Richard Kaplan is a cantor, concert performer, recording artist, teacher, songwriter, pianist, and ethnomusicologist living in Northern California.
He travels the country giving concerts and workshops in Jewish World Music, and is the Cantor of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland. He also co-leads the monthly Shir Hashirim Minyan in Berkeley, California.
He has been performing professionally for over thirty years, and holds a BA from UCLA in Ethnomusicology and an MA from UC Berkeley in Musicology.
He is involved in the movement for Jewish Renewal, which aims at a more passionate, environmentally-conscious, backward-compatible, musically sophisticated, mystically-informed, egalitarian, non-perfunctory, non-triumphalist, and social-justice rich Judaism for the 21st Century.
His second CD, "LIFE OF THE WORLDS: JOURNEYS IN JEWISH SACRED MUSIC" contains 18 songs, has a 32-page booklet with all texts in transliteration, English translation and Hebrew or Yiddish, and is 77 minutes in length. Three years in the making, it introduces songs from around the Jewish world never before recorded or heard in North America.
Great effort and expense were put forth to create the 32-page booklet, and listeners are highly encouraged to expand their experience of this project by acquiring the booklet.
Master musicians from Egypt, Morocco, Israel, and America grace the recording with wonderful performances. Instruments include oud, ney, kanun, cimbalom, violin, Moroccan clay drums, doira, dombek, riqq, saz, mey (Turkish duduk), piano, clarinet, Egyptian accordian, tilinca (Rumanian shepard's flute), baraban (klezmer drum set) and tar (frame drum). Several songs have wonderful choruses for their refrains.
The CD features a moving "eco-lament" (ecological lament), "Lament on the Destruction of the Garden of Eden," based on ancient Hebrew lament melodies, on behalf of our threatened planet. Richard performed it at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral for 3000 folks as part of a consortium of religious leaders a few Earth Days ago.
Kaplan's first CD, TUNING THE SOUL: WORLDS OF JEWISH SACRED MUSIC, produced with Rabbi Michael Ziegler, has sold a remarkable 8000 copies nationally and internationally! LIFE OF THE WORLDS is approaching 4000 copies sold since its birth in late 2003.
Amazon.com Review from January, 2004:
The modern-day traditional Jewish music revival is filled with artists exploring klezmer's Eastern-European roots, but you'll hear no clarinet and little violin on cantor/educator Richard Kaplan's Life Of The Worlds. Although these are traditional songs, there is a broad range of the Diaspora represented on his second album, including Afghani, Spanish, Moroccan, and Algerian traditions. Kaplan dives into the sacred and the secular, the prophetic and the exultant, finding commonalities amongst different tribes and fusing them together. Musical accompaniment comes in the form of an occasional flute, piano, and violin as well as Moroccan clay drums, oud, dumbek, and other pre-modern-era instruments, but the instrument at the center of each song is Kaplan's voice--his high baritone majestically soars, quavers with sensitivity, and rings out with joy. To hear him sing solo versions of traditional "niggun" is to hear a world-class master savor the multifaceted nuance of each note and transcend the concept of song, turning it into religion and high art.
All Music Guide, from January 2004:
In an interview promoting Life of the Worlds, cantor and songwriter Richard Kaplan explained that the loose and free feel of his music came from encounters with the recordings of John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones. Listening to the album it's easy to see why Tyner himself has thrown kind words Kaplan's way. Life of the Worlds contains Jewish sacred world music from the Middle East, Andalusia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia played by a small ensemble, often augmented by guests from around the world. Kaplan sets sacred texts and poems to traditional Jewish melodies and new compositions, or in the case of "Eyn Keloheynu," he offers a new arrangement. His love of music that is both deep and moving keeps the album from being too syrupy, and a respectful but maverick attitude makes it charmingly cosmopolitan over academic. Kaplan's excellent writing and arranging skills are matched by his passionate vocal delivery and lyrical piano playing along with some excellent interaction with his fellow musicians. Take the Afghani Jewish chant "Le'el Adir Neranenah," for example. After Kaplan's fiery vocal opens the number he blends into a radiant choir of voices with the message and mysticism coming through loud and clear. It's his combination of talent and humility that makes him so charismatic and Life of the Worlds such an appealing and illuminating listen. Add a detailed 32-page booklet and you've got an excellent package for both ethnomusicologists and novices who appreciate spiritual music.
-- David Jeffries
Barnes and Noble Review from February 2004:
"Plenty of well-meaning, if ultimately lightweight, Jewish records take the multiculti aspect of the Jewish experience as a license for exploring exotic roots and slinky rhythms. Cantor Richard Kaplan's Life of the Worlds is indebted to a wide range of Jewish traditions, from Yemen to North Africa to Eastern European Chassidism, but more than just multicultural, it's multidimensional. A fluid ensemble crosses cultures with understated taste and grace. Shared rhythms and melodies join the sacred music from various traditions, highlighted by frame-drum percussion and solo violin, clarinet, oud, and accordion. But the ringer is Kaplan himself, the possessor of a resonant, intimate tenor and no slouch on the piano. His performance of "Le'El Adir Neranenah" is given a spiritual boost by Kaplan's McCoy Tyneresque chords, transforming this Afghani-Jewish melody into a post-bop jazz exploration. It's only one of the many complex moods -- and satisfying triumphs -- of this sophisticated collection."
--- Mark Schwartz
A remarkable album of mostly sacred music from a cantor. From the full range of Jewish traditions, this is essentially Jewish world music. Kaplan's own vocal and piano work is arresting, but he's supported by an excellent cast, although they're used sparingly - which only increases the emotional effect of the disc. Heavily annotated (which is a good thing) it's an album that absorbs the listener completely into a world that manages to be both ancient and modern at the same time. Perhaps one of the best records concerning the Jewish Disapora.
--Global Village Idiot
Information on current workshops, concerts, media appearances, class offerings and contact info are available from his website: www.kaplanmusic.com