Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

Jewish Women Composers Shine
AUFBAU 63:13 June 20, 1997 p13
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
993 words
[minus optionally cuttable passages: 289 = 704] May 20, 1997

Seventy is a good number. That's how many people there were in the old Sanhedrin, which made legislative decisions for the Jewish people in Biblical times. And it's the approximate number of people that attended each of four concerts in Manhattan this month, each one featuring contemporary works by Jewish - especially Jewish women - composers. [The two events organized by women in small halls were completely filled; the others, in larger halls, less so.]

The Jewish Women's Resource Center hosted a Mother's Day concert co-sponsored by The Aviva Players and The Long Island Composers Alliance, the latter's first in Manhattan since 1975. Soprano Patricia Thompson was radiant in songs by Joyce Suskind on texts by Yeats and Robert Louis Stevenson, accompanied by the composer at the piano in all but one, Stevenson's "My Shadow," in which the solo flute accompaniment was particularly charming and effective, performed by Melanie Bradford. Thompson also shone in songs with words and music by Mira Spektor, arranged for and accompanied on the harp by Susan Jolles. Julie Mandel's impressionistic trio for flute, viola, and harp completed the concert, which also featured works by Eleanor Cory, Marga Richter, and Ludmila Ulehla. [Homage was paid to Robert & Elizabeth Bell Friou, in attendance, who founded New York Women Composers, a great resource for network-ing and expanding the repertoire of and performance possibilities for compositions by women.]

One week later, Thompson and Jolles performed the same Spektor songs and a few more, interspersed with unset poems read by Spektor herself, at Square One Program #38 presented by Lou Rodgers' Golden Fleece Ltd. Composers Chamber Theatre. A highlight of that program was a set of three songs by Mara Waldman on poems in Spanish by Richard D. Cacchione, sung by baritone William Riley, sensitively accompanied by the composer at a piano which someone really should find the money to fix so that it holds a tuning. Other portions of the program included numbers from a Civil War musical in progress, a burgeoning cabaret act, and the second part of an opera in the works by Israeli composer Yoav Gal [editor cut from here to the end :<( ] [entitled The Dwarf, featuring characters named "Chantecleer" [sic], "Katherina Kaiser" (which turns out to be the actual name of the composer's current employer), and "Lingus," the provocativelynamed dwarf who lives under her skirt. About half of the music offered concerned Katherina's and Lingus's fantasies of fleeing together to Mexico. James Sugg, Karen Andersen, and Randall Schloss threw themselves into their parts with abandon, zestfully accompanied by Gila Goldstein at the piano.

Composer-pianist Ruth Schonthal was featured in her own work as part of Composers Concordance's "New Music Now!" at NYU's Loewe Auditorium. Her "Reverberations" uses light bulbs, plastic cups, and other items inside the piano. "No household item was safe!" she asserted in a pre-performance interview. The piece sought to portray "a reflection of a destroyed Germany" in the form of "a personal statement[.... A country that had produced the best of what humanism in the arts and philosophy had to offer, but also produced a Hitler and a populace that in many cases collaborated willingly in the cruelties and atrocities that were committed under that regime.]" The metal, wood, glass, and plastic reverberating on the strings as Bach chorales, "Du, du, liegst mir am Herzen," and allusions to Schumann or Mendelssohn pass by, are thus to be heard as representing "destroyed beauty." [Unfortunately, less is sometimes more, and conversely. To this listener the effect was less than elegiacal, and rather closer to a Haydn or Leopold Mozart Toy Symphony or even Spike Jones.] [The program also included classic long and longer solo works by Elliott Carter and Luciano Berio, respectively; world premieres by Frank Oteri (on poetry by Richard Brautigan), Matthew Harris (dazzlingly performed by William Moersch on the marimba), and Gene Pritsker; as well as a set of three violin-piano pieces by Marc-Antonio Consoli. Solo violinists Shalini Vijayin and Cyrus Stevens responded well to the virtuosic demands in the Pritsker and Consoli, respectively.]

For the first time in recent memory, the American Society for Jewish Music presented a concert of music written entirely by composers who were not present: Baritone Robert Abelson honored the centennial of Lazar Weiner's birth with five of his 115 Yiddish art songs. Mimi SternWolfe accompanied him, and also performed with Marshall Coid and Dan Barnett in the evocative, nigunesque-mit-freylakh piano trio "Eicha" by Maxine Warshauer, currently resident in South Carolina. Two movements from the Klezmer Clarinet Quintet by the young Argentine-Israeli Osvaldo Golijov, now living in Newton, Mass., were most impressive. Two a cappella quartets by the late Miriam Gideon (who was also memorialized in the reading of an interview conducted with her by Linda Ardito) were less so. [The Jewish Theological Seminar will honor Gideon in a concert devoted entirely to her works June 4.]

The ASJM concert at Hebrew Union College opened with the late Hugo Weisgall's adaptations of seven Yiddish folksongs, "Di goldene Paveh," ably sung by Ena Freeman and enthusiastically accompanied by Laura Leon-Cohen, who wrote her dissertation on the piece. It has become Weisgall's most performed work - in concerts in Berlin and Dresden last summer, at Nassau Community College April 13, and at the League-ISCM concert at Weill Hall May 13, where it was sung by Constance Beavon. On August 30, Beavon, Spektor, The Aviva Players, and LICA will be joining forces to present a Lukas Foss 75th birthday tribute at the Southampton Cultural Center.

An excerpt from Spektor's opera The Lady of the Castle will be heard, together with Three Psalms by Janis Hills, Jewish Wedding Music by Albert Tepper, and settings in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Ladino (the latter a world premiere) by this writer, along with the staged world premiere of the new Malamud opera Suppose A Wedding, at Hebrew Union College Sunday, June 1 at 3:00. It's free. Hopefully there'll be more than 70 people there.

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