American Jew is awarded European church music prize

American Jew is awarded European church music prize


norman lebrecht

February 03, 2020

The American ensemble director Joshua Rifkin has been awarded the Europäischer Kirchenmusikpreis of the town of Schwäbisch Gmünd in Baden Württemberg.

Rikfin, 75, grew up in New York with parents of Russian-Jewish origin. He established himself as an outsider on the early-music scene, making disparaging remarks about such respected leaders as Leonhardt, Harnoncourt, Karl Richter and John Eliot Gardiner.



  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    As Christianity dies out in Europe, what remains of its great culture must be carried on by heathens so to speak, whether it be Jews, agnostics or atheists.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    What a strange headline. May we expect Placido Domingo, Spanish Roman Catholic next time he is mentioned etc.?

    • John says:

      Yes. I agree. Jewish conductors have been around forever conducting Catholic masses, Protestant cantatas, etc. So yes, I expect the denominational affiliation of every musician featured in this blog to be prominently mentioned. Really, Norman . . .

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    Why is “jew” in the headline ?

    • I think because of Germany’s history of anti-Semitic feeling towards Jews….so it’s a double win American and Jewish. Hoperully this award to an American Jew is a good sign. btw, Jew is spelled with a capital J.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Are you really suggesting that the people in that small German town had to overlook their hostility to Jews when they made the award?

    • Doug says:

      If you crawl out from under your rock occasionally you might notice that we live in an age of identity politics. Thanks you, leftists.

    • John Kelly says:

      Good question. And why wouldn’t a Jewish person be a good conductor of supposedly “Christian” music? Plenty of “ Christian” conductors are perfectly good at Mahler for instance. It’s pure clickbait and as such apparently succeeded……

  • Rich C. says:

    Thank God it wasn’t Joel Rifkin.

  • martin says:

    what has “jew”, “American” or “European” to do with this? you realy have a fixation, NL.

    • Bruce says:

      As Helene points out earlier in the thread, “Jew” is spelled with a capital “J.”

      Not arguing with the fixation part of your post, though. It appears often, in the various “3/4 of finalists in ________ competition are Asian” posts that show up here.

  • Are you saying it took an American Jew to put the Europäischer Kirchenmusikpreis of the town of Schwäbisch Gmünd in Baden Württemberg on the map? Pretty grotesque way to accomplish that.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    To identify Rifkin as simply “the American ensemble director” is to minimize his role and stature. He is a musicologist who also performs, as witness his important edition for B&H of the B Minor Mass of Bach, and a trove of scholarly articles and arguments. The entire and still very divisive “one voice per part” contention for Bach and other church music of the Baroque is sometimes identified in a sort of shorthand by using just his last name.

    • Olassus says:

      That’s right, and while Norman was still in yellow-journalism elementary school Joshua Rifkin was making early if not pioneering recordings of music by Biber, Busnois, Josquin and Willaert with ensembles such as the Sinfonia of London and soloists like Philip Jones, Alan Titus and Richard Taruskin.

  • willymh says:

    Again I find this obsession we seem to have in classical music “journalism” – and it appears in dance articles also – with nationality is becoming more and more bizarre. Does it matter where someone was born to their degree of talent or newsworthiness? And it’s not just on here – though Britain Norman Lebrecht seems at times excessively addicted to it.

    • SamV says:

      It’s not the location of a musician’s birth, but the cultural environment in which they developed, that influences the repertoire which comes most easily. But that environment is certainly part of the community in which they grew up.

      • Willymh says:

        So Sam I still can’t see where it makes any difference or is a “need to know”.

        • SamV says:

          I can’t speak for Rifkin, but most Jews grow up with little or no exposure to church music and Christian liturgy. Starting with a deficit, real mastery may be seen as a greater achievement (or, at least, an unusual one).

          Think about European jazz musicians in the mid-20th century. Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. Anyone else? Europeans didn’t have the exposure and didn’t produce many masters, making more remarkable the achievement of the few.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            “most Jews grow up with little or no exposure to church music and Christian liturgy”

            Most people know very little about church music and Christian liturgy, even if they are non Jewish. The only place most people learn much about either is through classical music.

  • Larry says:

    Exactly what did he win the prize for?

  • Couperin says:

    As New Yorker I have a special respect for Rifkin. Here’s a guy who helped start a Bach revolution and led to Andrew Parrott’s wonderful and enlightening text “The Essential Bach Choir”; but he has also released albums of Scott Joplin piano rags with the same respect for accuracy, style, tempo and the intangible “feel” that is so important to both baroque music and jazz. I’d say this award is well deserved. Plus, did you know he was a proto-hipster, releasing the album “A Baroque Beatles Book” in 1965, years before it was “cool” to give pop music the baroque treatment?

  • geoff says:

    Joshua Rifkin (born April 22, 1944 in New York) is an American conductor, keyboard player, and musicologist, and is currently a Professor of Music at Boston University. As a performer he has recorded music by composers from Antoine Busnois to Silvestre Revueltas, and as a scholar has published research on composers from the Renaissance to the 20th century. He is famed among classical musicians and aficionados for his increasingly influential theory that most of Bach’s choral works were sung with only one singer per choral line. Rifkin argued: “So long as we define ‘chorus’ in the conventional modern sense, then Bach’s chorus, with few exceptions, simply did not exist.” He is best known by the general public, however, for having played a central role in the ragtime revival in the 1970s, with the three albums he recorded of Scott Joplin’s works for Nonesuch Records.

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    Great recordings of the Bach Cantatas regardless of what one may think of one voice per part.
    I agree about Harnancourt, it does sound horrible.
    Disparaging remarks about John Eliot Gardiner? I approve.

  • Arthur Serating says:

    The same Joshua Rifkin who recorded the Nonesuch Scott Joplin Piano Rags album in 1970?

  • Bill says:

    …and Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas.”