Maestro James Conlon's Roger E. Joseph Prize Address at HUC-JIR/New York Ordination

Friday, June 28, 2013

Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), awarded the 2013 Roger E. Joseph Prize to Maestro James Conlon at HUC-JIR/New York Ordination at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York on Sunday, May 5, 2013.  The text of Maestro Conlon's address is below.

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It is a great honor to be with you here today, one that I could never have imagined.  As a child of New York City I have walked past this beautiful, spiritual home so many times. Today I am welcomed to Temple Emanu-El by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, by the numerous members of the Joseph family of several generations, and by Rabbi Ellenson and Rabbi Posner.  It is also a joy to share this ceremony and this moment with all of the cantors and rabbis to be ordained today.

The Joseph Prize is an enormous honor, and I feel great humility when I read and hear the names of those recipients who have preceded me--icons of extraordinary courage, some of whom have inspired me all my life.  I'm humbled because I don't see myself as such a courageous person, as so many of those great individuals had been, but, simply, as somebody who has done what he likes to do. As a classical musician, I have lived my life’s passion.

Almost by accident, I have been led to mission of discovery. Most of us who have spent lives in classical music had not known about the enormous volume of music composed by men and women who were marginalized, at best, and destroyed, at worst, during the time of the Nazi regime of the 1930s. To restore this music to its proper place in the repertory of classical musicians and their public is now my goal.  I've been fortunate to pursue and live this mission.

It is a life-long task.  Although I am honored to be amongst all of you today on this occasion, I accept this award not for myself, for what I have done, nor for what still must be accomplished.  I do so on behalf of all those composers who have been marginalized and, unbelievably, seventy years after those terrible events, have still not received the full recognition they deserve.

The good news is that there has been much progress in the last ten to twenty years.  And the ongoing challenge is that there is a great deal more to do.  I will continue to do my part.  I accept this with thanks to my parents, Joseph and Angeline Conlon, who reared their children—all five of us--with a deep social conscience and the moral mandate to protect the dignity of other human beings and to fight and defend it when it is attacked.

In the mission I pursue, this dignity has been called into question.  In addition to it being an artistic issue, it is also one of remembrance. Alongside the important acts of remembrance demonstrated over the course of many years, is an obligation to remember the works of art.  Music has to be heard to be alive.  Until those composers and their works find their rightful place in the repertory of classical music, their lives will not have been acknowledged.  Among the crimes of the Nazi regime, was its attempt to stifle the Jewish voice. The regime succeeded to the degree that many of those compositions and composers are still unknown or still played much less frequently that they deserve to be.

In this respect, the Nazis still enjoy a posthumous victory.  I for one will not accept that posthumous victory and hope, piece by piece, moment by moment, composer by composer, to bring that music to audiences around the world, share it with all music lovers until that time when these compositions will have found their proper places in the repertory.  Thank you very much for honoring me today.  I congratulate all of you being ordained this morning and wish everyone all the best in the future.  

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Click here to read more about Maestro James Conlon and the Roger E. Joseph Prize.

Click here to view the National Graduation and Ordination press release.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu