Nonagenarian’s remarkable journey
A musician, composer, conductor, Zionist, and Jew, Moshe Budmor is celebrating his 90th birthday by inviting his friends and the larger Princeton community to a concert showcasing his recent work.
The June 15 concert at Rider University’s Westminster Choir College campus will celebrate a career that took the Juilliard-trained maestro from Hamburg, to pre-state Israel, to the United States, where he became a professor of music at the former Trenton State College.
In addition to conducting its Concert Choir and the early music Collegium Musicum ensemble, Budmor served for a decade as conductor of Lashir, the Jewish Community Choir of Princeton.
“Somehow when it is finished, I don’t grasp how this whole thing came together,” Budmor said of his musical process. “This whole creative thing is such a miracle, in a way, and so I don’t take it for granted,” Budmor said in a May 23 interview.
The arc of Budmor’s life has followed that of many European Jews born early in the 20th century.
In Hamburg, his father, an ardent Zionist, ran an innovative and progressive furniture factory owned by the workers. During a visit to Palestine when Budmor was very young, his father wrote to his wife about moving there. “It’s too hard to make a living here,” his father wrote. “We have to be independent, so let’s stay for a few years in Germany and make some money.”
In 1932, two months after Budmor’s father died suddenly, his mother moved with Moshe and his two younger sisters to Tel Aviv. “She wanted to bring up her children in his spirit,” said Budmor. Hitler had not yet come to power, and she was able to sell their large house and acquire sufficient funds to build an apartment house on Ben-Yehuda Street and purchase an orange grove, from whose proceeds the family lived.
In Budmor’s progressive grade school in Tel Aviv, he loved his music teacher, Dora Rosolio, one of a group of German Zionists who had moved to Palestine in the 1920s; he said he remembers staying behind each morning after music class to give Rosolio a kiss.
In 1936, Budmor’s mother died of tuberculosis. She had decided not to place her children with her sisters or parents, because “she was a Zionist and a socialist, and they were very bourgeois,” said Budmor. “My mother decided I needed a father figure and needed discipline, so she gave me to these friends of hers in Jerusalem who were very Prussian — and I hated it,” he said, adding that he knew they did love him.
Budmor quit high school after 10th grade to enroll in the Academy of Music in Jerusalem and devote himself entirely to music.
In 1940, with Hitler’s troops in Africa, Budmor felt he couldn’t be in Jerusalem playing the fiddle while the world was going up in flames. When his foster parents would not grant him permission to join the army, he instead had himself assigned to an exposed kibbutz, following the slogan “Laneshek o’lameshek” (“To arms or to the farms”).
After graduating from the academy, he returned to kibbutz life, finding its ideology appealing, eventually joining Kibbutz Hulata on Lake Hula in the North. He was a fisherman for a couple of years, then to protect his hands for violin playing, became a shepherd. At Hulata, he organized a kibbutz choir — his first exposure to teaching amateurs — and in 1954 he founded the Kibbutz Youth Orchestra, bringing together young musicians from many kibbutzim.
Budmor served in the army for a short time during Israel’s War of Independence and then took a job in the central office of the Kibbutz Meuchad movement, organizing choirs and music education in its kibbutz schools.
In 1950 Budmor was accepted on a full tuition scholarship to Juilliard, where he studied choral conducting and orchestral conducting. He supported himself by teaching music at Jewish schools. Eventually he started a trio that traveled the country performing Israeli music.
Still a committed kibbutznik, Budmor returned to Hulata with his wife, Katya Delakova, but eventually left to serve as music director of the Haifa Symphony. In 1958, the couple returned to the United States so that Delakova, a pioneering dancer and choreographer, would not lose her U.S. citizenship. She died in 1991.
At first Budmor cobbled together part-time jobs, including as conductor of the Bronx Symphony Orchestra. After losing a plum job with the Sarasota Symphony because he did not have a college degree, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education and a doctorate in composition from Columbia’s Teachers College.
In 1965 Budmor became an associate professor at Trenton State College, now the College of New Jersey. He also taught workshops in Europe, Israel, and the United States. Retired since 1989, he is a longstanding member of the library minyan that meets at The Jewish Center of Princeton.
Budmor’s birthday concert will include “Havdalah,” a string quartet; four songs based on texts by Walt Whitman; a dance fantasia based on an Eastern European-Jewish and a Bedouin dance; two pieces written in honor of friends’ 90th birthdays; “Spring Song” from the biblical Song of Songs; and a piano piece celebrating his love for his late second wife, Lea Lerner.