Praise for the

Winter Jewish Music Concert


Vocalizing on the Winter Jewish Music Concert


by Dan Dickinson

Early in the proceedings at the Fifth Annual Winter Jewish Music Concert, I circled a couple of names who I wanted to highlight in this review, as a way of filtering out some of the performers. But as the night went on, I realized that strategy wasn’t going to work. Alan Mason, the organizer of the concert, had managed to pack the two-hour show with 20 artists, almost all of them vocalists, and at least half were outstanding, with the remainder still good.

Mason’s goal is to attract an audience simply by presenting Jewish music “performed at the highest level,” and the packed sanctuary at Temple Israel of Greater Miami — which seats about 700 — testified that his strategy works.

The program included some eclectic touches, such as a magic show with belly dance, beat-boxed chants, and acoustic guitar folk songs, but by far the bulk of the artists were pure vocalists. Most of them are cantors at South Florida synagogues.

Mason explained that he lets the performers sing whatever they want, and the result serves as a sort of talent showcase of excellent singing.

The songs embraced a wide range of styles. Most were sung in Hebrew. There were contemporary settings of prayers such  “B’rosh Hashana,” “Yismechu,” and “V’Shamru,” and a jazz-inflected “V’ahavta.” There was an art song from the Yiddish cabaret tradition by composer Moshe Milner. There was a Hebrew rendition of the “On My Own,” an aria from Les Miserables (“Levadi”). There was Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen. There was Bagels ‘n Box, a witty mash-up of hip-hop beats with cantorial chants. Accompaniment on most songs was ably provided by Alan Mason on piano and Brian Potts on subtle percussion. The audience often joined in on the chorus, and under the sand-colored arches and carved-wood chandeliers of the sanctuary, the whole event offered an inviting, celebratory air.

For this reviewer, having spent very little time in synagogues and with zero understanding of Hebrew or Yiddish, a special pleasure was simply dissecting the different vocal styles. The range was considerable. The rough-edged vigor of baritone Erik Contzius was followed immediately by the clear, understated soprano of Shira Silverman Nafshi. The clean cantillation of Aviva Bass preceded the robust vibrato of Michelle Auslander Cohen. I had my own favorites, but the largest ovation (until the closing number) went to tenor David Aaron Katz’s impassioned performance of “V’lirusholayim Ircho,” by New York composer Abraham Ellstein.

A two-hour parade of talent runs the risk of getting exhausting, but with such high quality and well-organized staging, it never felt that way. Alejandra Czarny’s moving performance of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” that closed the concert brought all the onstage talent together to sing the chorus, and as the crowd rose to their feet and joined in the singing, I couldn’t help but think that a follow up concert was in order with a bit more collaboration between the singers: a few vocal trios or small choirs, or even a small orchestra for accompaniment. I suspect that the logistics of organizing a concert like this are already complicated enough, but it’s a good sign when you leave a concert with this many performers thinking of ways to expand it.

The Knight Arts blog, January 17, 2013

Winter Jewish Music Concert: Not solely a classical concert, this event organized by Alan Mason of Temple Israel of Greater

Miami will take place for the fifth time this Saturday night in the temple’s Bertha Abbess Sanctuary.

It’s an expansive evening of Jewish music and performers, running the gamut from classical to jazz and rap, Ladino and Israeli folk music, and includes works by a wide range of Jewish composers, many of them unfortunately little-known to non-Jewish audiences.

The concert is sold out again this year, according to concert organizers, but this year there are other opportunities for interested concertgoers other than being there in person. The 8 p.m. concert will be broadcast live on Jewish Life TV, which is carried on Comcast channel 239 in South Florida and Atlantic Broadband channel 167 in Miami Beach, as well as on DirectTV Channel 366.

It also will be streamed live via the station’s website at The concert’s website at www.jewishconcert.orghas a video of brief highlights from last year’s concert, and even in these short snippets there’s a strong feeling of celebration and diversity of expression, as you can see here:

A Mother-Daughter Jaunt to Miami

January 9, 2013

Dear The Mums,

Remember when you went to the URJ Biennial in Orlando in 1999 and how, when you told one of your friends it was your first trip to Florida, she asked, “Are you sure you’re really Jewish?!”

I was reminded of that exchange recently because Alan Mason, one of my friends, is, for the fifth time in as many years, directing what has become an incredibly popular and nationally known Jewish music concert in Miami.  Alan’s the program director of the Winter Jewish Music Concert, an annual event that began four years ago as a tribute to him on his 18th anniversary as the director of music at Temple Israel of Greater Miami.

Since then, it has grown exponentially in size and popularity.  This year’s Winter Jewish Music Concert will be held on Saturday, January 19 at 8 p.m. in the Bertha Abess Sanctuary at Temple Israel.  That night, more than 25 singers (cantors, cantorial soloists and musicians) will, accompanied by Alan on the piano, come together from throughout South Florida and beyond to perform a lively mix of tap-your-foot, sing-along Jewish music, including liturgical, pop, jazz, folk, Israeli, Yiddish, Ladino, cantorial, beat box, magic and illusion, as well as other styles.  A capacity crowd of more than 700 will, as in the past, pack the sanctuary, while countless others will watch the first-ever live broadcast of the concert on Jewish Life TV. 

Although I’ve never made it to Miami for the concert (or for any other reason, in fact), I’ve seen video clips from previous concerts and I can tell you that you and I would love a pair of seats in the sanctuary.   

In an ideal world, we’d take a mid-winter, leave-it-all-behind mother-daughter jaunt to Miami to fill those seats.  Of course, this isn’t an ideal world and the best I can do this year is tune in to Jewish Life TV next Saturday night to watch and listen virtually.  I’m not sure what kind of electronics set-up you’ve got in your yeshivah shel mal'ah (or, come to think of it, if, given where you are, you even need video equipment to see and hear the concert!), but I hope you, too, will tune in—in whatever way works best—to hear the music and feel the enthusiasm.  You will love it!  If you need more information, there’s lots of it here on the concert’s website.

As always, I miss you lots and wish you were here.  Enjoy the music, The Mums.

Talk soon…xoxo,

~ Boo!

A night of diverse Jewish music

By Sergio Carmona

Florida Jewish Journal, January 4, 2013

Cantors and soloists throughout South Florida synagogues collaborated for a concert to celebrate Alan Mason's 18 years as Temple Israel of Greater Miami's music director four years ago. This concert drew a capacity audience of more than 700 people and its success inspired Mason to make it an annual one.

This year's version of the Winter Jewish Music Concert takes place at 8 p.m. on Jan. 19 at Temple Israel's Bertha Abess Sanctuary, 137 N.E. 19 St. in Miami. The program will feature approximately 25 musical artists, including singers and Mason, the program's director, as the pianist accompanying them, who will perform Jewish-inspired music that's not limited to the synagogue. They will perform a diverse range of music such as Ladino, Israeli, folk, Yiddish, pop, classical, hazzanut, jazz, rap and tango and beat box.

The concert is becoming a nationally known one and for the first time this year, will broadcast live nationwide on Jewish Life TV.

"This [live national television broadcast] is going to increase the global visibility of the program and there is a kind of exciting adrenaline and nervous energy among the performers knowing that the viewing audience has just been increased tremendously," Mason said.

Mason added, "Our intent at this point is to continue to build the live audience, 700 plus people, who enjoy the evening sitting at the sanctuary and our goal at this point is to maintain that audience density and impress upon people that it's a very diverse program and a very fun, enjoyable evening."

Susan Shane Linder, a guitarist from Congregation B'nai Israel in Boca Raton who will perform at the concert for the fourth time, said the event is "an amazing and inspiring atmosphere."

Natalie Young of Ramat Shalom Congregation in Plantation, another concert veteran, added "It's incredible to get to perform with friends and colleagues and it's great to hear the wealth of Jewish music elsewhere."

First-time performer Aviva Bass, a cantorial soloist from Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs, said, "I'm honored and excited to perform in one of the largest and most respected Jewish music concerts in the country."

The concert also features Israeli performer Dafna, who said it's a tremendous honor to perform at the concert. "The array of talented performers reflects the vibrancy and diversity of South Florida and its overall community," she added.

Members of the beat-box duo Bagels 'n Box, Jon Murstein and Jay Stone, both issued a joint email response regarding their excitement to being invited to perform in the concert. "We're very humbled to have been selected to share the stage with such an elite group of vocalists and musicians," they noted. "We're ecstatic for what promises to be an unforgettable evening of Jewish music."

Tickets are $18 for general admission. The event this year includes a pre-concert food reception from 6-8 p.m. catered by Gigi and admission for both the concert and reception is $36. Mason recommends purchasing tickets immediately and to get to your seat on time because the concert will start immediately at 8 p.m. due to the live television broadcast. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-838-3006. The broadcast will also stream live at

Annual concert gets better every year

By Sergio Carmona

Florida Jewish Journal

This year's version of the annual Winter Jewish Music Concert at Temple Israel of Greater Miami was the program's best in its four years of existence.

The concert, which recently took place and featured 27 musical artists, including local cantors and program director Alan Mason accompanying them, seems to get better every year. Mason's direction of this sensational spectacle was equaled by the chemistry he shared with the performers as he accompanied them while playing the piano. The singers all gave powerful performances while providing the highest level of music execution possible through a variety diverse range of music such as Ladino, Israeli, folk, Yiddish, pop, classical, hazzanut, jazz, rap and tango.

The concert's vibrant tone and upbeat atmosphere was set during the singers opening processional performance of "Ki va Moed." The audience was then treated to the performers putting forth their best efforts through renditions of Jewish-inspired music that provided a spiritual and lively presence in the room. Mason's piano playing flowed very well with the singers' performance. A highlight from the concert included Martin Bookspan, former host of the PBS series "Live from Liberty Center," serving as special guest host.

Highlights from the cantors' performances included Zachary Mondrow of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach providing a powerful performance of "V'Lirusholayim Ircho," Lisa Segal of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach giving a beautiful rendition of "I Sing I Pray," Geniene Miller of Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus in North Miami Beach singing "A Piece of the Sky," Michelle Auslander Cohen of Temple Beth Am in Margate and Temple Beth El of Boca Raton providing a nice rending of "Sim Shalom," Emily Arnoff Teck of Temple Beth El of Boca Raton rapping to "We Can Rise," Rachelle Nelson of Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest singing "Mirror to My Soul" that brought a spiritual presence to the room, Benjamin Matis of Shleter Rock Jewish Center in New Yrk providing "Hatei Elokai," Luis Cattan of Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus in North Miami Beach performing "Ilu Finu," and Cesar Beliniski of Temple Beth Torah-Tamarac Jewish Center singing "Amen" that proved to be a fitting closure to the solo performances. These are just a few of the brilliant performances that the singers gave. The concert ended in a joyful celebration of all the performers that should entice guests to return next year.

Those who missed this year's concert can always catch it next year. This annual concert is one that should be seen at least once and the music appeals to people of all backgrounds. The date for next year's concert is already set for Jan. 19, 2013 at 8 p.m. at Temple Israel of Greater Miami


Listen to the WLRN/Miami Herald report on the concert:


Performers collaborate for annual concert 

By Sergio Carmona, Jewish Journal

January 4, 2012

Two years ago cantors and soloists throughout South Florida synagogues collaborated for a concert to celebrate Alan Mason's 18 years as Temple Israel of Greater Miami's music director. This concert drew a capacity audience of more than 700 people and its success inspired Mason to make it an annual one.

This year's version of the Winter Jewish Music Concert takes place at 8 p.m. on Jan. 14 at Temple Israel's Bertha Abess Sanctuary, 137 N.E. 19 St. in Miami. The program, which was first called a Cantorial Concert but has had its name changed to reflect the diversity of the music presented as it now includes Jewish-inspired music that's not limited to the synagogue, will feature approximately 25 musical artists, including 18 singers and Mason as the pianist accompanying them. They will perform a diverse range of music such as Ladino, Israeli, folk, Yiddish, pop, classical, hazzanut, jazz, rap and tango.

The concert is becoming a nationally known one.

"What has made the program successful and given it its longevity is that the singers provide the highest level of music execution possible," Mason, the concert's director, said regarding the concert's progression. "Each singer must bring his or her highest level of musical self-expression, vocal artistry and stage deportment."

Mason said the concert's quality, content, design and execution are of the highest standards.

"When I use the term "serious music," we're talking about music composed on a formal classical design," he said. "We're not talking musical theater, we're not talking pop, we're not talking comedy, we're not talking parody — we're talking the finest [music] coming from a huge variety of sources."

Cantor Michelle Auslander Cohen, who works at both Temple Beth Am in Margate and Temple Beth El of Boca Raton, is excited to perform in the concert for the third year.

"It's a unique experience to have so much talent of such a variety all in one evening," Auslander Cohen added. "I am sure anyone who comes will be moved and inspired."

Lisa Segal of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach who performed in the concert once before, said "It's a lovely occasion to see all of my friends and colleagues and to hear their pieces they have selected."

Cantor Tanya Greenblatt of Temple Beth Am in Jupiter is looking forward to participating in it for the first time.

"I'm especially excited to be working with very talented colleagues and Dr. Alan Mason who in my opinion is among the top two or three accompanists of Jewish music in this country and in the world," she said.

Tickets are $18 and Mason recommends purchasing them immediately. For more information, visit or call 1-800-838-3006.


 A Potpouri of Jewish Music 

by Jane the Writer, Union for Reform Judaism, 

[P]lan to tune in at 8 p.m. on Saturday evening, January 14th for live streaming of Miami’s fourth annual Winter Jewish Music Concert.  Formerly known as the South Florida Cantorial Concert, this year’s event (which is beyond sold out!) will feature nearly two dozen cantors, soloists and other musicians performing a wide range of cantorial, Ladino, pop, classical, Yiddish, jazz and rap music from the Bertha Abess Sanctuary at Temple Israel of Greater Miami.  Martin Bookspan, longtime host of “Live from Lincoln Center” will be the guest host and Dr. Alan Mason will once again serve as the concert’s program director. "The sustained success of this annual concert," says Mason, "is due to the consistently high level of executive each performer brings to his or her selection, and the lack of any intrusion (introductions, thank you's acknowledgements) outside of the music."

To tune into the live streaming of the concert, click on this link at the appointed hour (8 p.m. on Saturday, January 14th)." 

Happy listening!


 January concert to celebrate art of Jewish music 

by Greg Stepanovich, Knight Arts Blog, Dec. 22, 2011

It’s hard to get 700 people into a room for most things, if it’s not a sporting event or a major rock concert.

So when that many people showed up in 2009 for a cantorial concert celebrating Alan Mason’s 18 years of service at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, he and his fellow musicians knew they were onto something.

“We said, ‘This was really nice. Let’s do it again next year,’” recalled Mason, who still is director of musical arts at the Reform temple. “So we did it in 2010 — and 700 people came.”

On the night of Jan. 14, the fourth iteration of the cantorial sing, now called the Winter Jewish Music Concert, will take place at the temple, which sits at 137 N.E. 19th St. downtown and is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in Florida.

Eighteen singers and six instrumentalists from all over South Florida will participate in the concert, which will be hosted this year by the legendary broadcaster Martin Bookspan, who, for decades, was the voice of “Live From Lincoln Center.”

“We’re giving the community the gift of a first-rate musical evening,” Mason said.

The performers will sing and play in a wide variety of musical genres, from klezmer to Yiddish and contemporary American art song, from Hebrew pop-rock and Ladino song to music by celebrated Jewish composers of older generations, such as Moishe Oysher, Abraham Ellstein and Max Janowski.

And don’t forget the music of today. Emily Aronoff, a Delray Beach-based early music educator, will perform a very modern song based on Psalm 121 (“I will lift mine eyes up to the hills“), or “Esa enai,” as it’s known in Hebrew.

“It’s in a disco setting, with the central section being a dry kind of rap. And it’s fabulous,” Mason said.

For Mason, 53, who also is an associate professor of music at Barry University, one aspect of the concert is respect for tradition.

“I’m trying to preserve a musical tradition of arts music for the synagogue that is dying,” he said. “It’s art music, music for the concert stage. I’m preserving the great classical artworks of synagogue music. And critical to this program, what has made it a success, is an extremely high level of execution and production.”

And that means each performer brings his or her A game. “No singer will learn a new piece of music for this concert. You bring a piece that you’ve lived with forever, that you have ownership of,” he said. “It’s star after star after star … Every singer on the program becomes a star for the four minutes they’re on stage.”

Mason’s role is to serve as the “musical thread.” Trained as a vocal accompanist, he has organized the songs according to harmonic, melodic and key relationships. “That’s why you can have a Ladino song followed by a jazz Hebrew song,” he said. “What this provides for the listener is constant comfort.”

The singers enter the synagogue, singing and dancing to a folksong by Shlomo Carlebach, then sit in a circle on the stage, taking turns in the spotlight, one after the other. There are no lengthy introductory remarks from a variety of speakers, nor is the concert being given for any fundraising purpose. It’s simply one musical performance after another. “The audience loves it because there’s no distraction,” Mason said.

Although the primary interest in the concert would presumably come from the Jewish community, the music itself appeals to listeners of all faiths, he said. “It has unending possibility for expressive depth and musical interpretation. We’re taking sacred texts and coupling it with music that is often in a minor key, dissonant harmonies, Old World idioms, and it just speaks to the heart,” Mason said. “Non-Jewish people find this music very moving, very engaging. It’s the perfect marriage of text, melody, harmony and rhythm.”

The concert is set for 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, in the Bertha Abess Sanctuary at Temple Israel. Tickets are $18, and available at the concert website or by calling 800-838-3006. A capacity crowd is expected, and for good reason.

“This concert is talked about in Jewish music circles as the finest concert of this sort,” he said. “We’ve crafted this program for immediate audience appeal and accessibility.”


Cantors present their best at annual concert 

By Sergio Carmona, Jewish Journal Staff Writer

February 16, 2010

Last month, Alan Mason, the music director for Temple Israel of Greater Miami, directed and accompanied local cantors and soloists for the second annual "Greatest Cantorial Concert in South Florida History" at the synagogue's Bertha Abess Sanctuary.

The spectacle he directed was a sensational delight that brought on both a spiritual presence and an upbeat atmosphere in the room. The audience was treated to the best that 32 musical artists consisting of 29 cantors and soloists, a percussionist, a flutist, and Mason as the pianist had to offer through a diverse range of Jewish songs that includes Ladino, Israeli, folk, Yiddish, pop, classical, jazz, and liturgical. All the singers put forth their best energy towards their performances and the chemistry between Mason and his performers, as well as the blending of other instruments with the singing, were superb and cohesive.

The concert was a sellout and during it, Mason thanked the audience members for choosing to attend when they could've gone to other Jewish events taking place in the community that night. The choice the audience made in coming to the concert proved to be a right one. The cantors that performed represent many synagogues throughout Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties. Some of the highlights of the night included Cantor Mark Kula of Bet Shira Congregation in Miami providing the feel of a Shabbat service with his performance of Yom Zeh L' Yisrael by Bonia Shur, Cantor Julie Jacobs of Beth David Congregation in Miami performing a beautiful rendition of Min Hametzar by Neshama Carlebach, Neuba Silva of B'nai Torah Congregation inBoca Raton performing Ladino through a great collaboration with percussionist Giovanni Silva, and Cantor Cesar Beleniski of Temple Beth Torah- Tamarac Jewish Center providing a powerful performance of Vehulai(Kineret) by Yehudah Shartok. Of course, these were some of the evening's many memorable performances.

This concert is an annual event so the opportunity to come back in the following years will always be there. This is a concert that's not to be missed for years to come and should be a sell out year after year.

The second annual "Greatest Cantorial Concert in South Florida History" was a success.

Songs of Praise: A Reprise

January 15, 2010 

by JanetheWriter

Nearly a year ago, a cadre of cantors, soloists and musicians from throughout south Florida sang the praises of Dr. Alan Mason, an extraordinary musician and friend of the Reform Movement in a concert honoring his 18 years of service as the director of music at Temple Israel in Greater Miami.  

As I noted in my post last year, Alan has a way of tickling the ivories that brings forth incredibly rich tones and silky notes. He generously shares this gift with Reform Judaism, most notably at many of the Union's Biennial conventions.  In recent years, as thousands joined together to sing unto God, Alan infused our services with incredible music, helping to make our worship truly sacred.  You can hear some of his wonderful talent in this video clip from last year's concert. 

On Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 8 p.m., in a reprise of that extraordinary event, more than 30 Jewish musicians--including Alan as the pianist, director and accompanist, as well as a percussionist and a flautist--will once again come together in Temple Israel's historic Bertha Abess Sanctuary for what is being billed as the "Greatest Cantorial Concert in South Florida History."  Featuring Jewish music from around the world performed by musicians from all streams of Judaism, the concert promises to be a delight. 

Best of all, a live audio stream of the concert will be available that evening so even if you've never made it to a Biennial convention, and even if you weren't able to make it to last year's tribute concert in Miami, you can still hear some amazing Jewish music--and Alan's incredible talent--in just a few short weeks. 

For ticket and other information, including how to access the live audio stream, check out the concert's website. So, no matter where you're going to be on Saturday, January 23rd, I hope you'll pull up a chair and tune in to the "Greatest Cantorial Concert in South Florida History."  I look forward to "seeing" you there!