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Violinist gives new form to Jewish folk, liturgical music

Andrew Princz,  Jan 05, 2009

Orsolya Korcsolan has a secret. The Hungarian-born violinist and her horn-playing husband Gergely Sugar spent the last six years performing with the internationally recognized Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, venturing to this newly assembled international orchestra and bringing with them the classical traditions of the European continent. But a secret passion for the musicians has been preparing her recently released début CD Mosaic - an undertaking produced by her husband and whose traditions are anchored very much at home.

Mosaic, their labor of love, is a series of rarely played transcriptions for violin and piano of Jewish folk or liturgical music from the classical, romantic and contemporary periods.

"These are songs that are sung on streets, by kids or by a mother to her baby," says KorcsolĂĄn. "Or they are sung in a synagogue as a part of a liturgical ceremony, a prayer or by the cantor in Eastern Europe. These particular composers picked up this motif and put it into a composition."

KorcsolĂĄn, trained at the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York, was one of the last students of the legendary American pedagogue Dorothy DeLay. She has gone on to perform for the likes of Itzhak Perlman, Sir Georg Solti, Sir Neville Marriner, Pierre Boulez, and Zubin Mehta.

But KorcsolĂĄn sees producing Mosaic as an important stepping stone in her career. Like most violinists, performing as a soloist is the apex of musical life; and that is where she would like to be.

Her longstanding interest in the Jewish violin repertoire led KorcsolĂĄn - then in her teens - to perform in the most prestigious Hungarian synagogues, developing her passion for reviving lesser-known Jewish music by bringing their notes to life in the classical form.

Since the Holocaust in Central and Eastern Europe many synagogues have lost their original function. In rare cases they have been converted into cultural spaces, where musicians like KorcsolĂĄn attempt to keep traditions of Jewish music and culture alive.

Since her youth KorcsolĂĄn has performed Jewish-themed music in the cities of Szeged, Zalegerszeg, or the capital's Dohany and Ujpest synagogues. She has performed as a guest artist, and sharing the stage with leading European cantors.

Mosaic contains pieces that range from simple Jewish folk songs to coffee-house music transcribed to the classical form. Works include Marc Lavry's Three Jewish Dances, Julius Chajes's The Chassid, Abraham Goldfaden's Raisins and Almonds, Josef Bonime Danse HĂ©braĂŻque and Lazare Saminsky's Hebrew Rhapsody.

KorcsolĂĄn plays Ernest Bloch's Abodah (God's Worship), a Yom Kippur Melody to Yehudi Menuhin with a picturesque bravado. The sensitive performance reveals a reserved crafting of notes that bursts into and emotive crescendo of melodic images.

"KorcsolĂĄn has an excellent command of the violin, perfect intonation and a very beautiful, warm sound," remarks violist Robert Verebes, himself a soloist and career performer with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, "The Chassidic pieces are performed with great spirit, the slow pieces are very beautifully projected while the fast ones are very well controlled."

Another piece performed by Korcsolån, accompanied by Hungarian pianist Judit Kertész, is Maurice Ravel's Kaddish. Korcsolån haphazardly discovered the composition which was originally transcribed by a small French publisher. The sorrowful, slow yet resolute composition is named after the Jewish prayer for the dead, the Kaddish, said or sung by the firstborn son or daughter after they have lost their parents.

"Yehudi Menuhin is said to have known this piece," says Korcsolan, who with Sugar will make a move from the Asian sub-continent to classical-music inspired Vienna.

"He was so touched by it that he said that he was not brave or good enough to perform it. He played it for himself a couple of times, but I think that it was so deep and so emotional."

But KorcsolĂĄn herself felt compelled to perform Kaddish, if only as a tribute to her own parents who had recently passed on. For her, this is her remembrance, her Kaddish. "The best way to say it is to play it," she says.

Violinist gives new form to Jewish folk, liturgical music
Image by Dora Bekefi/

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