The name ‘Shoftim’ – meaning judges is taken from the opening word of this week’s Sidra. As our ancestors were about to enter the land of Israel, Moshe…
Chazan Steven Leas
Our Chazan Steven Leas has been at the Central Synagogue since leaving his native South Africa in 2002. He is now one of this country’s leading cantors and is the principal soloist of the London Jewish Male Choir.
Just a few years ago, Steven gave up his career as an accountant and turned his world upside down to pursue a life of song. He had always had a passion for singing, right from his early childhood roles in The King and I and The Sound of Music. He then put this passion into action. Steven officiated as chazan of the Linksfield-Senderwood Hebrew congregation in Johannesburg and started a successful wedding and barmitzvah band called ‘Moodswing’. He also formed a recording studio and music company, ‘Stone Music’ together with Michael Hankinson.
Steven performed in many concerts in South Africa including Russian Exodus, Millennium Magic and Three Chazzans and a Cousin. He also appeared on numerous television shows and performed musical theatre favourites with all the major South African orchestras. Steven sat on the board of the South African Music Education Trust along with President Mandela and Mimi Coertze, whose aim it was to provide music education to disadvantaged South Africans. Before leaving for London, Steven sang with the Kwazulu Natal Orchestra to a crowd of 7,000 people in a concert called The Musicals.
Steven moved to London in 2002 and was accepted on to English National Opera’s ‘The Knack’ programme. Shortly after, he became chazan here at the Central Synagogue. Steven also appeared on his first of many CDs as Resident Chazan of the London Jewish Male Choir. He is known for his Helden (Heroic) Tenor voice and his renditions of Wagner, Verdi and Puccini arias.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Steven was asked to sing the memorial prayer El Maleh Rachamim at Auschwitz for a BBC, Canadian and Polish television production called Holocaust: A Music Memorial Film. He was joined by Maxim Vengerov, Emanuel Ax, John Axelrod and others in the programme, which won an International Emmy and a Bafta Award. Steven also sung at Westminster Hall in the presence of the Queen, then Prime Minister Tony Blair and other dignitaries for the National Holocaust Memorial Commemoration.
Other memorable appearances include at the World Festival of Religious Music accompanied by the Choir of London, at the Roundhouse in London with Michael Ball, Michel Legrand, Brian Connelly and Don Black, and at The Royal Festival Hall, at St Johns Smith Square and at Windsor Castle singing opera, cantorial and musical theatre repertoire.
Steven also appeared with Sir Willard White at Covent Garden to great acclaim in a show called Senator, The Duke and Shostakovich. He has co-produced two shows at London’s South Bank called Borscht to Blighty and I Write the Songs. These productions honoured, respectively, the music of Herbert Kretzmer (of Les Miserables fame) and the famous lyricist Don Black. Both men attended the respective performances.
Chazan and more
Alongside his role as the Synagogue’s chazan, Steven has also sung at the Slovakian embassy in the presence of the Vice President of Slovakia and in Gibraltar at the request of the Chief Officer and Mayor of Gibraltar. He has highlighted the plight of Gilad Shalit for London theatre-goers in a concert at the Lyric Theatre.
In 2009, Steven performed as a soloist on the recording of the world premiere of the Commonwealth Cantata at Abbey Road Studios with the London Symphony Orchestra. He was later presented to the Queen at Buckingham Palace where he was invited to perform the Cantata together with the St. Martins in the Field Orchestra and 40-piece choir. Steven has appeared on numerous CDs, including his own No More Numbers and 1870, which was co-produced with Danny Schogger (number one hits with Wham! and Celine Dion), and Olivier Behzadi (ex-Sony BMG head of A&R).
Steven regularly appears in concerts all over the world, including a sellout concert in Israel called the Jewish Harmony Singers with Chazzanim Colin Schachat, Azi Shwartz and the world-renowned pianist Raymond Goldstein. Steven has appeared on many occasions both as a soloist and with his London wedding band ‘Style’ in Trafalgar Square in front of large audiences. He sits on the executive of the Jewish Music Institute, and with them formed ‘Jewish Central’ which puts on shows in the West End and runs Jewish courses and conventions.
Steven is married to Ruth. They have three children, Jonathan, Rafaella and Danielle.