Like many Jewish college students this year, Ari Sussman will be coming home this month for Thanksgiving and Chanukah celebrations. For the 20-year-old sophomore at the New England Conservatory of Music, however, his holiday break will mark his second trip to the area in a week.
Sussman insists that he doesn’t mind making the 600-mile round trip twice in a seven-day span, and he has good reason to do so: He will be coming to Elkins Park to hear and perform four of his liturgical compositions as part of a concert on Nov. 17 at his family synagogue, Congregation Adath Jeshurun.
The concert, free and open to the public, will offer a glimpse into the past, present and future of liturgical music. The first half of the performance, “V’Yismach Libeinu” (“May It Gladden Our Hearts”), will be devoted to the compositions of Sussman and another longtime Adath Jeshurun member, Russell Nadel, a 30-year-old music teacher from Wyncote. The second half will pay tribute to Charles Davidson, who will also be in attendance and was the cantor at Adath Jeshurun from 1966 to 2004, by featuring his composition for the Ma’ariv service, also called “V’Yismach Libeinu”.
For Cantor Howard K. Glantz, who will be performing during the concert as well, the only difficulty with an event spotlighting Nadel’s and Sussman’s accomplishments while paying tribute to Davidson was finding a date that would work. “I wanted to feature the talent from within the congregation,” Glantz says, adding that Nadel and Glassman “are in different places in life, but both of them have composed a great deal.”
Indeed, Nadel, who graduated from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Md., in 2006, has won awards including the Ruth Boshkoff Composition Prize, the Prix d’Eté and the Guild of Temple Musicians Young Composers Award.
Sussman has also won his fair share of recognition, including scholarships, awards and commissions for pieces in the Philadelphia and Boston areas.
Sussman began composing at age 7, but he “didn’t get serious about it until late elementary school or early middle school,” he says.
Sussman, who just completed his first orchestral piece, says that he wants to score films and compose Broadway musicals, but that his love of liturgical music will always manifest itself through his compositions.
“Being in this wonderful, tight-knit Jewish community propelled me to do this,” he says of his youth at Adath Jeshurun and his experience as a day school student at Saligman Middle School and Barrack Hebrew Academy. (He has become part of the Jewish community in Boston by joining the board of Hillel at Northeastern University — the only non-N.U. student on the board — and serving as its holiday coordinator.)
Referring to Davidson, he adds: “Having one of the foremost cantor-composers in the country while I was growing up was also a very big influence on me.”
In addition to hearing the synagogue’s men’s and women’s choirs perform their work, as well as musical accompaniment by the Ken Ulansey Ensemble, Sussman and Nadel will each perform one of their own compositions. “I’m doing a theme and variation on a children’s song: ‘Bim Bom,’ ” says Sussman, who plays the piano.
Glantz will lend his voice to the “Hashkiveinu” as interpreted by both Sussman and Nadel — a happy coincidence that resulted from his giving the composers free rein to choose which of their compositions they would like to include in the concert. “I am going to bookend them” before the performance of Davidson’s Ma’ariv, he says. “I actually thought about renaming the event ‘Battle of the Hashkiveinus.’