It is with deep sadness that we inform you of the passing of Bonia Shur, Director of Liturgical Arts at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Shur passed away Thursday, August 30, 2012.
Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., President, states, "Bonia Shur's life and musical expression reflected the trajectory of 20th-century Jewish experience, from the destruction of the Shoah to the birth of Israel and the flowering of Jewish culture in America. Together with Fanchon's gifted choreography, his creativity and vitality nurtured the academic and spiritual journeys of our students and enriched the larger community. His charismatic presence will be missed greatly, and his extraordinary music will endure as a living legacy."
Bonia Shur was born in Latvia in 1923 to a musically talented Jewish family. He escaped the Nazi invasion only to be drafted into the Russian Army. To survive the horrors of combat, Bonia used his creative ingenuity and directed music ensembles during the war. He served as a Russian officer after the war in occupied Germany and Austria. He then escaped to Poland to join the Jewish underground. In 1949 Shur emigrated to Israel and lived on Kibbutz Netzer Sereni. In Israel, he studied under the esteemed composer Paul Ben Haim. Bonia Shur’s genius in musical arrangement brought him national acclaim on Israeli Radio throughout the 1950’s. In 1960 Bonia Shur came to the United States to expand his creative outlets. His move to Los Angeles yielded compositions for films including the score for The Russians are Coming. Shur’s work in television garnered a Television Academy Award for Revolt in Mode’in.
A pull toward Jewish expression drew him to work at the Union for Reform Jewish Camp Swig where met Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, Past President of HUC-JIR. In 1974, Gottschalk appointed Bonia Shur Director of Liturgical Arts at the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR. From 1974-2003, Shur became a major musical force in the Reform Jewish Movement of North America. He revolutionized the sound of liturgical music with emphasis on rhythm to text through contemporary sensory interpretation of worship practice. He composed arrangements in combination for cantor, choir, with diverse instrumentation. With over 300 published compositions to his credit, Shur’s prolific output for the High Holidays, Life Cycle, Sabbath, and Festivals has influenced every Reform Jewish congregation in North America.
During his tenure as Director of Liturgical Arts, Bonia Shur composed for and taught hundreds of rabbinical students in Cincinnati and cantorial students on the Jerusalem and New York campuses. These men and women went on to serve Reform congregations around the globe. For nearly 30 years, Shur also utilized the talents of students at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music as part of his weekly Sabbath music ensemble at HUC-JIR.
Bonia Shur’s career helped to break down political and religious barriers. He engaged in numerous interfaith musical collaborations with Christian and Muslim communities. His special relationship with Cincinnati brought a commission for the city’s bicentennial with the work Pearl Street Market. In 1991 Random House and the Minneapolis Chamber Symphony commissioned a choral symphonic work based on Robert Fulghum’s book Uh Oh. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Shur’s commissions for professional choirs, orchestral, and chamber music ranged from secular to sacred. His orchestral music has been played by the Israeli Radio Orchestra, Minneapolis Chamber Symphony and Cincinnati Chamber symphony. His choral works have been performed and recorded among others by The Sarasota Chorale Symphonic Chorus, The Nova Singers of Florida, Oshkosh Chamber Singers, The Rinat Choir of Israel, and Chicago Children’s Choir. Shur’s discography includes Days of Awe, Never Again, Birthing Mediation, In Concert, and The Music of Bonia Shur.
In the last few years, Shur has composed nine major commissioned works that premiered in Washington D.C.; New York; Philadelphia; Sacramento; Seattle; Tinton Falls, NY; Cincinnati; and Appleton, WI. Since 1960, he has written music for the dance works of choreographer Fanchon Shur, his collaborator and wife. His most recent work Shemot – Names, based on the famous poem by Zelda, will have its world premiere in the fall of 2012 in Savannah, GA.
Expressions of condolence can be sent to Fanchon Shur, 4019 Red Bud Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45229-1316.
Hamakom y'nachem, etchem b’toch sha’ar availai Zion v’Yirushalayim. May the family find comfort among all those who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.