Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians: Lawrence Cherney. Oboist, New Music Artistic Director, Educator


“Judaism has been a central pillar of inspiration to me as a performer and artistic director…”

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Lawrence Cherney

Music Online

Welcome to our weekly Sunday music section called

“Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians.”

By David Eisenstadt

TORONTO. Jan 9/2022 – Oboists don’t get as much recognition as they deserve.  Players, including soloists, usually sit far back in symphonic and philharmonic orchestras, somewhat under the radar.  Their woodwind instrument has a double-reed mouthpiece, a slender tubular body, and holes stopped by keys.  Mostly manufactured of wood, some are synthetic such as plastic, resin, or hybrid composites.

So, that was Lawrence Cherney’s musical instrument of choice to achieve his revered status.  Born in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada to Harry and Sylvia (née Green) Cherney on May 1, 1946, his older brother Brian Cherney is an internationally-recognized classical music composer. On their mother’s side, there’s a history of string players tracing back to 19th century Russia, “including the violinist Osher Green who had a successful career in the United States,” Cherney said.

Their mother was a “wonderful pianist with a beautiful sound and an ear for choosing great repertoire.” Their father was a successful co-owner of Cherney Bros. Furniture. Their parental skills and interests contributed to both brothers’ musical prowess, including young Lawrence’s future dual career as an oboist and as Founding Director of Soundstream, a leading new music institution. 

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Art Life and Stilettos at the launch of Soundstreams Encore and Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu

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

Playing piano from age six, and then trombone in grade nine, “My father loved the oboe sound and suggested I consider a switch.  If he hadn’t voiced his opinion, I’d probably be in the furniture business today,” Cherney said with a smile.

“My high school music teacher John Drewniak was a wonderful musician, but neither he nor anyone in Peterborough taught the oboe.”  In 1959, he studied with Perry Bauman, the principal oboe with the CBC Symphony at the time and then with the Toronto Symphony. 

While at university, Cherney was asked by Bauman to play as an extra with the CBC Symphony.  He learned the oboe part to “The Symphony of Psalms”, joined the Toronto Musician’s Association, and rented a set of tails.  “I never asked who was conducting.  I arrived at Massey Hall for the first rehearsal in 1966 and at the podium, was Igor Stravinsky.  By then he was old and frail but I never forgot his fire and passion.”

Cherney graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy in 1966 and a Masters of Music from the University of Toronto in 1979.  He was awarded Ford Foundation and Canada Council grants for private study with principal oboists John Mack of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony’s Ray Still.

He said, “Judaism has been a central pillar of inspiration to me as a performer and artistic director.  Brother Brian composed various works for me, specifically inspired by Jewish themes and traditions such as “River of Fire” for oboe d’amore and harp, which had strong connections to Kabbalah.”

From 1964-66 he played with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada and the National Ballet Orchestra from 1967-69.  Under Mario Bernardi, he joined Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1969.  From 1972-82, he was a founding member of the York Winds.  

Cherney is well-respected as an interpreter of traditional and contemporary music with a strong commitment to a new Canadian repertoire.  He has commissioned 150 works by Canadian and international composers – from solo and chamber works to concertos with orchestras.  As a soloist, he toured extensively in North America, European and Israeli venues. He has recorded many of his works for the CBC, BBC Radio 3, Swedish Radio & Television, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Israel Radio, among others.  He performed solo and chamber works from 1985-2005 mostly on the Centredisc label.

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The Charmer

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

A Canadian music champion, in 1982 he became the founding artistic director of Soundstream, the summer festival, Music at Sharon and Chamber Concerts Canada.  Soundstream is a leading producer of concerts, contemporary opera, and international festivals, crossing genres, cultural traditions, and disciplines. Under Cherney’s leadership, approaching its 40th Anniversary Season, Soundstream produces an eclectic annual series in Toronto and is recognized as one of the leading organizations of its kind around the world.  “We’ve commissioned over 200 works from chamber music up to chamber orchestra, vocal/choral music, and music theatre/opera.”

As ‘Canada’s Ambassador of New Music’, Lawrence Cherney is an Order of Canada 2003 recipient and recognized by the Toronto Arts Foundation for its Outstanding International Achievement Award in 2007.  Named a Canadian Music Centre Ambassador in 2009, Cherney in 2012, received the Friends of Canadian Music Award, presented by the Canadian Music Centre and the Canadian League of Composers.

Music notesCredits: TMA149; Art Life and Stilettos/YouTube; NAXOS of America/YouTube

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 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.

Reader’s Comments

-Thanks so much for preparing the article in CJNonline; they and we are fortunate to have you doing this community service as a labour of love. – LC, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I just read your column about Lawrence Cherney. Growing up in Peterborough I have lots of fond memories of Lawrence’s family and of his extended family. I am happy you were able to include him in your coverage of notable musicians. He has certainly had an impressive musical career as has his brother. -MK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

It’s so interesting to read about the backgrounds of our Canadian musicians. So many have come from small towns and go on to be accomplished in music circles around the world.  I am learning about so many Jewish Canadians in the music business from your column.  Thanks for all you do – and, keep it up! – BS, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

-Just read your interesting article about Lawrence Cherney. Thanks! – TK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Book of the Week: “Kabbalah, A Very Short Introduction” by Professor Joseph Dan.

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By Joseph Dan, Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew University.

Oxford University Press 2006

Reviewed by Ralph Wintrob

Book of the Week

July 7, 2021: In these tumultuous, apocalyptic times, and as Tisha B’Av¹ looms, it is reassuring to read Joseph Dan’s scant 100-page reminder that redeeming the world, and restoring a harmony between the spiritual and material domains, severed in the act of Creation, remain our primary responsibility. That’s what Kabbalah teaches us. Dan tells us that Kabbalah grew out of Jewish encounters with Greek, Christian, and Islamic thought during the so-called Dark Ages that preceded the Renaissance.

Jews were always warned not to explore mystical notions of the nature of God, or Creation…issues never explored in traditional Jewish texts… without a solid grounding in Torah and Talmud.

But as Dan carefully and clearly explains, the aim of Jewish mystical thought was not just to explain such matters, but to contextualize them. In Hebrew it’s known as tikkun olam, but known today mostly in its worldly sense. To the mystics, tikkun olam was more, as Dan explains.

The major work of Jewish mysticism is The Zohar, attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, second century C.E., but was more probably, Dan tells us, the work of Rabbi Moses de León, Spain 14h century. The teachings were popularized by Rabbi Isaac Luria, of Tzfat, at the time a centre of Jewish mystical thought, who died at the age of 38, from The Plague, in 1572. Luria wrote little, Dan tells us, because, he said “his visions were too enormous to be penned”. But he taught much, and his students and disciples recorded what he taught, and his ideas spread throughout the Jewish world, because they harmonized so well with traditional Jewish thought and practice.

Dan tells us that Luria began by asking fundamental philosophical questions, such as why does God exist? How do we know? What does everything mean? Luria explained how Creation involved what he called tzimtzum, withdrawal. To create an imperfect world, where Man has free choice, God had to withdraw His divine perfect spirit, leaving only shards behind. The purpose of Man’s existence is to restore the broken bond through observance of prayer and mitzvot as ordained at Sinai. According to Luria, we will be rewarded (or punished) collectively but judged individually.

When we choose Good, we connect with the divine spirit and bring the Messianic era closer. When we choose Evil, Satanic forces triumph. And most important, we never know when a single good action, or evil action, will tip the scales. We each have a role to play, and a single choice may determine the fate of the world. If we choose wisely, according to Luria, we can restore the harmony that is human-divine reconciliation

In the process of presenting Luria’s mystical concepts, Dan explains vital terms such as ein sof, sfirot, shechinah, shevirah. Sfirot, for example, are levels of divine emanation that link the divine to the human realm, so we can connect without being overwhelmed. These mystical layers are philosophically necessary, but not what should engage us. It’s the obligations, the mitzvot that God has set before us that should guide us. In this respect, we can feel right at home.

Dan’s historical presentation is an eye-opener. He makes the whole strange subject really attractive. And he offers an extensive bibliography if we want to follow through, starting with Gershom Scholem’s classic work Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, and Isaiah Tishby’s The Wisdom of the Zohar, and several books of his own that expand on this short introduction.

But most importantly, Dan shows that observance of mitzvot not only repairs the world but rewards us, if we seek it, with a step-by-step path, metaphorically of course, through the sfirot to reach the gates of heaven. What more could we ask for!

Joseph Dan (Hebrew: יוסף דן‎, born 1935) is an Israeli scholar and one of the world’s leading authorities on Jewish mysticism. He taught for over 40 years in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was the first incumbent of the Gershom Scholem Chair in Jewish Mysticism at The Hebrew University. Author of more than fifty books and winner of the 1997 Israel Prize.

¹  Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av (July 17-18, 2021), is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, on which we fast, deprive ourselves and pray. It is the culmination of the Three Weeks, a period of time during which we mark the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem
Credit: Oxford University Press,

A complete list of Ralph Wintrob’s book reviews can be viewed under Book of the Week in the category section. 

Do you have any comments or questions about this book review? Ralph can be reached at

Ralph Wintrob is a former journalist, teacher-librarian.

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