Challenging the Established Order
--With Varying Results
AUFBAU 62:25 Dec. 6, 1996 p16
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
Nov. 26, 1996 1766 words
CULTURE & THE ARTS
The "dull dreary month of November," to paraphrase Heine, proved anything but that in New York this year, as four polished, professional groups challenged the established order, offering performances with moments that thrilled and others that stood still.
The Guarneri Quartet [in
German Classics at Alice Tully]
Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley, Michael Tree, and David Soyer have been playing Beethoven together for nearly a third of a century - [I know; I was the youngest student at their first Performance Seminar back in 1965 -] and it shows. The F major quartet, op. 135 gleamed, from the opening Allegretto to the jewel of a scherzo, the heavenly Lento, and the charming "Muss es sein? Es muss sein!" finale that the composer called a "schwer gefasste Entschluss" (a difficultly-arrived-at decision).
Texturally, the climax of the concert should have been the Brahms Sextet, op. 18, with Cynthia Phelps as second violist and Colin Carr as second cellist. Each of the additions proved just a bit distracting, visually, however, with Mr. Carr's vigorous head-nodding and Ms. Phelps' stunning white-and-gold gown clashing with the more laid-back men in black. And the tempi of both the first and last movements seemed to strain towards the "troppo" of the "Allegro ma non...", leaving little room for the "grazioso" melodiousness of the finale.
When working with students, each of the three fiddle players would play Violin II in quartets with three students because, as John Dalley put it semi-facetiously: "No one wants to play Second Violin! Yich!" In the opening Mendelssohn Quartet, op. 44 no. 1, Dalley played first, with Steinhardt as second. They have been doing this, they tell me, occasionally over the last four or five years. It is a nice egalitarian, even anti-establishment gesture. And Steinhardt is as good an ensemble player as he is a leader. Unfortunately, though, Dalley is a wonderful musician and solid craftsman, but his tone in the solo cadenza passages just doesn't shine the way Steinhardt's does.
A New Work at The Folksbiene
[original subhead: The Folksbiene Commissions A New (Feminist!) Work]
Twenty-six-year-old Rachel Botchan shines in the title role of The Maiden of Ludmir, a play in Yiddish by Miriam Hoffman that could have been written for her. In the Folksbiene's 81st season they have finally commissioned a new play for the first time, and wouldn't you know it would be on a feminist theme? Well, why not? If "mameloshn" was always spoken more by women, then shouldn't they know what's best? And wasn't Isaac Bashevis Singer's best play Yentl, the Yeshiva Bokher ?
The Maiden of Ludmir is actually very similar to Yentl : a young woman trying to be a sage in a man's world; except that this story is largely based on fact. Khane-Rukhele Verbermakher was a brilliant Talmudic scholar who led her own rabbinic court in early 19th century Ukraine, until she gave it up under pressure, married and assumed the more accepted role of wife and mother.
In the play, she wins over a melodramatic Heavenly Tribunal (created in an hysterically wonderful echo-effect by sound designer Marcello Mella) and forsees a day when women will become rabbis, judges and cantors. Bernard Mendelovitch as the Rebbe of Chernobyl is spell-binding in his concentration and charisma, Suzanne Toren is affecting as the girl's mother (movingly dedicating her performance to the memory of her father, the great editor of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, Ahrne Thorne), while Folksbiene veterans Mina Bern and Zypora Spaisman flourish in the many opportunities the script gives them for shtick.
The music by John Clifton, written over the space of about ten days, contains a number of inspired moments, though just when you feel it may take off into a dance number it often stops. Veteran director Robert Kalfin, whose first outing this is in Yiddish, said in an interview he considers the piece a "work-in-progress." It runs thru January. See it. How often do you get to go to a new Yiddish play? - with headsets to listen to simultaneous translation into English (or Russian)!
[Da Camera] Brings Russian Iconoclasts [to Walter Reade]
Russian was the language of the Houston-based Da Camera's first of a series of three evenings, November 18, at the Walter Reade Theater. Pianist/Artistic Director Sarah Rothenberg, formerly of the Bard Music Festival, soloed in works of Arthur Louri (1892-1966, the first Soviet Commissar of Music) and the reclusive Galina Ustvolskaya (1919- ), in between live and taped poetry readings and two song cycles. Henry Stram was the dynamic live reader, in English, of Mandelstam and Mayakovsky. Anna Akhmatova and Joseph Brodsky read their own poetry on tape, not on film as the program promised: the movie screen simply projected English translations.
Lourie's settings of five Akhmatova poems were valiantly essayed (without music) by veteran American soprano Lucy Shelton, accompanied by Rothenberg, who also accompanied the lovely 25-year-old Rostov mezzo-soprano Elena Zhidkova in one of Shostakovich's last works, Six Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva. Zhidkova, currently singing at the Hamburg Opera, has a beautiful voice with very Russian technique, but she must sing less into her music stand.
Instrumentally, the highlight of the evening was the premiere of an arrangement for piano trio by Gerard McBurney of one of Shostakovich's earliest, long-lost works, the suite of incidental music from the 1929 Mayakovsky play Klop (Bedbug ). [The series continues in March with "Kafka's Vision," including music of Erwin Schulhoff, and "The Musical World of Thomas Mann," including music of Beethoven, Mahler and Schoenberg. Tickets will sell out fast.]
for Ralph Dale
[original subhead: LICA Brings Dale Back to Post 40 Years After Red-Baiting Firing]
On November 13, The Long Island Composers Alliance, in a concert at C.W. Post College in Brookville with the Long Island University Chamber Singers, Alexander Dashnaw conducting, honored the memory of composer and teacher Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972), composer of the school's alma mater, who was born in Berlin of Russian and Viennese parents and came to the U.S. via Vienna and Palestine in 1938, serving as Chairman of Post's Music Department 1956-68.
Also honored were three of his students: Professor Emeritus Raoul Pleskow (1931- ), a native of Vienna whose father, the violinist Leo Pleskow, was an ardent supporter of Aufbau; Professor Howard Rovics (1936- ), who accompanied soprano Lisa Meyer in Wolpe's last song, a setting of Albert Einstein's address on Peace in the Atomic Era, and whose choral setting of a Kabir poem in memory of the late soprano Jeannette Walters was premiered to a hushed and awed response; and Dr. Ralph Dale (1921- ), the man who actually founded the Post Music Department in 1955 (the year before the arrival of Wolpe, who had a Guggenheim fellowship that year), taught all the courses, and wrote the curriculum for four years.
Earlier, like Wolpe, Dale had been very active musically in social causes. Born Ralph Ditschik, to Eastern European immigrants, he conducted the CIO Chorus at Madison Square Garden for the 1948 Henry Wallace Progressive Party campaign. At the 1949 Youth Festival in Budapest he conducted an American program, with the American ambassador in attendance. And in 1950 he conducted radio and theater programs in opposition to the Korean War, before it and during it, for which he was arrested and imprisoned - though never convicted - for sedition. That was when, to spare some family members, he changed his name from "Ditschik" to "Dale." [Naturally he had an FBI file that was fairly thick.]
In the spring of 1956, Dale was called into the dean's office and told that the president of the university had ordered the dean to tell him that he was to renounce all of his beliefs and associations, or be fired. His response was:
"My beliefs and associations are none of your business." And he was fired.
He had founded an orchestra at the college, and the orchestra left with him. He conducted it: The Long Island Community Orchestra and Chorus, from 1955 to 1958. [I remember] the last concert that they gave, in 1958, [because my father, who now plays in the C.W. Post Orchestra, played in that orchestra at the time, and I was there. It] was a brilliant concert at Westbury Music Fair with the blind pianist Alec Templeton as soloist. It was not very well attended, though, because there were bomb threats and all kinds of Red-baiting editorializing against it. ("Communist Music" they called it - even including Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.)
The most shameful chapter, though, came a few years later, when Dale was Chairman of the Music Department at Fairleigh Dickinson University, as well as President of the American Association of University Professors chapter there, and attended the AAUP convention. At that convention, C.W. Post was honored, because there was a Nazi, a Professor Sittler, who had been hired by the college, whom people wanted fired, and the president refused to fire him. Post was then praised for "upholding academic freedom."
[Dale went to the members of the Post faculty who were there, and said, "I think it would be nice if you said something about academic freedom at Post, since you all know my case." Not one of them had the courage to stand up and say anything.] That was in 1962.
Things have changed a little bit since then. [We had lost track of him.
In 1989 I was invited to join Pete Seeger's group, Songs of Freedom and Struggle. In its directory I happened to see the name Ralph Dale listed, in Florida. I called him up, and began planning a way to bring him back.] On November 13 we brought him back: with the world premiere of his 1964 vocal trio, to words by Arthur Sherman: "Side by Side." [Interestingly, Sherman has since re-used the words in a musical he has written on Paul Robeson and Josephine Baker. That should be something to see.
Meanwhile, on November 23 Ralph Dale wrote to thank me "for setting the record and the archives straight" and "for helping to make closure on my case with the college."] Even if there has been no "Wiedergutmachung" [(compensation)] for Ralph Dale, at least there has been a certain "Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung" [(coming to terms with the past)].
[Future LICA events of special interest to readers include concerts of "Music by Women Composers" (Forest Hills Library, March 1), "Songs of Love" (Hicksville Library, March 2), "Brooklyn Composers" (Borough Hall, April 30), the opera Suppose A Wedding (Hebrew Union College in Manhattan, June 1) and "On The Reunification of Germany" (Adelphi, June 17) - including a setting of Heine's prescient Deutschland: ein Wintermaerchen .]
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