CULTURE & ARTS
AUFBAU 64:18 August 28, 1998 p. 13
American Music in Yiddish and German(y)
Original Title: LICA's First Concert Series in Europe:
Yiddish & German Songs by American Composers
by Helene Williams and Leonard Lehrman
Building on the success of its first concert in Europe two years ago at the Kleine Szene of the Saechsische Staatsoper in Dresden, The Long Island Composers Alliance (LICA} [founded 1972] presented its first European concert series in August [Aug. 13, 16 and 18] in Dresden, Bayreuth, and Bremerhaven respectively, this time on a specifically Jewish theme: Yiddish and German Songs by American Composers.
The program was the first of its kind ever given at the Jewish Community Center in Dresden, or anywhere at all in either of the other two cities[, and was previewed at Congregation Habonim in Manhattan on June 2, as well as privately for such Yiddish song experts as Irene Heskes, editor of Musica Judaica. It will be heard again (in part) at Temple Sinai of Roslyn and (complete) at The Merrick Library--both on Long Island-- October 26 and December 6 respectively].
Composer members of LICA (about half of whom are Jewish) had been asked to send, or create, works for soprano [Helene Williams] and piano [Leonard Lehrman] in German or Yiddish. The results netted: Marga Richter's cycle on poems by Duesseldorf poet Francisco Tanzer; a German translation by Hannelisa Selbst of a letter from President Theodore Roosevelt to his son, set to music by his grandson J. Willard Roosevelt and premiered in honor of the latter's 80th birthday last January; and a group of songs on poems by Maximilian Dauthendy set to music by Raoul Pleskow, who emigrated from Vienna 60 years ago and was setting his native German to music for the first time in his long, distinguished, American career. "Grille, sing. Die Nacht ist lang," began the Pleskow song[, quoted in Bremerhaven's Nordsee-Zeitung preview article on the concert. (North-South Consonance will be issuing a CD recording which will include it this coming fall.) The same paper also printed an interview with Lehrman by Christoph Bohn and a photo of the two performers in front of the Stadttheater where Lehrman had been Kapellmeister fifteen years ago, as well as a rave review].
In Dresden, the concert was billed as a benefit for the new synagogue that is to be built on the site of the former Semper Synagogue that burned in November 1938. A number of Dresdeners have questioned the motives of those who are now rebuilding the Frauenkirche (which has stood as a ruin since 1945), allegedly primarily for the sake of the beauty of the Dresden skyline. Rebuilding the synagogue as well--though not in the old but rather a very new, modern style--seems to be part of a compensatory action aimed at assuaging some of those bitter feelings.
The entire concert tour was centered on the Bayreuth performance, which[, as Elicia Brown wrote in Jewish Week: "]owes its existence to a meeting two years ago between the Lehrman-Williams team [composer Leonard Lehrman and soprano Helene Williams] and Wolfgang Wagner,["] grandson of Richard Wagner and director of the annual Wagner Festival in Bayreuth. At that meeting, Lehrman's art song setting of Leyb Naydus' "In der Fremd," inspired in part by his coaching of Wagner operas, elicited a warm response, and led to the setting up of the first Yiddish song concert with piano in Bayreuth's history, at the most frequented chamber-music hall in the city: the Rokokosaal of Pianohaus Steingraeber, a piano showroom comparable to New York's Steinway Hall, now in its sixth generation of ownership kept in the Steingraeber family. [The date chosen came one week after a Bayreuth symposium on Wagner and the Jews, on which more in another article.
Though Wolfgang Wagner could not attend the concert, he sent a warm message of greeting which was printed in the program by Udo Schmidt-Steingraeber, along with a special welcome to (Mr. & Mrs.) Josef Gothart, president of Bayreuth's Israelitische Kultusgemeinde, who did attend.]
The program opened with four art songs, beginning with Lehrman's "In der Fremd," followed by three miniature masterpieces by the father of Yiddish art song, Lazar Weiner, who had encouraged Lehrman a number of times to set Yiddish, and to whose memory the first song had been dedicated. Then came the aforementioned LICA composers' works, all dealing with childhood and grouped together, preceded and followed by short songs of Lehrman's: Manya's Lullaby from the opera Sima (which will have its New York City premiere in the fall of 1999), translated into Russian for the occasion-- so many new Jewish immigrants in Germany are Russian-speaking[, though only a (very enthusiastic) handful of them came to each of the concerts]; and "Spiele," a 12-tone parable of socialism on a text by Peter Maiwald [which fascinated Bremerhaven critic Ulrike Oehlers so that she quoted nearly all of it in her review-- it will be heard in New York September 26 as part of West-Park Chamber Society's Hanns Eisler Centennial Concert].
Filling out the rest of the program, more than 800 Yiddish songs had been perused and considered, then narrowed down to fit within the following groups: dream songs, songs about America, about mama, parables, and two groups of theatre songs. The last two, by Sholom Secunda and Abraham Ellstein, formed a kind of sandwich (the Jews invented the sandwich, after all, with Hillel's moror and haroset between two pieces of matzah on Pesach) around the "dream sequence": Beginning with a sing-along of Secunda's "Dona Dona," his "Scheyne Cholem" (Lovely Dream) then segued into "Mein Seydens Cholem" (My Grandfather's Dream)--Abraham Singer's tear-provoking, unconsciously prescient 1936 meditation on the Holocaust to come, with a reminder to God that as father he too has obligations, i.e. not to let his children be destroyed. This in turn then segued into what could be called "Sein Seydens Cholem"--his (Wolfgang Wagner's) grandfather's dream: "Traeume," the finale from Richard Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder.
In the second half of the program, Tom Lehrer's "Clementine" [with Lehrman's addition of a "Clementine Kaddisch" in verse 4] and the catalog of all the Jewish holidays [Lehrer's " Hanuka in Santa Monica," supplemented by Lehrman's "Gut Yuntif"] were especially warmly received, along with the Lehrman-Vogel parody of "A Yiddishe Momme" (translated by Gerhard Bronner): "Every Boy Should Have a Jewish Mother"--from Einstein to Kissinger to Freud (with a quote from Tristan) to Leonard Bernstein.
[Gerhard Bronner was also represented by his "Yiddisher Cowboy," for which, no cowboy hat being available, Lehrman donned a seaman's cap in Sea City Bremerhaven-- to an appreciative round of laughter. In Dresden, where the duo has performed six times to date, a fan requested (and was duly indulged with) an encore of Bronner's "Everything's Relative," a song which took on special meaning around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall but retains its poignancy.]
Other poets and composers represented included Heinrich Heine, Sholom Ansky (via Bernard Malamud), Abraham Reisen & Zavel Zilberts, Seymour Barab, Guenter-Heinz Loscher ("Let's Change the Woild!"), Alan & Marilyn Bergman (after Isaac Bashevis Singer), and Sidney S. Cahan & Louis Stein in their 1942 "Koift War Bonds un Stemps." [Encores by Goldfaden and Rumshinsky inevitably led to the song which first brought the duo together: "Where Do I Belong?" from Lehrman's and Karen Ruoff Kramer's E.G.: A Musical Portrait of Emma Goldman.]
Every concert was received with warm enthusiasm and the performers were given bouquets of flowers. [Bremerhaven's Juedische Gemeinschaft President Guenther Schmitt presented the couple with a mezuzah from Israel, inscribed with a "Gruss aus Bremerhaven." Bayreuth's Juedische Gemeinde presented them with a box of Bayreuther pralines.]
Most movingly, though, in Dresden, impresario Detlef Hutschenreuther presented the couple with a signed copy of the newly-published songbook, in German, Yiddish and English, of Itzak Manger's and Dov Seltzer's Schneider Megille. (with gorgeous illustrations by the late Schmuel Bunim), which Hutschenreuther (who is not Jewish) had recently produced, using a group in Dresden with whom he hopes to build a new Yiddish theater there.
When he was four years old, he explained, his grandmother had told him, as if to beg his forgiveness, how after the Nuremberg Laws were passed she had cut herself off from her childhood Jewish friends. He had carried her guilt feelings with him for decades, and is now at last beginning to see the advent of their expiation, in productive, constructive re-building of a Jewish culture that was part of and will be part of European history.
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