About this Recording
8.559706 - BORZOVA, A.: Songs for Lada / To The New World (Fleer, Kozak, Michigan State University Children's Choir, Detroit Symphony, Slatkin)

Alla Borzova (b. 1961)
Songs For Lada • To The New World


Songs For Lada (1986–1991) is a cantata for children’s choir, two soloists (girl soprano and folk contralto), folk instruments (dudkas/folk flutes, cimbalom and bagpipe) and symphony orchestra. It is a musical journey into the bright and boundless world of childhood, where whimsical fairy-tale fantasy is often more tangible than reality. The work’s inspiration was the birth of my daughter Lada, to whom the cantata is dedicated. It is based on Belarusian children’s folklore: songs, rhymes, games, dances, and lullabies; genres common to most world cultures. I created the scenario and some of the texts. The folk instruments bring a special color to the piece—but, if necessary, substitutes may be used in performance (recorders for dudkas, synthesizer for bagpipe and cimbalom). I envisioned it as a theatrical piece, making it suitable for performances with singers and dancers onstage (in the spirit of Carl Orff’s famous cantatas) as well as traditional concerts.

Songs For Lada was recorded in 1992 by the Children’s Choir and Symphony Orchestra of Belarusian Radio and Television. In 1994, the cantata was partially performed by the Kantorei Chorus and Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra in Allentown. Later, American composer John Corigliano brought the piece to Leonard Slatkin’s attention. Lada, now grown, heard the entire piece—which I created as a gift of love to her—for the first time in this concert performance. It was a very moving experience for both of us.

The first movement, Ladu-Ladu-Ladki, is based on children’s rhymes. It begins with children in lively song as they prepare to play. They sing then about birds from distant lands. Birdsong imitation links the beginning and end of the cantata; in this movement, birdcalls are first heard in the mystical central episode. In a reprise of the opening music, the children play with little Lada. One of the children dances with a milk pot and accidentally breaks it. After wondering aloud if “Granny” will punish them, the children resume playing.

The second movement, A Game With ‘Poppy’, is a theme and variations based on a round dance/game, where “Poppy,” a child in a red hat, stands in the center of the moving circle. The soprano soloist repeatedly asks whether Poppy has ripened yet. The choir replies imitatively that the poppy “has been sown,” “has sprouted,” and “is blossoming.” At the final response that the poppy “has ripened,” the children shake Poppy, who repels the attacks merrily.

The third movement, Once A Father Had Three Sons, opens with a story about three brothers, all named Vasil. The youngest Vasil is a shepherd; the middle, a shoemaker; and the oldest, a bagpipe player. The choir dedicates several musical lines to their bagpiper. The following trio—fiddle, tambourine and bagpipe—imitates the playing of a country folk ensemble. The children’s game resumes, but is suddenly interrupted by the plaintive song of the shepherd Vasil, who has lost a little goat. As he approaches, percussion instruments imitate the clatter of little hooves (woodblocks), the ringing of the small bell around the goat’s neck (cowbell), and the stroke of a whip (slapstick). The voice and trumpet imitate the goat’s bleating. The children decide to frighten Vasil, which leads into a contrapuntal and atonal “scaring” episode. The movement concludes with a dynamic reprise-coda.

The fourth movement, Once ‘Bai’ Walked Across The Wall, is a lullaby, and the lyrical heart of the cantata. The movement’s main characters are both real and fantasy. “Mother” (folk contralto) begins the movement with a song about “Bai” (His name refers to the folk lulling phrase, “bayu-bai”), who looks like a gnome, wears a red jacket and carries seven straw shoes: one for each of his children, one for his wife and one for himself. He is so thin and incorporeal that he can walk across the wall. Mother then asks the children if she should continue her storytelling, and they answer “yes.” Mother repeats the music of her opening solo several times, now joined by “Girl,” who overlaps Mother’s song with a different tune in another meter. Girl tells the story of “Sleep” and “Drowsiness,” who once walked together, discussing where they would spend the night, and deciding to spend it where “the house is warm and the child is small.” The choir is divided into two parts: one carries an echo-like development of Girl’s motives, and the other answers Mother’s question. The orchestra, with its transparent instrumentation, helps to create a mysterious atmosphere of a “living” stillness. Mother again asks if she should continue, and the children ask her to wait.

The movement’s central section begins with Girl’s wordless solo. Mother then complains about Cat, whose loud purring keeps Lada awake. Mother, with the choir’s help, casts a spell over Cat to get it to leave. The guiro (percussion instrument) imitates the scratching of Cat’s claws as it leaves angrily. Mother’s and Girl’s solos return, intertwining sweetly and immersing the listeners in the ethereal atmosphere of this magical lullaby scene.

The happy climax of the cantata comes with its fifth and final movement, Shine, Shine, The Sun! The rite described here goes back to ancient pagan times—when people spoke with the sun, rain, animals, insects, and even inanimate objects. The music begins with a polyphonic episode in which many different motives sound simultaneously. This episode is suddenly interrupted as the children ask a ladybird about the following day’s weather. If the ladybird flies away, the skies will be clear; if it stays on the palm of one’s hand, the day will be rainy. This episode’s constantly overlapping voices recall a folk style from Belarus’s neighbor, Lithuania—called sutartines.

The “rain episode” follows, in which I used some nontraditional ways of instrumental playing to imitate falling raindrops. The stringed instruments produce a few unusual sonic effects; I also use a sheet of tin-plate, played by fingertips covered by metal “fingernails”—and a suspended plate struck with knitting-needles. After the rain ceases, the music of the opening polyphonic episode returns, now in heavier orchestration. The children’s question about the weather is now addressed to a large wooden log: if the log drums loudly when hit, the skies will be clear; if its sound stutters (timpani glissando), the day will be rainy.

The children sing a hymn to the sun as it appears from behind the clouds. Mother and children, now speaking, call the birds. As the cantata draws to an end, the woodwinds imitate birds singing while the children mimic playing various toy whistles. Finally, the “real” birds arrive (with actual recorded birdsong), and their voices gradually engulf the sound space.

To The New World (2001–2002) is a programmatic work that seeks to evoke in music the great influx of immigrants to America from all over the world, that began in the mid-nineteenth century. The scenario is an imaginary symbolic ship bringing immigrants of various national and cultural origins to America’s shores. Commissioned by the Renée B. Fisher Family and Brooklyn College Foundations, the work was premiered at Brooklyn College under the composer’s direction. Prior to the performance heard here, the work was presented by the National Symphony Orchestra of Belarus under Alexander Anissimov’s direction, and at the acclaimed Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz under Marin Alsop’s direction. The work is scored for symphony orchestra, plus alto and tenor saxophones.

There are several leitmotifs in the composition. The most important is the “poignant, yet hopeful” (Santa Cruz Sentinel) “immigration theme,” with which alto flute begins the introductory Andante. I develop this theme in several contrapuntal lyrical digressions throughout the work. Other leitmotifs include the ship’s horn (tuba); the ascending 5-note call (brass); and two successive “immigrant chords” (high woodwinds, then low brass), symbolizing the ups and downs of immigrant life.

The main Allegro section begins with impressions of the ethnic music of the various immigrant groups: an Irish reel; the well-known German “Grossvater” melody (the only quotation in the piece) followed by a leisurely Ländler; a Klezmer-like tune and an Italian tarantella. Subsequent episodes bring to mind the music of Africa (the “bell rhythm” heard from two cowbells), Latin America, and China. These styles are matched by what might be called “leit-timbres” that help to convey the various ethnic flavors: solo violin and bodhran (Irish drum) for the Irish music; French horns and trombone for the German melodies; solo clarinet and violin/clarinet duo for the Klezmer music; solo trombone and tambourine for the Italian tarantella; percussion instruments of African and Latin American origin in their respective episodes; and, finally, a low piccolo imitating a Chinese flute.

After the mysterious Chinese episode comes a final “gathering” of all the previously heard national styles, each in its own tempo, timbre, and tonality: a distinctly chaotic passage that symbolizes the great American cultural “melting pot.” Following this gathering is a uniquely American jazz episode (featuring saxophones), reflecting the sounds that the immigrants on the ship might hear from the American shore. This passage gets gradually louder and louder as the ship approaches land.

After the jazz episode, the music quiets down, leaving only the work’s opening note (a “D”) to grow again into a reprise of the first immigration theme. This time, it is heard only in the strings: first in unison, then in octaves, and finally in double octaves—as more and more people on the ship experience the same thought: “Happiness is possible, but difficult.” (Randall Jarrell). The initial immigration theme returns, leading into the two immigration chords followed by the cowbells’ African rhythm, representing the passage of time.

Alla Borzova

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