The Kaddish piece is the second in a new virtual series created during the pandemic called “Songs from a Distance.”
A few days before Passover, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen and Ronny Michael Greenberg were talking on the phone about gluten-free matzah, charoset and brisket recipes for their upcoming remote seders. The two friends live near each other in San Francisco and met through the San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship.
Greenberg, 31, is a pianist and opera coach with the San Francisco Opera. Cohen, 26, is a freelance opera singer. Both say their Jewish upbringings forged their career paths and led to their most recent collaboration — a virtual performance of French composer Maurice Ravel’s “Kaddish.”
“When Aryeh and I first met, we just bonded musically and culturally, and this collaboration is embracing who we are as Jews right now,” says Greenberg, who attended Jewish elementary school in Montreal. He grew up speaking fluent Hebrew, French and English, and he took classes in Italian and German in high school. “That and learning songs and prayers taught by my Hebrew teachers were an integral component to my vocal coaching and collaborative piano performances.”
The Kaddish piece is the second in a new virtual series he created during the pandemic called “Songs from a Distance.”
“Because it’s a very somber piece, we thought it would fit the tone of the world we’re living in right now,” said Cohen, a countertenor whose fiancée grew up in Kalamazoo, while he grew up in Brooklyn and aspired to be a cantor/rabbi. “It’s a complicated piece, and it’s a whole new process of figuring out this new ‘normal’ medium of putting together an electronic performance while not being in the same physical space.”
Cohen and Greenberg rehearsed over Zoom. Cohen recorded his vocals a capella in his apartment and sent it to Greenberg, who played the accompaniment on his baby grand piano in his home recording studio. Greenberg then edited the two parts together.
“This piece is very improvisatory, in line with the cantorial tradition of having a flow and cadence,” said Cohen, who sang the Kaddish at his grandfather’s funeral last year.
To view their performance, search for “Kaddish by Maurice Ravel” on YouTube.
Click here to purchase tickets for their next concert.