October 15, 2019

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s musical Shabbat

If Disney Hall has competition for beautiful acoustics in a magnificent setting, it is Wilshire Boulevard Temple. 

For the Shabbat evening service on Dec. 6, some 70 extraordinary musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic squeezed onto an extended bimah in the great sanctuary, whose newly restored vibrancy made this unique public event all the more exciting. 

Following candle-lighting by Brenda Levin, architect for the extensive makeover of the 1929 masterpiece, and Kiddush by the congregation’s leaders, Rabbi Steven Z. Leder and Cantor Don Gurney, conductor Antonio Mendez led the orchestra in three full-orchestral pieces — by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak.

During the first half of the performance, before the intermission, the seats downstairs in the sanctuary were nearly full, with audience members including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, philanthropists Audrey M. Irmas, Robin and Elliott Broidy, Stanley and Ilene Gold, Ambassador Lester and Carolbeth Korn, Elizabeth and Yehuda Naftali, Darcie Denkert Notkin and Shelby Notkin, Nancy and Steve Lovett and many other distinguished guests. By the second half, however, word had circulated that the sound in the balcony was even more dramatic, so many people migrated upstairs to witness the “swirling” sounds, as one audience member put it, that circulated from the stage up and around the 100-foot-high Byzantine dome. Fully articulated and pristine, the music left the audience breathless as it spilled out into the bustling Koreatown neighborhood.

The night was inspired and brought to being by Cantor Gurney, who recalled from the stage a childhood memory of the Cleveland Orchestra celebrating the 100th anniversary of his hometown synagogue. Gurney said he had long hoped to re-create that memory in Los Angeles, and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, designed for Hollywood studio chiefs, had the theatrical chops to support it.

We should only hope there will be an encore one day.