Samuel Zerin, 25
A few years ago, Samuel Zerin, a classical pianist now pursuing a Ph.D. in musicology at NYU, was looking for a good piece of Jewish classical music to perform.
While sifting through the library stacks at the University of Michigan, where he was an undergrad, he came across a small paper about an obscure group of Russian Jewish composers from 100 years ago. He tried to look for more scholarly material about these now-forgotten composers and came up with nothing. “Eventually, it dawned on me that I should do something,” Zerin said.
Zerin’s focus was on composer Joseph Achron, a pre-eminent member of the short-lived St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music, a group founded in 1908. One of Achron’s Jewish folk tune-infused classical compositions, “Hebrew Melody,” can be heard as background music on more than 50 Jewish YouTube videos, but virtually no one has heard of the composer himself. “Basically, I’m trying to reverse that,” said Zerin, who in 2010 founded a nonprofit called the Joseph Achron Society.
Achron fell into obscurity because the Soviets, in the 1920s, began to suppress Jewish music; by the ’30s, the same thing happened in Germany, where the Nazis banned his music. Achron made it to Hollywood in the ’30s, eeking out a living and making music for movies (he died there in 1943).
With help from a few major Jewish classical music organizations, Zerin has re-published two large orchestral works by Achron, and gotten them performed by major international musicians. Zerin is working on getting several more of Achron’s works published and performed, as well as setting up a YouTube channel where viewers can listen to his music.
Favorite composers (other than Achron): Sergei Prokofiev, Edvard Grieg.