The Azrieli Foundation: Ten Years of Music Prizes and a Bold, New Commitment

Sonic battle: Zhongxi Wu, at right, with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Photo: Chris Lee.

The CANVAS Compendium: Dispatches from the New Jewish Renaissance

Since 1989, the Azrieli Foundation has dedicated its resources to improving lives through education, research, healthcare and the arts. Thirty-five years later, the Foundation—the largest non-corporate foundation in Canada—continues its tradition of philanthropic innovation.

The Foundation’s recent exciting developments highlight its continued efforts to improve the quality of life for all Canadians as well as its related support for arts and culture.

Ten Years of the Azrieli Music Prizes

One notable current moment for the Foundation is the tenth anniversary of its influential Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP), which support the creation and performance of new music that explores Jewish, Canadian, and international themes.

The AMP is unique in its encouragement of innovation and cross-cultural inspiration, and its recent concert—AMP at 10: A New York Celebration, at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall—was an absorbing and uplifting musical experience.

Internationally acclaimed conductor Steven Mercurio led the Orchestra of St. Luke’s through performances of new work by 2022 prizewinners Iman Habibi, Aharon Harlap, and Rita Ueda. Elliott Forrest of WQXR was the amiable host.

Iman Habibi is an award-winning Iranian-Canadian composer. His song cycle Shāhin-nāmeh, which won the 2022 Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music, was inspired by a commentary on the Esther story by a 14th-century Judeo-Persian poet, Shahin Shirazi.

The performance began with dramatic percussion; the songs were alternately sweeping and intimate, with Sepideh Raissadat’s engaging vocals and fluid improvisations on setar.

Another song cycle, Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord, is by Aharon Harlap, a Canadian-born Israeli composer. Harlap’s work, which won the 2022 Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music, is five psalms set to music. The cycle was notable for its emotional range, the moving horn passages, and the performance of soprano Dr. Sharon Azrieli, who sang with passion and clarity.

Finally, the audience was treated to Rita Ueda’s Birds Calling…for the Canada in You, a double concerto that won the 2022 Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music. The piece was written for a modern orchestra and traditional Chinese and Japanese instruments; additional musicians played from the balconies to simulate the sounds of Canadian birdsong in the outdoors.

Naomi Sato gave an intense, meditative performance on the shō, a reed instrument with vertical pipes that represents the mythical phoenix in Japanese traditional music; Zhongxi Wu was charismatic and animated on the sheng, a Chinese reed instrument with vertical pipes, and the suona, a Chinese double-reed horn.

All in all, the concert demonstrated the imaginativeness and creativity that happens with the right support, and left the audience feeling inspired by the musical possibilities and admiration for the Azrieli Foundation.

Dr. Sharon Azrieli with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Photo: Chris Lee.

A New Commitment to Arts and Culture in Canada

Another big development: Azrieli Foundation has made a bold, new commitment to the arts in Canada with the launch of the Azrieli Music, Arts and Culture Centre (AMACC).

Previously, the Foundation’s granting program, music prizes, and strategic initiatives in the arts were not integrated under one umbrella. Now, the AMACC brings them all together, “creating an impact that is greater than the sum of its parts,” said Dr. Sharon Azrieli, Chair of the AMACC Advisory Council.

Dr Azrieli is an artist herself—as a noted vocalist, she understands the importance of arts engagement for civic improvement and “the arts as a vehicle for improved health and well-being.”

The overall goals of the AMACC are to be a key funder and strategic partner in creating a more resilient, impactful, and connected arts sector, and to amplify the Foundation’s experience in discovering and supporting new creative voices.

“The center is a way of taking advantage of a critical mass of activity, allowing for better communication about the range of work we do and to allow these initiatives to feed off each other,” says Jason van Eyk, the Foundation’s Manager of Music, Arts, and Culture.

Compendium readers will note similarities to CANVAS’s approach to supporting the networks that strengthen the field of Jewish arts and culture; indeed, support from the Azrieli Foundation is helping CANVAS expand our Jewish arts and culture grantmaking in Canada.

If you’re interested in a more detailed look at the arts and culture philanthropy of the Azrieli Foundation, read our interview with Jason van Eyk here.

And you can read an interesting interview with Dr. Azrieli and her passion for music here.

One last suggestion: read more about the Azrieli Foundation’s full range of initiatives—in arts and culture, science, education, and health—here.

Vocalist and setarist Sepideh Raissadat with conductor Steven Mercurio. Photo: Chris Lee.


Originally published by CANVAS. View the original article here.