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Chorale to celebrate Max Janowski centennial
May 1st, 2012
“This is definitely Max’s year,” said Enid Bootzin Berkovits, director of Milwaukee Jewish Community Chorale.
Max Janowski (1912-1991)
The “Max” in question is Max Janowski (1912-1991), nationally and internationally celebrated composer of Jewish liturgical music, and a choir director and teacher who was primarily based in Chicago, but who made Milwaukee his second musical home.
And this is indeed his year — the centennial of his birth. That anniversary has already been marked by one tribute concert in which the Milwaukee chorale participated — on Jan. 29 at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Chicago, where Janowski served as musical director from 1938 to his death, with an interruption for World War II service in the U.S. Navy.
Yet he also found time to direct the choir at Beth El Ner Tamid Synagogue in Milwaukee beginning in 1956. As The Chronicle noted in an obituary article in the April 12, 1991, issue, under Janowski’s leadership Beth El’s choir won two Solomon Schecter Awards from the Conservative movement and performed twice with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Therefore, the Milwaukee Jewish Community Chorale will pay its own tribute to Janowski, with a concert of music composed or arranged by him.
It is scheduled to take place on Sunday, June 3, at Parklawn Assembly of God Church — that is, at the former Beth El building on 3725 N. Sherman Blvd., where Janowski had worked — at 4 p.m.
And that won’t be the end. Bootzin Berkovits said the North American Jewish Choral Festival — scheduled for July 15-19 at Kerhonkson, N.Y. — is also planning to feature Janowski’s work to celebrate the anniversary.
Bootzin Berkovits said that she “grew up with Max,” singing under his direction since she was 12.
“He gave me my first solos, he always encouraged me to sing and study professionally,” she said. “I really feel that my association with Max is responsible for my doing what I do today” as a singer and as chorale director.”
“His genius, his talent was right up in front of us every week,” she said. “He could off the top of his head improvise accompaniments.
“And the amount of Jewish music he produced is amazing. I was going through the library Beth El has of his music. He wrote cantatas, oratorios, liturgical High Holidays music, Shabbat music… He just went on and on.”
Of all that music, there are two “greatest hits” that continue to be sung in synagogues, “Sim Shalom” and “Avinu Malcheinu.” The latter was recorded by Barbra Streisand in her 1997 album “Higher Ground.”
Janowski was in addition an influential teacher and mentor. Two of his protégés will be guest artists in the coming concert: Cantor Cory Winter, who now serves Temple B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks, Calif.; and Milwaukee native Cantor Nancy Abramson, now director of the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York (see June 2011 Chronicle).
In addition, Bootzin Berkovits said that about ten veterans of Janowski choirs will be coming to Milwaukee from as far away as Arizona, New Jersey, and Florida, to join the chorale’s about 36 members for the concert.
Other performers will be local Cantors Karen Berman of Congregation Shalom and Rebecca Robins of Congregation Sinai; Mimi Rozansky, cantorial soloist of Congregation Shir Hadash; and pianists Geraldine Stone and Jordan Goodman.
Janowski was born in Berlin to a Judaic scholar father and an opera singer mother. He was a child prodigy pianist and organist. After study at the Scharwenka Conservatory, he headed the piano department in a conservatory in Tokyo before moving to the United States in 1937.
He first worked in Milwaukee with Congregation Shalom in 1955 before beginning with Beth El the following year. In 1964, he also worked with Temple Beth El in Madison to help that congregation celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Tickets for the chorale concert are $20. For more information, call 262-512-0909.