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Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, January 2009

Music of Remembrance remembers Holocaust musicians and their work through performance, recording and the commissioning of new works. Jake Heggie’s work is a commission which highlights the fact that homosexuals were also persecuted under the Nazi regime. A reading of the journal of Manfred Lewin, who was murdered at Auschwitz, which he wrote for his lover Gad Beck, who is still alive today, gave Heggie his plot for this miniature operatic scene. It’s a conversation between the dead man and his surviving lover. Morgan Smith takes the part of Manfred, who wants Gad to remember their relationship whilst Gad, Actor Julian Patrick, wishes to forget the past. It’s a dramatic piece, to be sure, but even though it packs a punch, because of its subject matter, it doesn’t have the same power in the music that it has in the words…Gerard Schwarz’s In Memoriam—this is the Gerard Schwarz the UK knows as the one-time conductor of the Liverpool Orchestra, now in charge of the Seattle Symphony—is full of the very emotion missing from Heggie’s piece. It’s a sustained elegy for solo cello and string quartet and seems to keep quoting Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, which is no bad thing. This is a fine achievement.

Lori Laitman’s song cycle for baritone with cello and piano, The Seed of Dream, is given a good performance by Erich Parce…setting words written by Abraham Sutzkever in the Vilna ghetto between 1941 and 1944 these four brief songs are direct and in a simple and straight forward idiom…the recordings of the Heggie and Schwarz are fine, very clear with a good perspective on all the performers—especially in the Schwarz…



R Moore
American Record Guide, September 2008

Music of Remembrance (MOR) is helping us gain deeper appreciation of the tragic losses of life suffered in the Holocaust. This recording brings to consciousness the terrible consequences of the Holocaust to homosexuals, a subject that has not been given the attention it deserves, in large part because it has been hard to find personal accounts of homosexuals persecuted by the Third Reich. Artistic Director Mina Miller comments: “For many years Music of Remembrance had envisioned commissioning a work that would address this tragedy. Our challenge was to find a composer who could communicate its moral and historical importance, and do so in a way that would be intimate rather than didactic.” She succeeded brilliantly in commissioning Jack Heggie to write For a Look or a Touch.

Heggie (b.1961) has established himself as a significant opera composer (Dead Man Walking, The End of the Affair). The present 34-minute work, skillfully scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, can be varying categorized as a chamber opera, a theater piece, or a quasi song cycle. Whatever category it fits into, it is a brilliant, moving work, and only a hard-core homophobe can fail to be moved by it. Adapted by Gene Scheer from an actual diary of 19-year-old Manfred Lewin written for his lover Gad Beck, it tells the story of the visitation of Manfred’s ghost to his lover 60 years after his murder at Auschwitz in 1942. Gad, who survived the Holocaust, has worked hard to forget the events that separated them and led to his partner’s death, but in this visitation he finds healing through acknowledging how integral their love has always been in his life. Manfred is sung by the vibrantly-voiced Morgan Smith, while Gad’s lines are spoken by Julian Patrick, a veteran member of Seattle Opera—until the final bars where the two hum together in a moving expression that Gad has found a way to transcend the devastation of the past and reconnect with the power of love.

The opening scene immediately establishes a haunting tone and introduces the key motif that returns again to bring the work to completion and resolution: “Do you remember?” A central scene uses jazz and swing elements to characterize the days when gay love could find a safe haven before it was crushed by the Nazis.

For a Look or a Touch is the longest and most powerful work on this gripping release, but the accompanying works are also important expressions of remembrance. Gerard Schwartz’s In Memoriam (2005) for solo cello and string quartet was written for his son Julian when he was selected to be the first recipient of MOR’s David Tonkonogui Memorial Award. Julian recorded the work when he was 15, and his remarkably mature playing produces a large and lovely sound. If you heard this work without knowing who composed it, you might take it for a post-romantic work by its Straussian touches. Here the remembrance has less to do with the Holocaust; it is primarily in memory of Seattle cellist David Tonkonogui, but it serves as a good transition between the two vocal works.

The Seed of Dream (2004) for baritone, cello, and piano sets five poems of Abraham Sutzkever, Yiddish poet and member of the Vilna (Lithuania) Ghetto Underground. Lori Laitman has a great gift for song-writing, and these songs skillfully employ a variety of styles to convey the pathos of the Holocaust. ‘I Lie in This Coffin’ describes the poet’s experience of hiding in a coffin to elude the Nazis. Beginning with low tones from the piano suggesting the buried spirits of those persecuted in the Holocaust, the song rises to a note of encouragement as the poet remembers the spirit of his dead sister but then returns to the reality of a life that is like being buried alive. ‘A Load of Shoes’ is a sort of danse macabre as the poet happens to see his mother’s shoes among others carried on a cart after she had been murdered. The tender and lyrical ‘To My Child’ is a lament on the murder of the poet’s son. ‘Beneath the Whiteness of Your Stars’ combines and alternates a pizzicato habanera rhythm by the cello with a melody written in the Vilna Ghetto by Abraham Brudno as it contrasts the natural beauty of the world with human suffering. ‘No Sad Songs, Please’ ends the cycle on a note of hope with the loveliest of melodies. This is very fine song-writing and one must hope that Laitman’s songs will continue to gain the recognition they deserve. Parce’s baritone does not have the same magisterial quality as Smith’s, but his vocalizing is very solid and his reading of these songs is full of poignancy.

Because all of these works are new, perhaps these comments will give you a sense that this is a very important recording not just for its musical merits but for the social statement it makes, calling us to remember and mourn the inhumanity of the Holocaust.

Concise notes and full texts are included.



Sequenza21.com, September 2008

This Naxos disc includes first recordings of three memorial pieces, two of which (are Lori Laitman’s The Seed of Dream and Jake Heggie’s For a Look or a Touch) are Music of Remembrance commissions. The Seed of Dream, for baritone, cello, and piano, is a setting of poems by Vilna Ghetto survivor Abraham Sutzkever. The mood is, naturally, dark, but there are often rays of light and hope in Laitman’s direct and lyrical music. Erich Parce sings the vocal line in a rich baritone voice. Cellist Julian Schwarz and Music of Remembrance Artistic Director Mina Miller (piano) provide solid and poetic accompaniment.

Gerard Schwarz’ In Memoriam is a very straight-forward lament. His experience as a conductor (he is currently Music Director of the Seattle Symphony) shows in how well he writes for string instruments. The piece is in three clearly laid out sections, and is ably played by Julian Schwarz and member of Music of Remembrance.

The revelation of the disc, for me anyway, is Jake Heggie’s For a Look or a Touch. Heggie is best known as a composer of opera (Dead Man Walking) and this piece, though not an opera, shows its composer as an artist who knows his way around narrative and drama. For a Look or a Touch (libretto by Gene Scheer) is a story of a Holocaust survivor and his struggle to remember his lover, who died at Auschwitz. It is a romantic and harrowing work, one of the first to deal directly with the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis. Heggie’s music is eclectic, with touches of romantic jazz along side passages that explore the darker aspects of the story without ever wallowing in bathos. Morgan Smith ably sings the role of survivor Gad, while the role of his doomed lover, Manfred is read by Julian Patrick. The device works, and the piece is very moving. Members of the Music of Remembrance ensemble play Heggie’s music with skill and conviction.



Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, July 2008

Apart from his opera Dead Man Walking there is not a lot of Jake Heggie in the record catalogue so this new Naxos release which includes his chamber piece For a Look or a Touch is most welcome. The disc is produced under the auspices of Music of Remembrance, a Seattle-based organisation which aims to remember Holocaust musicians and their art. Their programmes include both music by those persecuted by the Nazis and contemporary pieces inspired by Holocaust victims and survivors, plus works reflecting folk and art cultures targeted by the Nazi regime. Heggie’s piece was commissioned by Music of Remembrance because artistic director Mina Miller wanted a piece which reflected the persecution of homosexuals by the Third Reich.

Heggie and his librettist Gene Scheer used Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s documentary film Paragraph 175 as background for the piece; in the film, surviving homosexuals tell their stories. From this came the story of Manfred Lewin and Gad Beck. Lewin, who did not survive the Holocaust, wrote poetry and a journal for his lover, Beck, who did survive. These literary survivals became the basis for Scheer’s libretto.

Heggie and Scheer have written a small-scale theatre-piece in which the elderly Gad Beck, a spoken role taken by Julian Patrick, is visited by the ghost of his lover Manfred Lewin (baritone, Morgan Smith). The two reminisce and Lewin provides Beck with a degree of closure. Morgan Smith sings a series of songs/arias which are linked with dialogue and spoken solos for Julian Patrick. Strictly speaking the piece mixes song-cycle and melodrama as most of Patrick’s utterances are underscored by the instrumental ensemble. Heggie has written the accompaniment for a small ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano and much of the piece is flexibly, lightly and transparently scored.

Heggie writes with what I might call tough lyricism. He mixes styles, bringing in elements of the Jazz Age for the song about the delights of pre-War Berlin—though Heggie’s music evokes New York more than Berlin—and is not afraid of violence. But for much of the time he seems to be aiming for a moving lyricism, a tenderness which evokes a response to the subject matter without actually describing it. There are no big tunes, as such, but the music is constantly melodic, often lyrical and tonal, but never easy.

I wanted to like the piece and appreciate Heggie’s and Scheer’s sincerity. The subject obviously means a lot to Heggie; he is quoted on the Music of Remembrance web site—“This project had deep resonance for me as a gay man, somebody who grew up in fear of being mocked, ridiculed and physically harmed because of my sexual orientation,” said Heggie. “The title comes from a line in the documentary Paragraph 175: ‘You could be arrested for a look or a touch.’ Under the Nazis, innuendo was enough to convict a person.” But unfortunately sincerity is not quite enough. Partly my disappointment stems from a dislike of the genre that Heggie and Scheer have chosen—the mixture of song and spoken word seems to sit together uneasily. I longed for Julian Patrick to break into song. It did not help that I found Patrick’s delivery a little too over-boiled and the general tenor of the words seemed to be too transatlantic. Patrick just does not feel or sound like a German. His responses are too American and his relationship with Morgan Smith’s Manfred is a little unconvincing.

Smith contributes a finely sung baritone with a nice feel for the music’s line and good diction. I wished that this was a simple song-cycle, as it might have worked better. The instrumentalists led by Craig Sheppard’s piano are admirable in their accompaniment.

The other major work on the disc is Lorrie Laitman’s The Seed of Dreams, a song-cycle based on the poetry of Abraham Sutzkever. Sutzkever was a Jew living in Vilnius, Lithuania who wrote poetry. Amid all the chaos, tragedy and resistance Sutzkever wrote poems of classical metre in perfect rhyme. Laitman has chosen to set the poems in translations by C.K. Williams and Leonard Wolf.

I’m afraid that this is, for me, where the problems start. I find the poems that Laitman actually sets too wordy, the poetry does not sit well on my ear and the English versions are neither in classical metre nor do they rhyme. Laitman clothes these words in powerful lyric lines, often bravely leaving the voice relatively unaccompanied. Erich Parce gives a powerful performance which is brave enough to almost make us believe the work succeeds in its aims of being tender, noble and moving. Ultimately I found the language of the poetry got in the way and wished that Laitman had chosen to set Sutzkever’s original, which I presume to have been Yiddish…between these two works there is a short piece, In Memoriam, for solo cello and string ensemble written by the conductor Gerald Schwarz for his son Julian, in memory of the musician David Tonkonogui (1958–2003). This evokes distant memories of Strauss in Metamorphosen mood and is perhaps the most successful piece on the disc partly because it aims lower and is content to evoke memories of other pieces. Julian Schwarz’s solo playing is excellent and I hope that we hear more of him.

Like some titles from the Naxos Milken Archive series, I felt that this disc presented the pieces which fitted best the theme of the series rather than choosing the composers’ best works. That said, there is much of interest here and some fine performances; I just don’t feel that I will be listening to the disc very often.



Chris Shull
Star-Telegram, June 2008

A dance-hall swing recalls the happy energy of Berlin before the persecutions began. The Story of Joe tells of a quiet boy savaged by guard dogs; The Singing Forest recalls a horrific torture, with the gentleness of Heggie’s melody contrasting the brutality of the scene.

There’s an educational element about For a Look or a Touch, which was commissioned and performed last year by the Seattle-based ensemble Music of Remembrance. (This recording also includes world-premiere recordings of a cello piece by Gerald Schwarz and a song cycle, The Seed of Dream, by Lori Laitman.) Like the monument recently unveiled in Berlin, Heggie’s message is simple and vital—a musical motif at the beginning and end implores listeners to Remember.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2008

Music of Remembrance (MOR) is helping us gain deeper appreciation of the tragic losses of life suffered in the Holocaust. This recording brings to consciousness the terrible consequences of the Holocaust to homosexuals, a subject that has not been given the attention it deserves, in large part because it has been hard to find personal accounts of homosexuals persecuted by the Third Reich. Artistic Director Mina Miller comments: “For many years Music of Remembrance had envisioned commissioning a work that would address this tragedy. Our challenge was to find a composer who could communicate its moral and historical importance, and do so in a way that would be intimate rather than didactic.” She succeeded brilliantly in commissioning Jack Heggie to write For a Look or a Touch.

Heggie (b.1961) has established himself as a significant opera composer (Dead Man Walking, The End of the Affair). The present 34-minute work, skillfully scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, can be varying categorized as a chamber opera, a theater piece, or a quasi song cycle. Whatever category it fits into, it is a brilliant, moving work, and only a hard-core homophobe can fail to be moved by it. Adapted by Gene Scheer from an actual diary of 19-year-old Manfred Lewin written for his lover Gad Beck, it tells the story of the visitation of Manfred’s ghost to his lover 60 years after his murder at Auschwitz in 1942. Gad, who survived the Holocaust, has worked hard to forget the events that separated them and led to his partner’s death, but in this visitation he finds healing through acknowledging how integral their love has always been in his life. Manfred is sung by the vibrantly-voiced Morgan Smith, while Gad’s lines are spoken by Julian Patrick, a veteran member of Seattle Opera—until the final bars where the two hum together in a moving expression that Gad has found a way to transcend the devastation of the past and reconnect with the power of love.

The opening scene immediately establishes a haunting tone and introduces the key motif that returns again to bring the work to completion and resolution: “Do you remember?” A central scene uses jazz and swing elements to characterize the days when gay love could find a safe haven before it was crushed by the Nazis.

For a Look or a Touch is the longest and most powerful work on this gripping release, but the accompanying works are also important expressions of remembrance. Gerard Schwartz’s In Memoriam (2005) for solo cello and string quartet was written for his son Julian when he was selected to be the first recipient of MOR’s David Tonkonogui Memorial Award. Julian recorded the work when he was 15, and his remarkably mature playing produces a large and lovely sound. If you heard this work without knowing who composed it, you might take it for a post-romantic work by its Straussian touches. Here the remembrance has less to do with the Holocaust; it is primarily in memory of Seattle cellist David Tonkonogui, but it serves as a good transition between the two vocal works.

The Seed of Dream (2004) for baritone, cello, and piano sets five poems of Abraham Sutzkever, Yiddish poet and member of the Vilna (Lithuania) Ghetto Underground. Lori Laitman has a great gift for song-writing, and these songs skillfully employ a variety of styles to convey the pathos of the Holocaust. ‘I Lie in This Coffin’ describes the poet’s experience of hiding in a coffin to elude the Nazis. Beginning with low tones from the piano suggesting the buried spirits of those persecuted in the Holocaust, the song rises to a note of encouragement as the poet remembers the spirit of his dead sister but then returns to the reality of a life that is like being buried alive. ‘A Load of Shoes’ is a sort of danse macabre as the poet happens to see his mother’s shoes among others carried on a cart after she had been murdered. The tender and lyrical ‘To My Child’ is a lament on the murder of the poet’s son. ‘Beneath the Whiteness of Your Stars’ combines and alternates a pizzicato habanera rhythm by the cello with a melody written in the Vilna Ghetto by Abraham Brudno as it contrasts the natural beauty of the world with human suffering. ‘No Sad Songs, Please’ ends the cycle on a note of hope with the loveliest of melodies. This is very fine song-writing and one must hope that Laitman’s songs will continue to gain the recognition they deserve. Parce’s baritone does not have the same magisterial quality as Smith’s, but his vocalizing is very solid and his reading of these songs is full of poignancy.

Because all of these works are new, perhaps these comments will give you a sense that this is a very important recording not just for its musical merits but for the social statement it makes, calling us to remember and mourn the inhumanity of the Holocaust.

Concise notes and full texts are included.






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11:39:12 PM, 12 July 2014
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