Obituary: Louis Berkman

Louis Berkman, operatic and liturgical singer: born Cape Town 6 August 1934; died 29 June 1993.

LOUIS BERKMAN was the leading exponent of Jewish liturgical music in Britain. His very individual 'direct to the heart' quality of voice, supremely lyrical yet with impressive reserves of power, made him an ideal exponent of the 19th- and 20th-century Jewish liturgical texts to which he brought musical honesty, total commitment and sheer musical experience gained from the wider repertoire of lieder, oratorio and opera in which he excelled.

From early on, all signposts pointed to the opera stage: the Count in The Marriage of Figaro at the tender age of 18 for the Cape Town University Opera Society; his concert debut with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Mackerras in 1959, singing operatic arias; then London and further study with John Hislop at the Guildhall School of Music and at the National School of Opera under Joan Cross, who recommended him for his first professional stage role as Dennis Feather in the world premiere of Nicholas Maw's opera One Man Show, conducted by Norman del Mar.

After a season with the English Opera Group under Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh and then in Belgium, France and Sweden an Italian scholarship enabled him to study with Tito Gobbi, Gina Cigna and Gino Bechi and to give public performances in Venice, Siena and on Italian Radio.

Berkman accepted an offer from the Israel National Opera as their principal baritone, and in two seasons with the company sang over 200 performances of a wide-ranging repertoire. In England he embarked on performances of oratorios, Lieder recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room and St John's, Smith Square, concert appearances at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and at the Barbican; he sang with Kent Opera and at music festivals and also recorded an all-Beethoven Lieder disc.

Berkman also loved the music of the Jewish liturgy which had as it's source his early traditional Jewish upbringing and education in Cape Town. He had a vast collection of cantorial records and the cantorial singing style fascinated him. He himself made a study of the music of the Austrian Salomon Sulzer and the German Louis Lewandowsky, the 19th-century founders of the modern school of Jewish liturgical music, performing and recording their works with accuracy and sensitivity freshly revealing their true quality. In this he has helped to perpetuate a tradition which was extinguished with the destruction of the Jewish Communities of Germany and Austria.

In 1979 he made the definitive recording of Ernest Bloch's Sacred Service with the London Symphony Orchestra, a work which he performed many times. His recording for the BBC of Darius Milhaud's Service Sacre also helped to introduce this rare modern work to a wider public.

His imposing voice and his sheer musical authority uniquely fitted him to personify the aspirations of reconciliation between the Jewish and Christian communities in such memorable concerts as the performance in Canterbury Cathedral of Ronald Senator's deeply felt Kaddish for Terezint in 1986 and the historic commemoration concert in York Minster in 1990 on the 800th anniversary of the massacre of the Jews of York.

Always a natural performer, Louis Berkman was also passionately interested in the teaching of vocal technique and he felt privileged to be able to pass on the bel canto method and style of the older school of singers as they had been passed on to him.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie