Madame Maestro

The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony celebrates its 18th Chai anniversary year at the forceful yet distinctly feminine baton of conductor Noreen Green.

Noreen Green, artistic director and conductor of Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, believes in the power of music. “Music,” she says, “makes us feel alive.” 

The Sherman Oaks-based organization, founded and nurtured by Green since 1994, takes pride in its ability to connect people to their cultural heritage and access a feeling of spirituality. LAJS is also the only symphony outside Israel dedicated to representing the culture, history, religion and legacy of the Jewish people. 

With orchestral works by Jewish and non-Jewish composers, musicians, singers and occasionally dancers, LAJS is a wellspring of inspirational entertainment in southern California. And this year the symphony celebrates its Chai, 18 melodic years as an internationally acclaimed music organization. 

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Green proudly quips, “I am a Valley girl! Whenever I go over the hill or out of the country, I can’t wait to come back.” With tours and performances all around the world, Noreen and her wandering Jewish orchestra always return to their home base at Valley Beth Shalom. 

Green also serves as the synagogue’s musical and choir director. Her love of music, dedication to her Jewish heritage and commitment to building bridges between diverse and multi-ethnic communities has been the driving force behind her impressive career.  

She earned her doctorate of musical arts degree in choral music from the University of Southern California and wrote her treatise on the music of David Nowakowsky, a brilliant 18th-century composer known as “the Bach of Jewish music.”  Researching Nowakowsky for her treatise proved a transforming experience. “He was prolific, and I had access to 3,000 of his recovered manuscripts. I found myself thrown into a world of Jewish art music I knew little about.” 

Then in 1993, Green presented a concert at the Aspen Music School composed entirely of Jewish music. Afterwards, the conductor took her aside telling her, “Jewish music is your niche. It’s what you were meant to do. It’s want you must do!”

 “This was the impetus for founding the Jewish symphony,” says Green. “Our music is music that reflects the Jewish experience: our holidays, Bible stories, days of remembrance like Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) and Yom Hashoah (memorializing those who perished in the Holocaust.) Jewish music is a confluence of styles: ancient, popular, folk, sacred, classical and modern—toned by diverse rhythms, melodies and songs that have been infused into our unique cultural identity over time.”

Even though the symphony’s repertoire references the historic and cultural Jewish experience, it maintains broad appeal with programs marked by contemporary themes and issues that affect us all. For example, on the anniversary of 9/11, LAJS presented a concert featuring an imam, a cantor and a priest—all singing the same prayer in their own languages. And during Women’s History Month, LAJS offered a world premier showcasing two celebrated women: internationally renowned soloist Vanessa Paloma and composer Michelle Green Willner. 

Green believes that music is the fastest way to bring people of different cultures and religions together. That is why she created A Patchwork of Cultures, an annual public school program involving nearly 1,000 youngsters using Ladino-Sephardic music to bridge the Jewish and Latino communities.

With 18 years of repertoire, a committed family of musicians (of all religious denominations) and plans to continue promoting new works and concerts, this happily married mother of two says she’s living her passion both as a woman and an artist. 

“Female conductors are relatively rare but well suited to making music. By nature, we are creators and nurturers. I’m dealing with creation every time I pick up my baton. For me, every concert is a birth, a new creation. The orchestra is in front of me, the audience behind me, and once the music seeps into me, I am like a conduit for it to travel back and forth through my body. It’s an unbelievable adrenaline rush, like being transported to another planet. And I’m not just transporting myself. I’m transporting an entire audience. And that’s the goal: to take everyone along with me. It’s at that moment that I am most fulfilled as an artist.”