About this Recording
8.559403 - KLEZMER CONCERTOS AND ENCORES
English 

KLEZMER CONCERTOS AND ENCORES

 

About the Composers

ROBERT STARER (1924–2001) was born in Vienna. At the age of four he began piano studies and continued them at the Vienna State Academy in 1937. Following the 1938 plebiscite in which Austria voted for annexation to Germany as part of the Third Reich, Starer went to Palestine, where he studied at the Jerusalem Conservatory (1939–43). During the Second World War he served in the British Royal Air Force (1943–46), often touring as a pianist. In 1947 he was awarded a scholarship to study composition with Frederick Jacobi at the Juilliard School, in New York, receiving a postgraduate diploma in 1949. In the summer of 1948 he studied with Aaron Copland at the Berkshire Music Center.

From 1949 to 1974, Starer — who became an American citizen in 1957 — taught at Juilliard, and from 1963 to 1991 he was on the faculty of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he was named a distinguished professor in 1986. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor for Science and Art by the president of Austria in 1995, an honorary doctorate by the State University of New York in 1996, and a presidential citation by the National Federation of Music Clubs in 1997.

Starer's early compositional style reflected his training at the Jerusalem Conservatory. "In the Jerusalem in which I spent my formative years," Starer wrote, "there was much interest in blending Western, that is, European, music with the music of the Near East. Joseph Tal … insisted that I learn to play the oud, an Arabic ancestor of the European lute, with a Jewish musician from Baghdad, a man who had never learned to transcribe his improvised music, which I then had to do." In the United States, Starer's lyrical, strongly rhythmic idiom became more dissonant under the influence of jazz and the avant-garde movement of the 1960s, and between 1963 and 1967 he published four serial works.

Starer's large output includes works in most genres, large and small. His stage works include the three-act opera Pantagleize after Michel de Ghelderode's play; and The Last Lover, a musical morality play with text by the distinguished American novelist Gail Godwin, Starer's frequent collaborator from 1972 to the end of his life. He also composed the music for several ballets — four commissioned by Martha Graham — The Story of Esther for the choreographer Anna Sokolow (1960), and The Dybbuk for Herbert Ross (also 1960).

Starer's orchestral works have been performed by major orchestras in the United States and abroad, under conductors including Mitropoulos, Bernstein, Steinberg, Leinsdorf, and Mehta. Among his numerous concertos are a violin concerto (1979–80) for Itzhak Perlman, of which Perlman gave the premiere in 1981 and later recorded with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony, and a cello concerto written in 1988 for Janos Starker, who recorded it in 1991.

Regarding the Jewish aspects of his work in general, Starer reflected, "While I was never in the employ of a synagogue or a Jewish organization, I have written music of Jewish interest all my life. My Jewishness is sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background… When Martha Graham asked me to write the music for her Samson Agonistes [1961], she said that she had chosen me because she had found Hebrew strength in my music as well as Hebrew suffering."

His choral works, praised for his setting of biblical texts, whether in Hebrew or English, include such large-scale compositions for soloists, chorus, and orchestra and/or organ as Kohelet (1952; text from Ecclesiastes); Ariel: Visions of Isaiah, commissioned by the Interracial Fellowship Chorus in 1959; the cantata Joseph and His Brothers (1966); Sabbath Eve Service (1967); a commission by New York's Park Avenue Synagogue, Psalms of Woe and Joy for chorus and piano (1975); and Nishmat adam (The Soul of Man) for narrator chorus and orchestra (1990). "I write differently when I set Hebrew text to music than when I set English to music," Starer declared. "The rhythm of the two languages is so different. English is a syncopated language (and was so long before jazz), while Hebrew is not." Interpreters of his vocal music have included Roberta Peters, Leontyne Price, and Phyllis Bryn-Julson. Starer is also the author of Rhythmic Training (New York, 1969); Basic Rhythmic Training (New York, 1986); and an autobiography, Continuo: a Life in Music (New York, 1987), one of the most highly regarded of recent composer memoirs.

 

PAUL SCHOENFIELD was born in Detroit in 1947. He began piano lessons at the age of six and composed his first piece the next year. Following studies at Converse College at Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he earned a doctorate in music at the University of Arizona. After holding a teaching post in Toledo, Ohio, he lived on a kibbutz in Israel, where he taught mathematics, one of his great loves, to high school students in the evenings. Later he spent a number of years in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area as a freelance composer and pianist, and throughout the 1990s he lived in the Israeli town of Migdal Ha'emek (near Haifa), which he still considers his secondary residence after moving back to the United States.

Schoenfield was formerly an active pianist, touring the United States, Europe, and South America as a soloist and with ensembles including Music from Marlboro. He has recorded the complete violin and piano works of Bartók with Sergiu Luca. Of his own creative output he has declared: "I don't consider myself an art-music [serious music] composer at all. The reason my works sometimes find their way into concert halls is [that] at this juncture, there aren't many folk music performers with enough technique, time or desire to perform my music. They usually write their own anyway." The long list of orchestras that have performed his compositions includes the New York Philharmonic, the Seattle Symphony, the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano, and the Haifa Symphony Orchestra. He has received numerous commissions and been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Fund, the Bush Foundation, Meet the Composer, and Chamber Music America.

Schoenfield has been compared with Gershwin, and one writer has asserted that his works "do for Hassidic music what Astor Piazzolla did for the Argentine tango." Although he has stated, "I don't deserve the credit for writing music — only God deserves the credit, and I would say this even if I weren't religious," his inspiration has been ascribed to a wide range of musical experience, often treated with sly twists. In a single piece he frequently combines ideas that evolved in entirely different worlds, delighting in the surprises elicited by their interaction. This, as Schoenfield has proclaimed, "is not the kind of music for relaxation, but the kind that makes people sweat; not only the performer, but the audience."

Among Schoenfield's major works to date are Klezmer Rondos (1986), a concerto for flute, tenor, and orchestra; the frequently performed Café Music for violin, cello, and piano (1986); the Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano composed in 1990 for clarinetist David Shifrin, realizing Schoenfield's long-standing desire "to create entertaining music that could be played at Hassidic gatherings as well as in the concert hall… each of the movements is based partly on an eastern European Hassidic melody"; a viola concerto based on tunes he heard children singing in the kindergarten under his studio in Israel, written for Robert Vernon, principal viola of the Cleveland Orchestra; D'vorah, a gospel oratorio with text by Maggie Stearns, premiered in 1998 in Israel by the Haifa Symphony Orchestra; and The Merchant and the Pauper, an opera in two acts, with libretto by Maggie Stearns adapted from a story told by Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav in 1809, commissioned and given its critically acclaimed world premiere by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis on June 17, 1999.

Perhaps the best summary of Schoenfield's career to date is the tribute that the distinguished music commentator Klaus George Roy delivered on the occasion of his receiving the Cleveland Arts Prize's 1994 Music Award:

Paul Schoenfield writes the kind of inclusive and welcoming music that gives eclecticism a good name. In the tradition of Bach, who never left German soil but wrote French suites, English suites and Italian concertos, and in the tradition of Bartók, who absorbed and transformed not only Hungarian music, but that of Romania, Bulgaria and North Africa, Paul draws on many ethnic sources in music, assimilating them into his own distinctive language. As Donald Rosenberg wrote in the [Cleveland] Plain Dealer, reviewing Paul's recent and nationally cheered compact disc recording of three concertos, "the composer's grasp of music history joins hands with popular and folk traditions of America and beyond. This is cross-over art achieved with seamless craftsmanship."

If Paul considers himself essentially a folk musician, it is surely a highly sophisticated one. His rich and multi-branched musical tree grows from strong and well-nourished roots. What he communicates to us is marked by exuberant humor and spontaneous freshness, however arduous the process of composition may actually have been. His work rises from and returns to those fundamental wellsprings of song and dance, of lyricism and physical motion, and often of worshipful joy, that have always been the hallmarks of genuine musical creativity.

 

JACOB WEINBERG (1879–1956) belongs to that pioneering school of composers who, together with Jewish performers, folklorists, and other intellectuals in Russia, attempted during the first two decades of the 20th century to found a new Jewish national art music based on authentic Jewish musical heritage. It was his membership in the Moscow section of that organization, known as the Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volksmusik (The Society for Jewish Folk Music), in St. Petersburg, that first defined for him the nature of his own Jewish identity and ignited the interest in Judaically based art that informed most of his work from then on.

Weinberg was born in Odessa (the Ukraine) to an intellectually sympathetic and cultured, but thoroughly assimilated and Russified affluent family, with little if any Judaic observance. His pianistic gifts were evident at an early age. At seventeen he went to Moscow to pursue his musical studies at its conservatory, where he studied composition with Serge Taneyev. Typical of the practical middle-class path followed by a number of Russian as well as Jewish composers in Russia then, and under pressure from his family, he also studied law in Moscow and received his law degree in 1908. After concert tours to various cities of the czarist empire, at which he performed some of his own works, he spent a year in Vienna studying with the legendary piano pedagogue and author of piano methodology Theodor Leschetizky. After that he returned to Moscow, where he taught various musical subjects as well as piano, and where he wrote two scientific works on music. He also became active in the relatively new Moscow branch of the Gesellschaft and was profoundly influenced in particular by critic and composer Joel Engel, head of its musical committee. "There began my interest in things Jewish," he later remarked. "I began to collect and study Jewish folksongs. A new, great, and practically unexplored vista was opening before me."

In 1916 Weinberg returned to Odessa to teach at the Imperial Conservatory there. He remained until 1921, when, out of step personally and spiritually with the new Bolshevik order and the fallout of the civil war, and still imbued with the Zionist cultural incentives he acquired from the Gesellschaft affiliation, he left to resettle in Palestine, where he resumed his association with Joel Engel, one of the founders of a Jewish National Conservatory in Jerusalem. Weinberg absorbed much of the Near Eastern melos — Arabic as well as oriental Jewish modes, melodies, and flavors largely unknown in Europe — and soon added these to his pool of Jewish musical resources for compositions. Among his works from that period are his Hebrew opera Hehalutz (known in English as The Pioneers), set to his own libretto about European settlers in Palestine — one of the earliest operas in Hebrew; and Jacob's Dream, a setting of Richard Beer-Hoffman's play, later to become one of Weinberg's most frequently performed pieces.

Weinberg came to United States in 1926, where he was soon actively involved in New York's intellectual Jewish music circles. He became a prominent member of a coterie of established Jewish composers and other leading Jewish music exponents on the New York scene, including some of his former colleagues from the Gesellschaft in Russia, such as Lazare Saminsky and Joseph Achron, as well as Abraham Wolf Binder, Gershon Ephros, and Frederick Jacobi.

In 1929 Weinberg joined the piano and theory faculty of the New York College of Music, where he taught for many years, and later at Hunter College's extension division. In the early 1940s he organized a series of annual Jewish arts festivals (music and dance), and those events are credited with being the impetus behind the formation of the National Jewish Music Council of the Jewish Welfare Board, which until recently initiated and coordinated annual Jewish Music Month celebrations throughout the United States.

Weinberg developed a particular theoretical interest in the pentatonic scale and its possibilities, about which he published a lecture. That fascination was reflected in his composition of an entire Sabbath service in a pentatonic mode.

Despite Weinberg's many secular Judaic works in a variety of styles and genres, his personal preference tended toward liturgical works. "In no other way can I express the Jewishness of my nature," he claimed. He wrote three complete services (one of which has been recorded by the Milken Archive) in addition to various individual synagogue settings; and two quasi-religious biblical oratorios: Isaiah and The Life of Moses. Yet for a long while he was best known in the United States for his patriotic American works, such as a setting of part of one of President Roosevelt's addresses; The Gettysburg Address; and I See a New America, on words from a presidential campaign address by Governor Adlai Stevenson.

Among Weinberg's secular works recorded for the Milken Archive are his Piano Concerto no. 2 in C, on Hebrew themes; a piano trio on Hebrew themes; and a string quartet (op. 55) on a High Holy Day and Festival motif. Among his many other such works are his Sabbath Suite, Carnival in Israel, and Yemenite Rhapsody (in two versions) — all for chamber orchestra; Berceuse Palestinenne for cello or violin; various piano pieces on Judaic as well as secular Hebraic themes; numerous Hebrew art songs; and other chamber music.

 

Among the major names associated with the heyday of the American Yiddish theater as songwriters, composers, orchestrators, and conductors, ABRAHAM ELLSTEIN (1907–63) was the only one born in America. He is generally considered one of the "big four of Second Avenue," along with Sholom Secunda, Joseph Rumshinsky, and Alexander Olshanetsky.  Ellstein, though he may be remembered most widely for some of his theatrical "hit" songs, went further than the others in the classical realm, and he considered his theater career only part of his overall artistic contribution.

Ellstein was born on New York's Lower East Side, one of the most concentrated eastern European Jewish immigrant areas. As a boy chorister in local synagogues, he was exposed early on to the intricacies of hazzanut (cantorial art). He received his early musical training at the Third Street Settlement House and sang in the Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus. He is said to have written a short opera at the age of eight. At only thirteen he conducted a boy choir in John Barrymore's Broadway production of Richard III.
Ellstein was later awarded a scholarship to the Juilliard School, and he made his debut as a theater composer with music for B. Epelboym's play Gerangl (Struggle) performed by a theater troupe from Vilna. This was the first of thirty-three scores for Yiddish theater. By the 1929–30 season he was engaged as resident composer and music director at Ludwig Satz's Folk Theater. After touring Europe as pianist for actor-singers Dave Lubritsky and Dina Goldberg, Ellstein moved to the Public Theater as resident composer and director for the 1930–31 season.

While on tour with Molly Picon in Europe and South America, as her arranger, accompanist, and conductor, Ellstein wrote new music especially for her performances of Goldfaden's Shmendrik, and for the "operetta" that once played on Second Avenue, Oy iz dos a meydl (O, What a Girl!). Ellstein also later wrote two film scores — Mamele and Yidl mitn fidl — for Molly Picon, which became "Jewish box-office hits."  Among his many other successful theater scores was A bisl mazl (A Bit of Luck), which featured Menashe Skulnick singing his famous rendition of the "The Scotchman from Orchard Street."

Active for many years in Yiddish radio, Ellstein had regular programs on WEVD, where he produced and presented a variety of Yiddish folk as well as theater music and cantorial selections. Several of his best-known Yiddish theatrical-type songs were written specifically for these radio broadcasts. He directed a weekly broadcast devoted to liturgical music, The Song of the Synagogue, which featured many of the most beloved cantors with his choral ensemble. Ellstein also wrote and arranged for Broadway, general radio and television, as well as "pop" concerts and even some British and American film shorts.

He was in great demand as a pianist and conductor for cantorial concerts and recordings, and was Yosele Rosenblatt's pianist for his European and American tours. Ellstein's cantorial orchestrations in particular are considered the most stylistically classical in that genre. He conducted synagogue choirs for many years, especially for holy day services, for which he wrote a good deal of traditional cantorial-choral music, most of which remains unpublished. He also wrote two modern Sabbath services, commissioned by the Metropolitan Synagogue in New York.

On a visit to Prague, Ellstein became fascinated with the Golem legend, and while there, he wrote a short piece based on it that he later used as the basis for his opera The Golem.
Among Ellstein's other important classical works are two oratorios: Ode to the King of Kings — televised on CBS and sung subsequently by Jan Peerce — and Redemption, based on the Hanukka story and premiered posthumously at a Cantors Assembly Convention with a subsequent CBS telecast. Apart from his actual synagogue music, his concert cantorial settings remain popular and are frequently performed.

OSVALDO GOLIJOV was born in 1960 in La Plata, Argentina, to a family of eastern European Jewish origin. He grew up surrounded by classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical music, the sounds of eastern European klezmorim, and the new tango of Astor Piazzolla. He studied piano at the local conservatory, and composition privately with Gerardo Gandini (b.1936), a pupil of Argentina's most famous composer, Alberto Ginastera. After living in Israel for three years, where he studied at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem, Golijov emigrated to the United States in 1986 and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1990, as a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, Golijov received a Fromm Foundation Commission, for which he wrote his work Yiddishbuk. It was premiered in 1992 by the St. Lawrence String Quartet during Tanglewood's Festival of Contemporary Music. Golijov regards that collaboration as a turning point in his musical life, and the St. Lawrence Quartet has remained among the most important exponents of his works. Also at Tanglewood he became acquainted with the Kronos Quartet. Their working relationship has become a central one to the composer, who has collaborated with the quartet on some thirty pieces. Like the St. Lawrence, the Kronos Quartet has also recorded many of Golijov's compositions. Its CD of his work on a Jewish legend — The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, with clarinetist David Krakauer (1994) — became a classical best-seller. Golijov's association with the Kronos Quartet also led him to work with the Romanian Gypsy band Taraf de HaÏdouks, which participated in the recording of his sound track for the film The Man Who Cried (2000); as well as with the Mexican rock band Café Tacuba; tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain; and the celebrated Argentine rock musician and producer Gustavo Santaolalla.

In 1995 Helmuth Rilling invited Golijov to compose a work for the Oregon Bach Festival. The success of Oceana, a "Latin American cantata" on texts by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, brought another commission from Rilling for Golijov's setting of the Christian Passion, for which he drew upon his own experience as a Jew living in an officially Roman Catholic country. The work was intended for performance at a festival commemorating both the millennium and the 250th anniversary of Bach's death. La Pasion segun San Marcos (The Passion According to St. Mark) had its triumphant world premiere in Stuttgart in 2000 at the European Music Festival. After its equally successful North American premiere in 2001 at Boston's Symphony Hall, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Spano, The New Yorker's music critic, Alex Ross, declared, "Any work that causes hysteria in both Boston and Stuttgart is worth a close look…. Pasion drops like a bomb on the belief that classical music is an exclusively European art."

Neil W. Levin

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Program Notes

 

Robert Starer:  K'LI ZEMER

K'li zemer was commissioned by the celebrated clarinetist and neo-klezmer exponent Giora Feidman, but premiered in 1988 by Peter Alexander, with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, conducted by Leon Botstein.

The term k'li zemer is translated literally from the Hebrew as "instrument of song." But the contraction of the two words centuries ago became the Yiddish klezmer, meaning simply "instrumental musician," although it came to connote wedding band and street band players rather than classical concert performers. The clarinet was one of the chief virtuoso solo instruments in many klezmer bands in 19th- and 20th-century eastern Europe, although it was probably preceded in its dominant role by the violin and, in early bands, even by the flute. Its virtual hegemony as the soloistic instrument associated with so-called klezmer music is probably more a phenomenon of the American experience, beginning with the early eastern European immigrant era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And in the pantheon of famous klezmer band musicians, the roster of renowned clarinet virtuosos looms large, with such accomplished artists as Naftule Brandwein, Dave Tarras, and Shloimeke Beckerman.

Discussing this concerto, Starer explained, "While all the thematic ideas in K'li zemer are my own, they do lean toward the melodies of eastern European Jewish music, with which I have been familiar since my childhood in Vienna and my youth in Jerusalem; the music played at weddings and similar occasions [among eastern European Jews] by small groups of musicians, whose favorite instruments were [often] the violin and clarinet."

K'li zemer is in four movements, with no pause between the last two. Their descriptive titles indicate corresponding moods. T'fi llot (Prayers) begins with solo clarinet in passages of deep meditative character, almost trancelike, as if worldly thoughts and concerns have been set aside during communication with God. Starer described the entrance of the high strings as reflective of a congregation in a synagogue service joining the cantor following his solo recitative. The music gradually increases in intensity, approaching the idealized ecstatic state especially embraced by Hassidim. When the full orchestra enters, led by brass and percussion, it is as if the prayer experience has reached its climax. Gradually the mood winds down to its conclusion, once again in its opening moods.

A dance tune opens the second movement, Rikkudim (Dances), which recurs in the manner of classical rondo form. There is an interesting contrast between old and new, traditional and modern, in Starer's inclusion of a contemporary rhythm (10/8) for one of the dance sections, while in another a typical 19th-century eastern European Jewish wedding or "klezmer" sound is recalled when the clarinet is accompanied by bass and drum alone.

The third movement, Manginot (Melodies), features a long, spun-out melody in the clarinet's soulful low register. Its natural softness is reminiscent of a folk lullaby, which later in the movement is taken over by the English horn, with the clarinet now in contrapuntal figures against it to give the improvisational character of authentic klezmer bands. The finale, Hakdashot (Dedications) — marked allegro moderato — opens with a timpani solo and a dialogue between solo clarinet and full orchestra.

Starer wrote that when he was a student at Tanglewood many years before writing this concerto, Darius Milhaud had advised him always to "invent his own folk melodies." "I listened to him," Starer later wrote with reference to this piece, "and have followed his advice." Yet the overall feeling and character of traditional eastern European melos prevails throughout.

Just prior to the conclusion of the final movement, there is a brief echo of the opening passage of the first, recalling the "prayer" theme.

 

Paul Schoenfield:  KLEZMER RONDOS

Paul Schoenfield's Klezmer Rondos, written for flutist Carol Wincenc in 1989 on commission from the National Endowment Consortium Commission Grant, was originally conceived for a small accompanying ensemble in order to portray some of the typical eastern European klezmer band idioms in the context of a cultivated concert work in the Western classical mold. The piece was revised and expanded in 1995 for its New York Philharmonic premiere and became a concerto for flute, tenor, and symphony orchestra. The new orchestration calls for a contemporary incarnation of an eastern European klezmer band, with some historically emblematic instruments along with other, atypical ones: E-flat (doubling on B-flat) clarinet; alto (doubling on soprano) and tenor saxophones; trumpet; cornet; trombone; tuba; an elaborate battery of percussion; piano; and strings.

The explosion of interest in America during the past three decades in the musical styles of 19th-century eastern European klezmer bands has accorded special focus to the solo virtuoso clarinet as the carrier of the stereotypical sonorities, flourishes, timbres, and special effects associated with those traditional ensembles. Other instruments, however, such as the violin and the trumpet, were at various times and in various locales at least equal contenders for that role, especially in the earlier stages of the klezmer band format. That the flute often played a major solo role in Europe is less commonly realized — especially in America during the first half of the 20th century, when such ensembles were almost never called "klezmer groups," but simply "wedding bands."

Yet some of the most celebrated eastern European klezmorim were flutists, such as the Polish-Jewish klezmer Michal Jozaf Guznikow (1806–37), so Schoenfield's choice of flute for this concerto is as historically appropriate as clarinet or violin. The flute doubles on piccolo as well here, giving added emphasis to the ecstatic, piercing character of certain idiomatic klezmer band sounds.

Schoenfield has noted that he was especially conscious of the historical role not only of the klezmer, but also of the professional badkhn — the jester, vocal merrymaker, quasi–folk singer, and overall entertainer at Jewish weddings in eastern Europe, especially outside larger cosmopolitan cities, and in western Europe before the modern era. Those badkhonim complemented the function of the instrumental musicians — a tradition dating to pre-medieval eras, as does the role of secular wedding musicians for pre- and post-ceremonial festivities. For a long time after the destruction of the Second Temple, all instrumental music and even secular vocal music was prohibited, as a sign of collective mourning. But so important in Judaism is the mandate for rejoicing at weddings, and assisting the bride and bridegroom to rejoice, that the related festivities were (along with Purim) the first occasions to be excepted by rabbinical authority. Professional badkhonim are even mentioned in the Talmud for other roles. So, although "klezmer" denotes a strictly instrumental musician, Schoenfield's incorporation of a singing role as a paired presentation with klezmer idioms seems legitimately derived from the badkhn tradition.

Klezmer Rondos quotes directly the opening section of a song of the Lubavitcher Hassidim, 'Kol dodi' (Voice of My Beloved), from Song of Songs, attributed to the first Lubavitcher — or Habad — rebbe, Rabbi Shneier Zalman of Liady. A variation is often attributed to rebbes of different dynasties who were Rabbi Zalman's contemporaries. There is also the quotation of a well-known Lubavitcher niggun rikkud (dance tune), as well as other typical idiomatic Hassidic phrases and inflections throughout.

In discussing this work, Schoenfield identified the musical elements as those generally associated (in contemporary perception) with so-called klezmer music, i.e., eastern European modes, Gypsy scales and modes, quasi- and even pseudo-Hassidic songs and dances (often borrowed originally from local non-Jewish folk tunes), marches, Romanian dances, and Yiddish folksong motifs. An original Yiddish song in folk style, to the poem 'Mirele' by Michl Virt, concludes the first of the two movements. The following is a translation of this text:

Mirele.
The daughter of Dvoyrele the storekeeper is called:
pretty Mirele, Mirele!
And Dvoyrele says that her only consolation is Mirele.
The sun shines by day, the moon by night,
and Mirele stands by the window and laughs.

Mirele is charmingly, deliciously beautiful. 
She has milk-white hands, pearly white teeth.
The boys become all pale from longing for her,
but Mirele's heart is colder than ice,
ay, Mirele, ay Mirele…

Under Mirele's window they all swarm;
Mirele sees the most handsome young men silent and still.
The sun shines by day, the moon by night,
and Mirele stands by the window and laughs.
Ay Mirele, ay Mirele…

Sighs are flying up to heaven.
They can neither eat nor sleep.
Their hearts are bursting from pain and suffering,
but no one could move the frozen heart of
Mirele, of Mirele…

The years flow by like water,
your beauty has come to an end,
your face has already darkened, your head hunched,
your eyes are bloodshot, and your braid is already gray.

The stars glow, the moon shines by night.
She stands by the window, saddened and pensive.
The clouds float hither and thither,
from Mirele's sad eyes a tear drops,
Mirele, cry, Mirele, cry Mirele…

(Translation: Eliyahu Mishulovin)

In the program annotations to the New York Philharmonic premiere, critic Bernard Jacobson referred to Klezmer Rondos as representing a sort of pluralism of voices and idioms from the various cultures now heard in America that serve as inspirational sources for American composers. He also astutely observed that some of the related folk inflections (in this case, the so-called klezmer sounds) are, or can be, as much a part of Slavic and Hungarian traditions as of Jewish heritage alone. To those "foreign" origins one can add Romanian and Gypsy precursors. But these elements are used by Schoenfield in an entirely original way, organically integrated and infused within the piece and rising above a mere pedestrian quotation of tunes. That procedure seems to be characteristic of Schoenfield's work in general. One publisher has commented, "He frequently mixes ideas that grew up in entirely different worlds, making them talk to each other… and delighting in the surprises their interaction evokes." That assessment is particularly applicable to this work.

Klezmer Rondos was one of the first serious and successful attempts to employ the eastern European klezmer melos within a classical art music as well as symphonic framework. In this adventure Schoenfield has recalled Bartók's penchant for using authentic Hungarian folk material in symphonic and chamber works, and Gershwin's integration of indigenous American jazz features into classical forms such as the piano concerto and opera.

 

Jacob Weinberg:  CANZONETTA and THE MAYPOLE

These short "encore" pieces began their unorchestrated concert lives as folksong and folk dance arrangements, based on authentic Jewish folk material culled from throughout the Pale of Settlement of the czarist empire and later reworked in their present form during Weinberg's (and possibly Simeon Bellison's) American years. Though Weinberg became a sophisticated and prolific composer of sacred as well as Jewish-related secular art music, his initial introduction to Jewish music of any kind was via just such folk music.

However, like most of his bourgeois, urbanized, and classically oriented colleagues and fellow composers associated with the Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volksmusik (Society for Jewish Folk Music), Weinberg did not come to these folk idioms firsthand. Rather, he encountered these genres from an intellectual perspective and an academic vantage point during his Moscow years. This exposure and interest also predated his years in Palestine, where his focus shifted from European to Near Eastern melos, and where, even though much Hebrew Palestinian song was based on Russian melodic elements, these particular idioms "of the Pale" were far removed from the "new" musical direction and aura associated with the forward-looking Zionist cultural ideals. Indeed, Weinberg's inspiration to create such pieces is testament to the mission as well as the influence of the Gesellschaft and its orientations.

Canzonetta — from a set of pieces entitled Bobe mayses (Old Wives' Tales) — and The Maypole were both arranged originally for clarinet and piano by the renowned clarinetist Simeon Bellison, who was prominent in the Jewish national art music movement in Russia even after the Bolshevik Revolution and who later was first clarinetist in the New York Philharmonic for twenty-eight years. Weinberg subsequently created these orchestral versions in the United States, presumably for Bellison to perform.

Canzonetta has transparent echoes of both an old Yiddish folk tune and a Hassidic melody, cleverly yet simply developed and intertwined without masking their identities.

The Maypole title is strange for a piece of eastern European Jewish connection, since the Maypole connotes the original English and European May Day ceremony welcoming the spring, with its traditional dances around the Maypole drawn from earlier pagan rituals. It is possible that this piece was intended to refract the Maypole dances through a Jewish sonic prism, alternating a sprightly springlike tune with a meditative clarinet passage that could conceivably portray the stately dance connected with the crowning of the May Queen. Alternatively, one might be tempted to draw some parallel to May Day's late role as a rallying occasion for the international labor movement and then the communist world — except that the politically oriented May Day holiday originated in America and the Maypole was not part of its ceremonies. Nor is the musical idiom or character of this piece in any way connected to songs of the Bundists or to the Jewish Labor Movement in the czarist empire (nor were Weinberg or his middle-class circle).

Both pieces are permeated with some of the prominent clarinet idioms associated with 19th-century eastern European klezmer practice, which are heavily dependent on the specialized skill of the soloist. The melodic features, however, are more related to Hassidic song and dance than to the repertoire of klezmer bands. These are miniatures — not truly representative of Weinberg, who wrote so many large-scale sacred and secular works. In fact, they are not even listed in his published catalogue, and were found only in manuscript in the Bellison collection in Israel. They are nonetheless charming and well-crafted pieces, eminently suited for encore performances.

 

Abraham Ellstein: HASSIDIC DANCE

This is but one of many examples of American Jewry's general attraction to the cultural and aesthetic parameters of Hassidism and Hassidic folklore, not necessarily related to theological considerations or commitments. That there are numerous pieces of precisely the same title by various American composers is itself evidence of the cultural and aesthetic impact of Hassidism upon the American Jewish imagination, even among circles otherwise bordering on hostility to Hassidic orthodoxy. For neither Ellstein nor his intended audience were Hassidic. Nor does a piece such as this purport to represent faithfully an authentic Hassidic dance ritual as enacted within the various sects' cloistered environments — for those dances, whether joyous or meditative, are deeply religious ceremonies. Rather, the piece captures the general Hassidic dance flavor, within a stylized, even romanticized portrait.

The principal melody, inflected with perceived eastern European folk style, gives Jewish credibility to the piece, but its various modern orchestral gestures and moments of classical development (augmentation, permutation, etc.) raise it to a higher artistic level.

As with the three Weinberg encore pieces recorded here, this Hassidic Dance exhibits a fusion of Hassidic-type (but probably Ellstein's own) melody on traditional models with unrelated klezmer band clarinet effects and idiomatic nuances. In addition, even this small piece shows us a flash of Ellstein the brilliant orchestrator — as well as the potentially classical composer.

 

Osvaldo Golijov: ROCKETEKYA

Rocketekya was commissioned for the twentieth anniversary of New York City's Merkin Concert Hall. Golijov wrote it for clarinetist David Krakauer, violinist Alicia Svigals, electric violist Martha Mooke, and double bassist Pablo Aslan, who played the premiere in 1998 and are also heard in the present recording. The composer has written the following remarks about the piece:

I was asked to write a celebratory fanfare. But then I thought it would be interesting to write a different sort of celebratory piece, and I had an idea: a shofar blasting inside a rocket—an ancient sound propelled towards the future. So, that is Rocketekya: a shofar blasting its t'ki'a (one of its prescribed pattern calls) inside a rocket. In the middle of its journey, the rocket meets a Latin band in orbit…. I wrote the piece for four musicians I love and admire, and dedicated it to Vicki Margulies, who was the hall's artistic director at the time.

The use of various traditional klezmer band clarinet inflections and timbres gives the piece an overall feeling of a fusion of some of the typical sounds of 19th-century eastern European klezmorim, contemporary Latin rhythms and flavors, and postmodern auras and sensibilities. But despite its futuristic impulse, the klezmer band idioms and emblematic eastern European intervals predominate and permeate the piece.

Neil W. Levin

 


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