meow and the Australian Chamber Orchestra
Friday 29 July 2016, 7.30pm – Wednesday 3 August 2016, 7.30pm
Venue: Cadogan Hall
More details here


Hindemith: Kammermusik No. 1, Op. 24
Krenek: Excerpt from Jonny spielt auf (orch. Grandage)
Jaroslav Ježek: Bugatti Step
Spoliansky: Alles Schwindel (arr. Grandage)
Weill: Pirate Jenny (orch. Grandage)
Toch: Geographical Fugue
Wilhelm Grosz: Jazzband
Schulhoff: Suite for Chamber Orchestra: VI. Jazz (arr. Tarkmann)
Weill: Surabaya Johnny (orch. Grandage)
Paul Abraham: Mousie from Victoria and her Hussar (orch. Grandage)
Spoliansky: Ach, er hasst? (orch. Grandage)
Schulhoff: Suite for Chamber Orchestra: III. Tango (arr. Tarkmann)
Schulhoff: Sonata Erotica (arr. Tarkmann)
Brand: Maschinist Hopkins: Black Bottom-Jazz (arr. Tregear)
Spoliansky: Wenn die beste Freundin (orch. Ziegler)
Krenek: Selection from Potpourri
Hanns Eisler: An den kleinen Radioapparat (orch. Grandage)
Weill: Tango-Habanera ‘Youkali’ for string quartet (orch. Grandage)
Holländer: Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte (orch. Grandage)
Holländer: The Ruins of Berlin (orch. Grandage)
  • Australian Chamber Orchestra
Richard Tognetti: director & violin
Barry Humphries: conférencier
Meow Meow: cabaret artist
Rodney Fisher: director


Professr Peter Tregear (Convenor)

Dr David Conway (Secretary)

Martin Anderson

Michael Haas

Professor Erik Levi.

Norbert Meyn

Lloyd Moore

Lada Valesova

Simon Walfisch

Toby Young

The Yiddish language is said to date from around the 10th century. It became the vernacular language of Ashkenazi Jews  in Central and Eastern Europe. It is a Germanic language with a significant Hebrew-Aramaic component, and with vocabulary deriving from Slavic languages. Yiddish literature, incoporating folk culture, was already in evidence in the medieval period in a variety of forms. Modern Yiddish literature developed in the 19th century and by the eve of the Second World War, there existed a huge corpus of poetry, fiction, drama. There were regular performances of song recitals, operas, cabaret and plays in Eastern Europe, the USA and beyond. At this time, Yiddish was spoken by approximately 10-12 million Jews throughout the world.

The Yiddish-speaking world was seriously diminished by the Holocaust, by Stalinist repressions in the Soviet Union, and by immigration to Israel where Yiddish was actively discouraged. It has always been a stateless language and its speakers have moved around the globe from medieval times until the present.

Yiddish is a rich language with a complex history, a vibrant culture and an extraordinary literature. At present there are approximately 1-2 million speakers, the majority belonging to the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities. A smaller, separate group are descendants of Yiddish speakers who migrated to Israel, North and South America, Western Europe, South Africa or Australia. New Yiddish speakers are those who develop an interest in the language and its culture, and become speakers as a result of their passion and efforts.

JMI is committed to preserving Yiddish language and song. Among its Yiddish projects, JMI has previously supported the release of Yidishe Lider by the wonderful East End singer and Yiddishisht, Majer Bogdanski. There was a 60th Anniversary Celebration of The King of Lampedusa at Toynbee Hall, to coincide with publication of the play in Yiddish and with English translation (by Heather Valencia) and a concert given by Adrienne Cooper and Zalman Mlotek, Ghetto Tango: Wartime Yiddish Theatre, songs of the Polish and Lithuanian ghettos (available as a CD).

Since 2000, JMI has run Ot Azoy, an annual Yiddish Summer School and Di Goldene Pave/The Golden Peacock (previously known as Tumbala), an annual Yiddish Summer Song School: both take place at SOAS.

JMI has organised concerts and workshops across the UK with some of the top Yiddish performers such as: Michael Alpert, Joanna Borts, Hilda Bronstein, Efim Chorny, Adrienne Cooper, Shura LIpovsky, Polina Shepherd, Lorin Sklamberg, Karsten Troyke.

Classes and lectures have been held by specialists in Yiddish language and literature: Helen Beer, Barry Davis, Peysakh Fishman, Lily Kahn, Sonia Pinkusowitz, Annick Prime-Margules, Heather Valencia.

The summer schools continue to take place each year.

Visit the JMI events page for more details.