On Wednesday evening in the Royal Netherlands Embassy, a general audience heard some music that should be heard more often: Renaissance and baroque music with Hebrew texts. The program, part of the imaginative Embassy Series, was titled "The Dutch-Jewish Experience" and drew much of its material from the archives of the Portuguese (Sephardic) Synagogue in Amsterdam, first opened in 1675 and described as one of the world's most beautiful Jewish houses of worship.
Amsterdam was one of the few cities in Europe where Jewish culture was allowed to flourish in the centuries between the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. The result was an enrichment of both Jewish and gentile culture, evident in part in the settings in mainstream baroque style of the Kaddish, psalms and other Hebrew religious texts that were sung Wednesday evening by a vocal quartet (soprano Debra Lawrence, mezzo-soprano Debby Wenner, tenor Richard Turner and baritone Arthur Neal). Accompanied by pianist Francis Conlon, they sang with smoothly blended tone and fine coordination. Violinists Peter Sirotin and Tan-Chang Yu added to the accompaniment in some numbers and gave stylistically refined performances of two baroque sonatas for two violins by Jean-Marie Leclair.
The program proper opened with a psalm setting by Salamone Rossi, one of the most important and innovative composers of the Italian Renaissance, and included music of the great 19th-century cantor Isaiah Lewandowski. Before the formal beginning of the program, Jerome Barry, who wears many hats as founder, music director and program developer of the Embassy Series and a classical baritone, put on his cantorial hat (actually a yarmulke) and presided at the lighting of the Hanukah candles, singing cantorial music for the occasion in exactly the right style.