Just six years ago, there were no cantors in Russia, a place than once had a rich cantorial tradition.
But earlier this month, the men’s choir of the Moscow School for Cantorial Arts received first prize in the International Folk Choral Competition held here.
The Moscow group beat 29 other choirs from Israel and across the former Soviet Union in the competition, held under the auspices of the Russian Culture Foundation.
Vladimir Pliss, who runs the school and is chief cantor of the Moscow Choral Synagogue, conducted the group, which was formed three years ago.
Pliss’ choir has appeared in concert throughout the former Soviet Union and Western Europe.
The political situation has changed in the former Soviet Union and Western Europe.
The political situation has changed in the former Soviet Union in the last decade, making it possible to practice Judaism more openly. As a result, the cantorial tradition has reappeared.
Pliss said that six years ago, “all Russian cantors either left the country or died, and the synagogue in Riga, Latvia, remained the last to have its own cantor.”
In the early 1990s, Pliss and other musicians – with the help of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee – embarked on a project to advance the cantorial arts, almost forgotten among Russian Jews.
“We believed that cantorial art would help in bringing the assimilated Russian Jewry emotionally closer to its roots,” said Pliss, who studied cantorial singing with Joseph Malovani at Yeshiva University in New York.
Today, there are many cantors in Russia, some of whom have continued their studies in the United States or have found positions in american congregations. Others work in Russia, mainly in Moscow, which today has two professional cantorial choirs.
However, Pliss said, the Russian capital does not need so many cantors, which is why the school plans to conduct workshops for young Jewish musicians from outlying areas who are interested in the vocation. The first seminar is set for this summer in the Volga region.
Russian synagogues generally do not have funds to support cantors.
“We have teachers, promising youth, but we can not provide most of our cantors with the synagogue practical experience,” Pliss said. He added that the JDC and the Russian Jewish Congress are working on a program that would make it possible for synagogues to offer young Russian cantors long-term contracts.