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Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2005

10 October 2005 Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, Monday, Noon to 2:00PM, streaming online 2 www.wjffradio.org
Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf
Monday, 10 October 2005

051010

Good Afternoon, Lovers of Fine Music, and welcome to Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, where we will hear the best of 20th and 21st century classical music as well as interviews with occasional guests. Before we begin our program, let’s hear what Liberty Green has to tell us on her weekly Arts and Culture Calendar.

As always, Liberty, we all thank you for the time and effort you have put into producing the WJFF Arts and Culture calendar.

CD 1: Bands 1 – 11: Arnold Schoenberg (1974, Vienna – 1951, Los Angeles) http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/schonberg.html : Jacob’s Ladder (Die Jakobsleiter), Oratorio for Soloists, Choruses, and Orchestra (1917, unfinished fragment: a performance version was prepared by Winfried Zillig and premiered on June 16, 1961 in Vienna. Baker’s, 1206): Siegmund Nimsgern, Gabriel; Kenneth Bowen, a summoner (ein Berufener); Ian Partridge, a rabble rouser (ein Aufrührerischer); Paul Hudson, a wrestler (ein Ringender); John Shirley-Quirk, der Auserwählte (the Chosen One); Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, a monk (der Mönch); Ortrun Wenkel, one who is dying (der Sterbende); Mady Mesplé, the spirit, or soul (die Seele): BBC Singers; BBC Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, conductor. SONY Classical SMK 48 462.

Rene Liebowitz, in a 1949 publication entitled Schoenberg and His School, tells us World War I interrupted Schoenberg’s teaching and “put a sudden stop to [his] beginning ‘international’ activity. He began writing the text [for his planned oratorio, Jacob’s Ladder] in January, 1915, but because of being drafted for the first time, could not finish it until July, 1917.” In fact, Schoenberg never did finish the oratorio; it awaited the attention of Winfried Zillig, who prepared a performance version that was first performed in 1961. To the end of his life, Schoenberg had to dodge the brickbats of the self-appointed cognoscenti who took every opportunity to beat him up in public. Here is a comment, for example, from the Musical Times of London in 1930: “The name of Schoenberg is, as far as the British public is concerned, mud.” (Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective, 162).

It is true now; it was true then: Most people fear change and are quick to condemn its harbingers without making much effort to understand what the artist is trying to do. When we hear what Schoenberg had in mind for this oratorio, we might wonder if he didn’t have the 21st century in mind after all.

Clytus Gottwald (translated by Stewart Spencer) quotes Schoenberg in the liner notes: “[F]or a long time I have been wanting to write an oratorio on the following subject: modern man, having passed through materialism, socialism, and anarchy, and, despite having been an atheist, still having in him some residue of ancient faith (in the form of superstition)), wrestles with God . . . and finally succeeds in finding God and becoming religious. Learning to Pray! . . . “

Gottwald continues, “. . .[It] is clear that although [Schoenberg’s] starting point was Genesis 28:12-13, his plan left the Judaeo-Christian tradition far behind it, including, as it did, ideas not only of reincarnation and karma but also allusions to theosophy and Swedenborgian mysticism. Such syncretism . . . is grounded in the belief that no religion or religious outlook can lay claim to a monopoly of the truth . . .”

Let’s listen to this Schoenberg’s oratorio fragment, Jacob’s Ladder, performed by Siegmund Nimsgern, Gabriel; Kenneth Bowen, a summoner (ein Berufener); Ian Partridge, a rabble rouser (ein Aufrührerischer); Paul Hudson, a wrestler (ein Ringender); John Shirley-Quirk, der Auserwählte (the Chosen One); Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, a monk (der Mönch); Ortrun Wenkel, one who is dying (der Sterbende); Mady Mesplé, the spirit, or soul (die Seele): BBC Singers; BBC Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, conductor. SONY Classical SMK 48 462.

Time: 1. Gabriel, Chorus 04’51
2. Chorus, Gabriel 04’46
3. Gabriel, ein Berufener 03’54
4. Gabriel, ein Aufrührerischer 02’09
5. Gabriel, ein Ringender 03’54
6. Gabriel 02’25
7. Der Auserwählte, Gabriel 05’40
8. Der Mönch, Gabriel 05’10
9. Der Sterbende 03’30
10. Gabriel, Chorus 03’25
11. Grand Symphonic Interlude 07’25

Total time: 47’08

CD 2: Entire: Osvaldo Golijov (*1960, La Plata, Argentina) http://www.holycross.edu/departments/music/website/golijov.htm : The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind (1994). Kronos Quartet: David Harrington and John Sherba, violins; Hank Dutt, viola; Joan Jeanrenaud, ‘cello, David Kakauer, clarinet, bass clarinet, basset horn. Nonesuch Records 79444-2. http://www.kronosquartet.org/under30/partners.html update: http://www.kronosquartet.org/info/zeigler.html

In a conversation with Brooke Gladstone that occurred in October, 10 years ago, Osvaldo Golijov, according to the liner notes, gave this account of his chamber piece The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.

I have this image of my great-grandfather, who shared my bedroom when I was seven. I’d wake up and see him by the window, praying with his phylacteries in the early light. I think of him always praying, or fixing things, his pockets full of screws. I remember thinking, three of his children are dead; how does he still pray? Why does he still fix things? But we were taught that God had assigned that task of repairing the world to the Jewish people – Tikkun Olam. Incomprehensible.

About eight hundred years ago, Isaac the Blind – who was the greatest Kabbalist rabbi of Provence – dictated a manuscript saying that everything in the universe, all things and events, are products of combinations of the Hebrew alphabet’s letters.

The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind is a kind of epic, a history of Judaism. It has Abraham, exile, and redemption. The movements sound like they are in three of the language spoken in almost 6,000 years of Jewish history: the first in Aramaic; the second in Yiddish; and the third in Hebrew. I never wrote it with this idea in mind, and only understood it when the work was finished. But while I was composing the second movement, for example, my father would sit out on the deck with the newspaper, the sports pages, and every once in a while he would shout, ‘There you go! Another Yiddish chord!’

“In the prelude, the music is like a celestial accordion, rising and falling like breathing, like praying . . . like air . . . then the air is transformed into a pulse and heart.

“The whole first movement is a heartbeat that accelerates wildly . . . becoming frantic. It’s built on a single chord, rotating like a monolith. The Quartet obsesses in eighth notes, the clarinet starts a huge line in long notes, but zooms in and is caught up in the gravitational spin. The forces of God and man, they never unite, but they do commune; you can hear the dybbuk and the shofar, searching for a revelation that is always out of reach.

“The second movement opens with a hesitating, irregular pulse, a skipping heartbeat, the rhythm of death. The violin and the clarinet hold forth in monologue at the same time, like those Bashevis Singer stories told in a poorhouse on a winter night. The same four notes, the same theme, playing in endless combinations.

“Kronos is an accordion in the prelude, a klezmer band in the second movement; now, in the third movement, it’s a shepherd’s magic flute. The last movement was written before all the others. It’s an instrumental version of K’VAKARAT, a work that I wrote a few years ago for Kronos and Cantor Misha Alexandrovich. In this final movement hope is present but out of reach. There is a question woven into the hardening, inescapable pulse: why this task? Repairing a world forever breaking down, with pockets full of screws. The question remains unanswered in the postlude.”

Let’s listen to this incredible piece, Osvaldo Golijov’s The Dreams of Prayers of Isaac the Blind, performed by the Kronos Quartet: David Harrington and John Sherba, violins; Hank Dutt, viola; Joan Jeanrenaud, ‘cello, David Kakauer, clarinet, bass clarinet, basset horn. Nonesuch Records 79444-2.

Time: 1. Prelude 04’14
2. Agitato 08’33
3. Teneramente 10’33
4. Calmo 07’08
5. Postlude 02’23

Total time: 32’51

Running time: 79’59

CD 3: Band 5: Noam Sheriff (*1935, Tel Aviv) http://www.kith.org/jimmosk/israel.html : Bereshit (Genesis) for Two Boys’ Voices, Children’s Choirs & Orchestra (1998). Shimrit Malihi, Itamar Zorman, Hed Meirsson, soloists; Meitar Choir, Bat-Kol Choir, Efroni Choir, Cantabile Choir, Shir Choir, Maya Shavit conductor; Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, conductor. Signum SC SIG X110-00.

Let’s end today’s program with a performance of composer Noam Sheriff’s 1998 choral work Bereshit, the Hebrew name for Genesis. Sheriff writes, “The idea to call the work “Genesis” was first conceived by my friend, the painter Avi Eisenstein. At first I wanted to call the work “Yearning for Genesis.” I think that in each of us there is come yearning and striving for primal things, for things from our past and, actually, for all beginnings. There are those, myself included, who often say – if only we could start anew, and perhaps slightly differently!

“Our masters asked: why does the Bible begin with the letter “Bet[h] [which is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet] and not the letter “Aleph” [which is the first]? And [they] answered: because the letter “Aleph” in Hebrew is open to all directions and the letter “Bet[h]” is closed to the past and open only to the future. I really liked this interpretation and in some ways tried to adopt it to this work.”

Here is Noam Sheriff’s Bereshit or Genesis, for Two Boys’ Voices, performed by Children’s Choirs & Orchestra (1998). Shimrit Malihi, Itamar Zorman, Hed Meirsson, soloists; Meitar Choir, Bat-Kol choir, Efroni Choir, Cantabile Choir, Shir Choir, Maya Shavit conductor; Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, conductor. Signum SC SIG X110-00.

Time: 5. Bereshit 16’28

Total running time: 96’27

With Noam Sheriff’s Bereshit, we have come to the end of another Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf. Today we have heard Arnold Schoenberg’s Jacob’s Ladder; Osvaldo Golojov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind; and Noam Sheriff’s Bereshit. I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed today’s selections and that you will tune in next week for more great 20th and 21st century “classical” music. Until then, this is gandalf wishing you all the joy of New Music and those of you who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a healthy and a happy new year – a Süsse Jahr – a year of tolerance, peace, health, happiness, and remembrance not only of all those who have gone before us, but of all those who at this very moment suffer in poverty and deprivation. L’Shana Tovah!
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