BEN STEINBERG (1930 – ), son of the late Cantor Alexander Steinberg, was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and educated at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto. Involved in traditional synagogue music since childhood (he was a child soloist at age 8 and conducted his first synagogue choir at age 12), his career is long and distinguished. Having served Toronto’s Temple Sinai as director of music since l970, Dr. Steinberg was appointed its composer-in-residence in l996. He and his wife, Mildred, have two children and four grandchildren.
Dr. Steinberg is a widely recognized composer, conductor and lecturer, noted for his lecture-recitals on Jewish music history and style at major centers and universities in Canada and the United states. He has lectured and conducted in Australia (l990), Hong Kong (1992, 1997) and Japan (l992, l997, 2000 and 2007). He is the author of an award-winning book on synagogue youth choirs and co-author of the National Jewish Welfare Board publication “One People-One Voice,” a study in adult choral organization. He was a contributing writer to both the first and second editions (l98l and l992) of The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. He was music chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress (Toronto) for 27 years and founding president of the Jewish Music Society of Toronto; he served on the Commission on Synagogue Music of the U.A.H.C. and is presently co-president of the Guild of Temple Musicians. He is the founding chairman of two unique annual competitions that encourage young musicians to compose and perform: his congregation’s Ben Steinberg Musical Legacy Award to a young performing artist and the Guild of Temple Musicians’ Young Composer’s Award.
Dr. Steinberg’s works have been commissioned by numerous synagogues and other groups, including the Toronto Chamber Players; the Royal Canadian College of Organists; the American Guild of Organists; the Canadian Jewish Congress; the Toronto Holocaust Remembrance Committee; the Weizmann Institute; the University of St. Thomas (Texas); Cabrillo College (California); Yale University in conjunction with Union Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College (New York); and the American Conference of Cantors. His compositions have been performed by such outstanding artists as opera star Richard Tucker and actor/narrators Ed Asner and the late Herschel Bernardi.
His works, published in the U.S., Canada and Israel, include six Sabbath services, a memorial service, 13 cantatas for chorus and orchestra, numerous choral settings, instrumental chamber works and solo songs. His music has been performed often in concert and broadcast worldwide. A recording of his Friday evening service Shomeir Yisrael was released by Arkay Records of California. Many of his works have been selected for inclusion in recordings by artists in Europe and across the United States. His cantata Echoes of Children for choir and orchestra, commemorating the children who perished in the holocaust and broadcast under his direction on the Canadian National Network (CBC), won the prestigious 1979 International Gabriel Award for outstanding creativity in broadcast programming. A PBS performance of this work with the Toledo Symphony was shown on television stations throughout the U.S.
In addition to writing music for broadcast dramas, Dr. Steinberg has appeared as conductor for many broadcasts of Jewish musical content: the North American premieres of newly discovered Jewish music of the Baroque period, programs of 19th century synagogue music, and programs of Jewish works by contemporary composers, including his own compositions. He was honored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which devoted a complete broadcast to the presentation of his synagogue music, performed under his direction by two cantors, a choir and symphony orchestra.
The recipient of many awards and honors, he is proud to have received the 1983 Kavod Award of the Cantors’ Assembly (Conservative) and the 1990 inaugural Guild of Temple Musicians’ Shomer Shira Award. In 1992 he was made an honorary member of the American Conference of Cantors (Reform). The American Harp Society presented him with an honorary membership in 1983, honoring his Suite for Flute, Viola and Harp, built on Sephardic themes. He was invited by Israel’s 1988 Zimriah (Choral Festival) to lecture on his choral compositions. Earlier, he was honored twice by the city of Jerusalem, which invited him to be an artist-in-residence at its creative retreat, Mishkenot Shaananim — an honor then reserved for composers, artists and writers of international stature. In 1998, New York’s Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. In 2004 he was honored for lifetime achievement by the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, and in 2001, he received the Union of American Hebrew Congregations’ highest honor, the Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award. The University of Calgary (Alberta) in recognition of his contribution to Canadian and Jewish music worldwide has established a Ben Steinberg Archive to house his original manuscripts, scores and papers.
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