Wheels of Heaven

Avner Finberg composer
Avishay Shalom composer
Ohad Stolarz composer

Ensemble Ofanìm | Avishay Shalom conductor

Release Date: October 13, 2023
Catalog #: NV6574
Format: Digital
21st Century
Vocal Music

Avner Finberg, Avishay Shalom, and Ohad Stolarz decorate the choral scene in WHEELS OF HEAVEN, a new setting of sacred Hebrew and Aramaic texts admirably performed and recorded by Ensemble Ofanìm. WHEELS OF HEAVEN is a devotion to the literary elements of Hebrew traditions, illustrations of a rich and cherished history. These artists have composed, arranged, and presented a beautiful collection of a vast literary tradition in this release, and the resulting sound is remarkable.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Hashkivénu Avner Finberg Ensemble Ofanìm | Avishay Shalom, conductor; Gabriel Loewenheim, baritone; Martin Fehlandt, organ 5:18
02 Ofàn Avner Finberg Ensemble Ofanìm | Avishay Shalom, conductor 8:15
03 Adòn Hasselichòt Traditional Sephardic arr. Avishay Shalom Ensemble Ofanìm | Avishay Shalom, conductor 3:42
04 Ben Adàm, Ma Lechà Nirdàm Traditional Sephardic arr. Avishay Shalom Ensemble Ofanìm | Avishay Shalom, conductor 4:00
05 Osé Shalòm Bimromàv Nurit Hirsh arr. Ohad Stolarz Ensemble Ofanìm | Avishay Shalom, conductor; Lior Stern, soprano 5:08
06 Yah Ribbòn Alàm Traditional Hassidic arr. Ohad Stolarz Ensemble Ofanìm | Avishay Shalom, conductor 2:44

Ensemble Ofanìm
Frieda Jolande Barck • Birita Poulsen • Lior Stern • Liza Steinbock

Anastasiia Sidorkina • Maria Rüssel • Vizma Zvaigzne • Luise Lein

Martin Netter • Martin Fehr • Armin Horn • Rory Wainwright Johnston

Nico Brazda • Tom Heiß • Till Schulze • Pedro Ometto

Gabriel Loewenheim, solo baritone (Hashkivénu)
Martin Fehlandt, organ (Hashkivénu)
Lior Stern, solo soprano (Osé Shalòm Bimromàv)

Recorded March 14th–16th 2022 at Christuskirche in Oberschöneweide, Berlin, Germany
Recording Session Engineer, Mixing and Mastering Natalia Ervits
Production coordinator Ohad Stolarz

Rehearsal piano Daniel Seeger

Graphic design Yaneev Topyol

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Aidan Curran

Artist Information

Avner Finberg

Avner Finberg


Avner Finberg is an Israeli American composer and violinist. His music reimagines traditional musical forms and ideas using fragments and stylistic references to wide-ranging sources, while also drawing upon cutting-edge contemporary music techniques. Finberg’s debut album, THE FOUR SEASONS OF ISOLATION, was hailed as “intriguing, entertaining and thought-provoking” by Gramophone Magazine. His music was described by the late composer Steven Stucky as “refined, mature work of impeccable technique, original voice, and considerable ambition.”

Ohad Stolarz


Ohad Stolarz was born in 1989 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Since 2013 he has been based in Berlin. In 2014 he founded Hebräischer Chor Berlin, an amateur choir specializing in Hebrew Song, which he conducted until 2017 while contributing a multitude of original choral arrangements and compositions.

From 2016 to 2020 Ohad Stolarz studied Choral Conducting with Jörg-Peter Weigle and Justin Doyle at the Hanns Eisler School of Music Berlin, with additional tuition in composition from Peter Aderhold and in orchestral conducting with Manfred Fabricius. In 2021 he began his graduate studies in Applied Music Theory at Hanns Eisler with Jörg Mainka and Maria Baptist.

His first book of choral arrangement Sephardic Folk Songs (Wiesbaden, Breitkopf & Härtel) appeared in 2019. His second book, A Hebrew Choral Songbook (Breitkopf & Härtel), in two volumes, appeared in 2022. His third publication, Hedwig, Rudi, Irmgard, Heinz: Eine jüdische Familiengeschichte in Briefen und Memoiren (Berlin/Leipzig, Hentrich & Hentrich) also appeared in 2022.

Ohad Stolarz is a fellow at Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk.

Avishay Shalom

Avishay Shalom


Born in Israel in 1984, Avishay Shalom was awarded first prize at the Arthur Nikisch International Conducting Competition 2022 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

From 2015 to 2017 he was musical director of the Graduate Opera Studio at the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he conducted Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino, and Conrad Susa’s Transformations.

From 2017 to 2018 he was part of the exchange program at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich, where he conducted the Munich Symphony Orchestra, the Hofkapelle Munich, and the Georgian Chamber Orchestra lngolstadt, among others. From 2019 to 2021 he directed the chamber choir Consortium Musicum Berlin. At the same time he was also répétiteur and conductor of the Opernstudio Niederrhein in Mönchengladbach, Germany. He currently serves as chorus master and Kapellmeister at the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landestheater in Flensburg, Germany.

Shalom has been supported by the REC Music Foundation, a semi-finalist in the Luigi Mancinelli Conducting Competition in Orvieto, Italy and a scholarship recipient of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation for orchestral conductors.


Grant, O God, that we lie down in peace,
and raise us up, our Guardian, to life renewed.
Spread over us the shelter of Your peace.
Guide us with Your good counsel; for Your Name’s sake, be our help.
Shield and shelter us beneath the shadow of Your wings.
Defend us against enemies, illness, war, famine and sorrow.
Distance us from wrongdoing.
For You, God, watch over us and deliver us. For You, God, are gracious and merciful.
Guard our going and coming, to life and to peace evermore.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Guardian of Israel, whos shelter of peace is spread over us,
Over all Your people Israel, and over Jerusalem.

Translation: From “Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur” (Edited by Elyse D. Frishman).
Copyright 2007 by the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Hashkivénu is part of the Jewish Friday Night Service. It is a text with great dramatic arc: From a simple request for a restful night emerges a plea for God to deliver the congregation from mankind’s greatest fears, foes and illnesses. It ends with a declaration of faith in God’s ability to deliver the Jewish people from those harms. This work is written for cantor and mixed choir, a setting commonly used in Europeans synagogues before World War II and in reform synagogues in the US up until the latter half of the 20th century. The cantor’s melodies are inspired by the European cantorial tradition of virtuosic and expressive singing, with lavish melismas and ornaments. The cantor and choir sing responsive lines, accentuating the drama in the text. Hashkivénu was the winning composition at the 2014 Kol Emet Composition Competition by Beth Emet- The Free Synagogue in Evanston, Illinois.

Tens of thousands of angels and cherubs
Assemble, worshiping in awesome glory,
To sanctify together the name of a God of wonders –
They say “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts!”

And of the six-winged seraphs, who fly
Above the span of the sky and the earth –
Their words and beating wings are as the sound of multitudes or great waters,
As a vibrant expression foretold in prophecies of an admired God.

He is a figure of pure sapphire and his throne stands on four figures.
They whisper – and on their heads, as an awesome eye made of ice –
Is a figure of pure lightning, which they bless with a loud, clear voice,
And they uplift with pleasant words the holy figure as it wills.

Translation: Avner Finberg

This present Piyyut was written in the 11th century by Ohev Ben-Meir Hanassì, and belongs to the genre of ofanìm: poems that refer to descriptions of God’s chariot in Ezekiel’s Vision. Little is known about the author, who is mentioned in Sefer ha-Qabbalah (Book of Tradition) by Abraham lbn Daud, written around 1160 in Spain; three of his poems also appear in the prayer book Hizzunim (Cantillations), printed in Constantinople around 1585. The word ofàn means “wheel” or “sphere” and refers to the angels of heaven, as symbolized by the wheels of God’s chariot. Ofanìm originated in medieval Spain and are traditionally recited in the morning prayer service, as well as during the High Holy Days. Other works in this genre were written by such prominent figures as Solomon lbn Gabirol, Moses lbn Ezra, and Judah Halevi, and have become integral to the Sephardic rite.

The poem is in a strict rhyming pattern. The musical setting is polyphonic, combining stylistically contrasting melodic lines and textures. The text is sung in a homophonic setting, predominantly by female voices, while the seminal words kadòsh, kadòsh, kadòsh adonài tseva’òt (“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts”) are presented with extended vocal techniques. The use of these contrasting musical devices creates two spiritual spheres corresponding to the Two Jerusalems: the earthly and the heavenly. While heavenly Jerusalem is represented mostly through homophonic harmony and pure intervals, echoes and fragments of earthly Jerusalem occasionally break in, such as melodies from synagogues, mosques, and churches. These soundscapes hint at the delicate, fragile and potentially explosive coexistence of conflicting cultures in the present-day Holy City.

Master of forgiveness, tryer of hearts,
Revealer of depths, speaker of righteousness:
We have sinned against you, have mercy on us.

Resplendent in wonders, righteous in consolation,
Upholder of ancestral covenant, searcher of reins:
We have sinned against you, have mercy on us.

Benevolent unto all beings,
Who knows all that is concealed,
Who subdues iniquities, who puts on righteousness:
We have sinned against you, have mercy on us.

Abounding in absolution, fearsome in praises,
Who forgives sin, savior in times of trouble:
We have sinned against you, have mercy on us.

Who works salvation, who foresees what is to come,
Who calls forth the generations,
Who rides upon the heavens,
Who hears prayers, who is of perfect knowledge:
We have sinned against you, have mercy on us.

Translation: Ohad Stolarz

This litany is a gem of the Sephardic Jerusalemite repertoire. The origin of the text is unknown, but its style is that of a late-medieval Spanish Piyyut, taking after the influence of Arabic poetry. A prominent feature of this text is the alphabetical acrostic: each line begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Acrostics are a common feature of late Piyyutim, used in several manners: 1. as the personal signature of the author; 2. as a way of encoding a message; 3. in the case of the alphabetical acrostic, a way of celebrating the Hebrew alphabet and possibly also demonstrating the author’s great skill, taking after an established biblical tradition (cf. Psalms 25, 34, 111, 119 and 145; Proverbs 31).

The words of Adòn Hasselichòt present a plea for mercy from God, who is described or appealed to in numerous different ways. Many of these descriptions or appellations are based on biblical quotes: Direct references can be drawn from the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Job, as well as the Psalms. As is the case with Ben adàm, ma lechà nirdàm, the present text is also a staple of Sephardic Selichot.

Son of man, why do you sleep? Arise, call out in supplication,
Pour out your complaint, seek forgiveness from the Master of Masters.
Wash and purify yourself, do not tarry, before the days have passed.
Hurry, seek help from the One who dwells on high.
Turn away from sin and evil, flea and fear misfortunes.
Hear those who know Your name, Your faithful Israel.

Unto You, O Lord, is righteousness, and unto us is shame.

Stand up as a man and be brave to confess your sins.
Seek God solemnly to atone for your transgressions
For no wonders can escape his watchful eyes,
And any word which may be uttered will be read before Him.
The Merciful One, He will have mercy for us, as a father has mercy for his children.
Unto You, O Lord, is righteousness, and unto us is shame.

Translation: Ohad Stolarz

“Unto You, O Lord, is righteousness, and unto us is shame”: Borrowed from Daniel 9:7, this single line of contrition bookends both sections of the text. Considered to be of unknown authorship, this medieval Piyyut (sacred hymn) is sung daily by Sephardic Jews as part of the Selichot, the ritual of penitence, during the month of Elul, as well as in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – a time known as “Ten Days of Repentance.” Conducted by some in the early hours of the morning and by others late at night, the Selichot are often opened by the present Piyyut, which appropriately calls for both physical and spiritual awakening. Other biblical references in the text include the books of Jonah, Jeremiah, Deuteronomy and Psalms. Using colorful textures and harmonies, the present arrangement emulates the climactic effect of Sephardic communal singing without overpowering the sound and meaning of the words.

He who makes peace in his high places, may he make peace upon us and upon all Israel; and say: Amen.

Translation: Ohad Stolarz

The prayer known as Kaddish is a doxology, appearing in all Jewish prayer services, albeit in different forms. The full-length Kaddish appears at the end of the Amidah – the main section of the daily prayer, said in silence. A slightly abbreviated form of the Kaddish is recited in remembrance of deceased family members. While the main Kaddish text is in Aramaic, its concluding lines used herein are in Hebrew. Nurit Hirsh (b. 1942), a veteran composer of popular songs and laureate of the Israel Prize for Hebrew Song in 2016, set those lines to music for the first Hassidic Song Festival in 1969, where they were performed by Yigal Bashan (1950-2018). The occasion for which the song was composed had a strong influence on the devotional nature of the melody. Hirsh’s melody has since been accepted into the liturgy of many communities.

Lord, eternal Master of the worlds,
Thou art the supreme King of kings.
Thy mighty acts and wondrous deeds,
It is my pleasure to declare.

Morning and evening I praise Thee,
Holy God, who didst form all life:
Sacred spirits, human beings,
Beasts of the field, birds of the sky.

Great and mighty are Thy deeds,
Humbling the proud, raising the meek;
Were man to live a thousand years,
Yet he could not recount Thy might.

O God of glory and greatness,
Save Thy flock from the lions’ jaws;
Free Thy people from captivity,
Thy people chosen from all nations.

Return to Thy most holy shrine,
The place where all souls will rejoice
And sing melodic hymns of praise –
Jerusalem, city of beauty.

Translation: Philip Birnbaum, from “Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem. Daily Prayer Book”.
Hebrew Publishing Company: New York 1949.

The only non-Hebrew piece in this album, the Aramaic Yah Ribbòn Alàm, is a staple in the Sabbath repertoire as part of the Zemirot (hymns sung at the dinner table). The author, Israel Najara (ca.1555-1620, born in Safed) was amongst the Kabbalists: a group of 16th-century Jewish scholars of the expelled Spanish diaspora, headed by Isaac Luria (1534-1572), who settled in the Galilean town of Safed and dedicated themselves to the development of the Jewish mystical discipline known as Kabbalah, making Safed into a center for sacred poetry. In Yah Ribbòn Alàm, the acrostic spells out the name of the author: Israel. In 1587, Najara (whose family likely stems from the northern Spanish town of Nájera), a prolific poet and singer, published a lengthy collection of his poetry: Zemirot Yisrael. Many of the hundreds of poems contained in this magnum opus were composed as contrafacta: Hebrew adaptations of Arabic and Greek song texts, meant to be sung to the original melodies. The present melody is of Eastern-European, possibly Hassidic origin. It appeared in print in 1937, in Semirot Schabbat, a small collection of Sabbath songs by the Berlin-born musicologist, playwright and composer Arno Nadel (1878-1943). The present setting, following several recorded performances of this melody, only uses the first two verses of the text; the full translation is presented here nonetheless.