For composer Jonathan Leshnoff, an Orthodox Jew, spirituality plays an important role in his music.
One of his works, “Zohar,” is named for a foundational text of the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah. He also composed a group of pieces called “Yiddish Suite.”
“I think for any composer, they have to really think and search within themselves to find what inspires them to create their voice,” said Leshnoff’s Milwaukee-based manager, Sarah Dinin.
Local musicians are performing Leshnoff’s music, along with select works from Beethoven, Bloch, and Shostakovich, in virtual performances hosted by RUACH, a Milwaukee-based Jewish art and music organization.
The Composer and Spirituality: A Musical Investigation, featuring compositions and commentary by Jonathan Leshnoff, is free to the public through September. The performances and discussion can be streamed on-demand at RuachMilwaukee.org/Composer-Spirituality.
The performers include Jeanyi Kim, associate concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Wendy Richman, a violinist and member of the International Contemporary Ensemble; and Stefanie Jacob, founding pianist of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s Prometheus Trio.
Leshnoff, who was nominated for a 2020 GRAMMY for Best Classical Compendium, is known for creating contemporary classical music that’s accessible to modern audiences, executive director of RUACH Josh Richman said.
“I hope that people can recognize that modern classical music doesn’t need to be completely dissonant,” Richman said. “It doesn’t need to be totally unconventional. It can be melodic; it can be beautiful.”
Leshnoff’s work has been performed at Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, Nashville and Pittsburgh.
To make Leshnoff’s orchestra music work in a virtual setting, each musician recorded their part at home while listening to recordings of the other musicians. A video editor then combined the performances.
The virtual program will also include interviews with Leshnoff and the featured musicians, as well as what Richman calls the “Instrument Petting Zoo” — where performers from Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra will describe and demonstrate their instruments.
Richman said he hopes people will come out of the program inspired and introduced to the world of classical music.
“People are in need of connection right now,” Richman said. “Even though this is a virtual medium, it offers an opportunity for introspection and connection and elevation to music.”
RUACH has several recent and upcoming events streaming online, including several connected with composer Jonathan Leshnoff. Visit RuachMilwaukee.org/Composer-Spirituality.