Classical Jewish music

Classical Jewish music

David Stock says his “Sixth Symphony,” which will be performed the weekend of Oct. 4 by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, has strong Jewish influences. (Chronicle photo by Lindsay Dill)
David Stock says his “Sixth Symphony,” which will be performed the weekend of Oct. 4 by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, has strong Jewish influences. (Chronicle photo by Lindsay Dill)

The Jewish influence on the third movement of David Stock’s “Sixth Symphony” comes as a surprise — even to the composer himself.

While Jewish melodies have infused and inspired many of Stock’s compositions “for some time now,” the native Pittsburgher said he didn’t know they would appear in his newest symphony, written especially for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

“I didn’t know until the last movement,” he said. “It surprised me. I don’t know why it had to be there. I don’t know everything about my music, and neither does anyone else.”

The PSO, led by Music Director Manfred Honeck, will premiere Stock’s “Sixth Symphony” at the orchestra’s opening weekend, from  Oct. 4  to 6. The concert will also feature “Carmina Burana,” which the PSO bills as “one of the most recognizable works of all time.”  

The third movement of Stock’s “Sixth Symphony” contains several Jewish melodies, all coming from traditional prayer services, including the blessings chanted before the reading of the Torah, and a version of the Shema.

The premiere of Stock’s most recent symphony commences the PSO’s “Year of the Composer,” which will be marked by four concerts featuring new works by Stock as well as Leonarda Balada and Nancy Galbraith, and multimovement work with contributions from Patrick Burke, Bomi Jang, Mathew Rosenblum, Reza Vali and Amy Williams.

“This was a commissioned piece by the PSO,” Stock said of his symphony. “The original intent was that it would be part of a 75th birthday celebration for me. In between, they came with the ‘Year of the Pittsburgh Composers,’ and they decided to have me be the lead-off composer.”

Stock also had a hand in choosing the other composers featured by the PSO this year.

“It was really difficult,” he said, “because we have so many good ones in Pittsburgh.”

Stock has been a prolific and respected composer for decades. He founded the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, is a longtime professor of musicianship at Duquesne University, and has composed works that have been commissioned and performed by ensembles worldwide.

“We wanted to focus on Pittsburgh composers this year, so Stock was a clear choice for Composer of the Year,” said Bob Moir, the PSO’s senior vice president of artistic planning and audience engagement.  “With his long history at the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and the championing of many other Pittsburgh composers, David Stock is truly an icon.” 

Stock has been composer-in-residence of the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Seattle Symphony and the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony. His large catalog of works includes six symphonies, 10 string quartets, a dozen concerti for various instruments, and work for dance, theater, television and film.

Stock began writing music when he was 15 years old, then began his collegiate studies at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in the field of physics, “where I didn’t belong at all,” he said.

He soon transferred to music and hasn’t looked back.

Jewish music has been infusing Stock’s work for some 25 years, he said, beginning with a piece for clarinet and seven other players that included klezmer and liturgical music.

The “core” of his passion for Jewish music came from his youth, beginning with his years at Congregation B’nai Israel, and the influence of Cantor Mordecai Heiser, he said.

But Jewish music may, in fact, be in his family’s blood.

His daughter Sara Stock Mayo is a soloist and chaplain at Temple Sinai; his son Jeffrey is a cantor and chaplain in Boston; and his daughter Rachel Stock Spilker is a cantor in St. Paul, Minn.

“Jeffrey’s wife is also a cantor,” Stock said. “So we collect them.”

While not wanting to give away too much about his symphony, Stock described the first movement as “high energy and fast,” and the second movement as having the “most disparate elements in it, including what’s almost the waltz, but not quite.”

The first two movements give no hint as to what comes up in the third, he said, which includes a solo French horn “playing the exact transcription of the bracha before the reading of the Torah.”

Stock advises symphony-goers to get their tickets soon for this concert, as he believes it will sell out.

“I keep joking it is because of me,” he said. “ ‘Carmina Burana’ has nothing to do with it. It is only one of the most popular works in the last 100 years.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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