WORLD RENOWNED COMPOSER AND WOODWIND
MASTER YOCHANAN SEBASTIAN WINSTON
BRINGS A SOUL-STIRRING BLEND OF JAZZ, NEW AGE, CLASSICAL
AND JEWISH MUSIC TO HIS DEEPLY SPIRITUAL
EXPLORATION ‘THE KABBALAH SUITE’
In recent years, the attraction of celebrities like Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Madonna, Britney Spears and Gwyneth Paltrow to Kabbalah has brought the wisdom and practice of its ancient Jewish esoteric teachings into the limelight. But few musicians have explored it as deeply and expressed it as passionately as internationally acclaimed composer and woodwind virtuoso Dr. Yochanan Sebastian Winston, who has long been a vital and active force on the contemporary Jewish music scene. Created in part to show the universal application and appeal of Kabbalah to a world in spiritual need, his dynamic and eclectic new full length recording The Kabbalah Suite offers distinct musical expressions of the attributes of God and mankind in a colorful blend of styles ranging from jazz and new age to classical and traditional Jewish music.
The recording’s ten compelling tracks can certainly be appreciated for their melodic and rhythmic power and instrumental inventiveness apart from the spiritual connections. But to better understand Dr. Winston’s expansive musical journey, a simple explanation of Kabbalah is in order. Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an unchanging and eternal and mysterious Ein Sof (no end) and the mortal and finite universe (his creation). Inside Judaism, it forms the foundations of the mystical religious interpretation, but its scriptures are often read outside the traditional canons of organized religion. Kabbalah seeks to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence, and various other questions about existence. It also presents methods to aid understanding of these concepts and to thereby attain spiritual realization.
Dr. Winston, whose earlier recordings include One Jew’s Views (an exploration of traditional Jewish music) and Chamsin (a commission for an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls), started the composing process of the project that evolved into The Kabbalah Suite upon receiving a commission from a rabbi friend in his hometown of San Diego. Playing flute, bass flute, soprano and alto saxophone accompanied by pre-recorded rhythm and orchestration tracks, he debuted the suite in 2010 at Congregation Beth El of La Jolla, for a Selichot concert, which is held the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Dr. Winston later performed it at many different synagogues (from Reform to Hassidic) to great acclaim throughout the San Diego area. He later decided to record it as a commercially available project, enlisting his friend Lee Ray to mix and master it.
Dr. Winston’s “assignment” as a composer and performer is explained in the recording’s subtitle “Meditations Upon Upon The Ten Sefirot,” which are the 10 attributes/emanations in Kabbalah. The ten (all represented via pieces on the recording) are: “Keter/Crown,” “Khochmah/Wisdom,” “Binah/Understanding,” “Chesed/Loving-kindness,” “Gavurah/Might,” “Tifereth/Beauty,” “Netzach/Victory,” “Hod/Splendor,” “Yesod/Foundation” and “Malchut/Kingdom.”
“What struck me about studying these was how nine of the 10 are all characteristics of humans too,” he says. “For instance, the second one is called ‘khokhmah’ - wisdom. So, G-d may have infinite wisdom, but human beings have wisdom too. The piece then is all about the aspirations of us to become more advanced and kinder human beings, using G-d as our universal model. I have been studying Kabbalah for a number of years but this piece really helped me to focus my thoughts on my beliefs on the subject. Before I began my research, I had a notion that the "Kabbalah" was a monolithic system of knowledge. In fact. it is simply a catch phrase for a few thousand years of Jewish mysticism. I would say that this project demonstrates where I'm at as a creative musician right now, although I will say that I think it is compositionally the best work I've done to date. It has also opened up my path for the next pieces.”