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Gershon Kingsley

Gershon KingsleyGERSHON KINGSLEY (1922 – ) was born Goetz Gustav Ksinski in Bochum, Westfalia, Germany. He grew up in Berlin but fled to Palestine in 1938 because of the rise of Nazism. Separated from his family at age 15, Mr. Kingsley lived and worked on a kibbutz in a land that would become Israel. Here, he became a self-taught pianist and later performed with local jazz bands around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

After serving as a gaffir (mounted patrolman) and studying at the Jerusalem Conservatory, he came to America in 1946 with the hope of attending the Julliard School of Music. The school, however, would not accept him because he had no high school degree. So, at the age of 24, he left for Los Angeles, finished high school at night and attended the LA Conservatory of Music (now known as Cal Arts). For work, he would play the organ at several synagogues in the area.

After graduating from the conservatory with a bachelor’s in music, Mr. Kingsley began to conduct for summer-stock theater at the “Music Circus” in Sacramento. However, it was when Mr. Kingsley moved to New York in 1955 that his career really began to take flight. After a season conducting for the “Melody Fair” musical theater in Framingham, Mass., he became the musical director for a Broadway production of The Entertainer, starring Lawrence Olivier. Then, in 1958, he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical Direction in the Broadway musical hit La Plume de Ma Tante. He conducted and arranged for several Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, including Porgy & Bess, Jamaica, Ernest in Love, The Cradle Will Rock and Fly Blackbird. Mr. Kingsley earned two Obie awards for his Off-Broadway theatrical work. Around this time, Mr. Kingsley also was also musical director for the Robert Joffrey Ballet, Joséphine Baker and the highly-acclaimed television special The World of Kurt Weill, starring Lotte Lenya.

As a composer, Mr. Kingsley has focused primarily on theatrical works, both religious and secular. His religious works are inspired by Jewish and Hebrew texts and are described as “scenic cantatas.” They include A Prophet’s Song of Love, What Is Man?, Shabbat for Today, They Never Had the Chance to Live, Simcha, The Fifth Cup and Friday of Thanksgiving. Shabbat for Today and The Fifth Cup have been broadcast nationally and performed extensively throughout the U.S. He also wrote the popular choral anthem Shepherd Me, Lord.

In 1992, Mr. Kingsley composed two separate works to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to America: Cristobal, a musical performed at New York’s Union Square Theater, and Tierra, an opera performed at the Gasteig Concert Hall in Munich, Germany. Voices From the Shadow, a theatrical concert piece based on the poetry of the Holocaust, had its premiere in 1998 at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Most recently, Mr. Kingsley has finished work on several projects. These include a new version of Popcorn, his electronic composition but classically inspired pop song that became an international hit in 1972 and inspired hundreds of arrangements and stylized remakes worldwide and as recently as this year, to be released on the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal record label and Selma, a cycle of songs inspired by the Holocaust poetry of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger. He has also completed a new avant-garde, electronic album titled Music Between Chairs.

Over the last two years, Mr. Kingsley and Michael Kunze (libretto) cooperated on the opera RAOUL about Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish tradesman who saved thousand of Jews from certain death in the Nazi concentration camps. The premier concert version was performed at the Goethe Institute New York on April 30, 2004.

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