Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians: Brian Cherney. Composer, Teacher, Author

“Credited with writing over 100 pieces including orchestral music, concertos, chamber music, and music for solo instruments. His music has been performed across Canada, the United States, Europe, Japan, and Israel.”

Brian Cherney photo 002

Brian Cherney

Music Online. Under the Radar.

Welcome to our Sunday music section called

“Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians.”

By David Eisenstadt

TORONTO. May 22/22 – It is no secret that the Peterborough Ontario- born Cherney brothers are world-class musicians.

Brian Cherney was born on September 4, 1942, to Harry and Sylvia (née Green).  Early on, the youngster trekked weekly to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto studying piano with Margaret Miller Brown and Jacques Abram.  From 1960 to 1963, Samuel Dolin taught him composition. He then studied with John Weinzweig at the University of Toronto, earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and in 1974 a PhD in composition and musicology. In 2021, he was appointed to the Order of Canada as a “composer, educator, and scholar.”

Brian taught composition/theory from 1971 to 1972 at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and joined Quebec’s McGill University’s Schulich School of Music staff in 1972 to teach composition.  He was the Department of Theory Chair from 2002 to 2005.  He still teaches full time -“mostly composition, but also a course in Canadian music”, he explained.

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“The Time of My Life” by Brian Cherney

>>> Click HERE to watch this video <<<

Credited with writing over 100 pieces including orchestral music, concertos, chamber music, and music for solo instruments. Cherney’s book about Harry Somers is one of the most important and detailed works of reference on that composer. He also co-edited a book with John Beckwith – Weinzweig: Essays on His Life and Music. Another text in the process describes the correspondence between composers Somers and Norma Beecroft.

His music has been performed across Canada, the United States, Europe, Japan, and Israel.  Cherney’s String Trio (1976), a CBC commission, and orchestral work, Into the Distant Stillness in 1984, were recognized at the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris.  In 1985, he was awarded the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music for River of Fire, completed for oboe d’amore (a double-reed woodwind, slightly larger than the oboe – considered the mezzo-soprano of the oboe family) and harp.  Cherney, over the years, has received commissions from organizations including the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects, the Canadian Jewish Congress, Canadian New Music Projects, CBC, the Eckhardt-Gramatté, the Esprit Orchestra, New Music America, Stratford Festival, Trio Basso Koln, and the York Winds.  Individual commissions came from Lawrence Cherney, Rivka Golani, John Grew, Louis-Philipe Pelletier, Joseph Petric, and Vivienne Spiteri.

Confirmed by the Canadian Music Centre, Cherney’s works have been published by the Quebec publisher Editions Doberman-Yppan.  In April 2006, he was the Michael and Sonja Koerner Distinguished Visitor in Composition at Toronto’s UofT’s Faculty of Music, “at which time a piece commissioned for the occasion, Quelques entre les anges et la terre for wind ensemble and percussion, was premiered.”

Jewish influences started in Peterborough, Ontario, where there was one Orthodox synagogue.  Cherney added, “Since the 1980s, I have written many pieces associated with the Holocaust and Jewish mysticism.” 

Compositions connected to the Holocaust include Shekhinah (for solo viola – written for Rivka Golani); In the Stillness of September 1942 (for English horn and strings), Transfiguration (for orchestra). A large work commissioned by Soundstreams for narrator, solo voices, choir, and instrumental ensemble is An Unfinished Life – based on the letters/diaries of a young Dutch Jewish woman – Etty Hillesum, murdered at Auschwitz in 1943. He “also set the poetry of Paul Celan in two pieces, for choir and in solo songs for piano and soprano.”

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In the Stillness of September

>>> Click HERE to hear this video <<<

Cherney’s Jewish mysticism creations include Beyond the Seventh Place, written for string orchestra Illuminations, viola, and percussion, and for Rivka Golani.

He told me about “a rather unique piece for cello and clarinet called, ironically, Brahms and the German Spirit, which contrasts German high culture with the life of Jews in Vienna and central Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through photos and illustrations, plus the actual music – a kind of graphic score.”

Since 1998, he has received commissions from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the Rias Kammerchor in Berlin, the vocal ensemble Viva Voce in Montreal; the Nu: BC Trio in Vancouver, Soundstreams, and from Matt Haimovitz and Paul Vaillancourt.

From the Covid-outbreak, Cherney taught virtually while working on his next book, noted above. “I wasn’t inclined to do any composition until January 2022 when I crafted a piece for English horn and cello remembering a close family friend, Dr. Michael Frimer who died in 2021 – hoping it will be performed in Frimer’s Vancouver hometown this August.”

Cherney added, “A project during the pandemic took me back to my early piano-playing days regaining my technique, I learned all of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. So, I found the time and desire to also accomplish something special, to combat the isolation.  It’s one of the meaningful things I have done in recent years.”

What’s next?  “I’m refraining from making retirement predictions. It will be sooner, rather than later.”

Credits: Photo Terri Cherney; Brian Cherney/YouTube; Peter Schubert/YouTube

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A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in the category section. Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact David Eisenstadt at

David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is the author of Under the Radar, 30 Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians. He is Founding Partner of the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

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