Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

Musical Tributes to Valentine['s Day]
[original title: Tributes to Love in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Nassau Valentine's Day Concerts All Over Metropolitan New York]
AUFBAU 65:4 February 19, 1999 p. 13
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU

On and around Valentine's Day, The Long Island Composers Alliance presented four programs to receptive audiences [at Vladeck Hall] in the Bronx, [Lefrak Hall at] Queens [College], Great Neck [House], and [the] Garden City [Public Library], featuring songs of love by 20 Long Island composers (most of them Jewish), performed by three sopranos and three tenors, accompanied by half a dozen of the composers themselves. The Bronx program[, part of the Herman Liebman Memorial Concert Series,] was repeated at Queens [College] and Garden City [Public Library], and featured soprano Helene Williams in [what will shortly be released as a compact disk on Capstone Records,] a sequel to last year's [Helene Williams Sings] Songs of Love by Long Island Composers. [Former American Jewish Academy composer-in-residence Adele Berk, three of whose songs appeared on the first album, accompanied two of them at Great Neck House, where they were sung by soprano/composer Janis Sabatino Hills, whose "Scottish Song" was premiered by Helene Williams on the Bronx program.] World premieres included an Emily Dickinson Song Cyclette; a setting of Mascha Kaleko's "Liebeslied," sung in an English translation; and a set of 6 "Songs of Love" with texts by violist/composer Herbert Feldman, [who accompanied Hills along with Israeli/American pianist Avraham Sternklar]. Composers also dug into their trunks for works of earlier decadesby the late Elie Siegmeister, his student Daniel Dorff (setting a poem by Jessica Greenbaum), Allen Brings (William Blake settings from the composer's days as a student of Karel Rathaus and an impressive John Donne setting beautifully sung by tenor Rufus Hallmark), and half a dozen excerpts from musicals by Julie Mandel, Steven Rosenhaus, and Mira Spektor, concluding with the delightful "Il Bacio" by Ralph Alan Dale.

Songs dedicated to the composers' significant others included Elie Siegmeister's "Yes, No, Or Maybe"; Herbert Deutsch's "A Birthday Gift"; and Avraham Sternklar's "Thanks," a song without words, for piano. Herbert & Nancy Deutsch opened the Great Neck concert with improvised variations for trumpet and piano on "My Funny Valentine" by Richard Rodgers[, who could also be called a Long Island composer, having had a house in Long Beach].

Manno [& the Met] at Merkin

Metropolitan Opera chorister Robert Manno's concert of his own chamber music at Merkin Hall on Valentine's Day was dedicated to his wife Magdalena Golczewski, [co-founder with him of the Windham Chamber Music Festival in upstate New York, and] a violinist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra [who was prevented by an inner-ear infection from participating as a performer herself]. [Fortunately,] the capable Met Associate Concertmaster Laura Hamilton [jumped in for her and] performed in the New York premiere of [the 1987] Three Poems for Two Violins and Piano, and the performance with violinist Karen Marx and pianist John Churchwell was an unalloyed brilliant success, shimmering from white-note modality to Reichian obsessive repetition to an infectious hoe-down. The other two New York premieres, "A Mountain Path" [(1993)] for piano trio and the Sextet for Strings [(1995)], were also impressive in the devotion displayed by Mr. Churchwell, cellist David Heiss (who began and ended the trio with evocative finger-drumming on the wood of his instrument) and five other string players from the Met Orchestra. If these most recent works betrayed an infatuation with impressionism, New Age arpeggiation and harmonics, and the soaring counterpoint of Schoenberg's "Verklaerte Nacht," the expressivity was none the worse for it. The concert opened with a theatrical interpretation by Met chorister Patricia Steiner, accompanied by Chorus Master Raymond Hughes, of some of Manno's first compositions: four e.e. cummings settings of 1966-69. But the most impressive pieces were those in which Met concertmaster Raymond Gniewek participated: the world premiere of a 1988 expressionist setting of Rainer Maria Rilke's "Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen," sung commandingly by soprano Emily Pulley, and the long, pastoral 1973 setting of Dylan Thomas'"Fern Hill," sung by Met chorister Robert Maher with an ensemble of 9 conducted by the composer. [It was this composition which the Fromm Foundation in 1976 cited as "one of the pieces of the last 40 years deserving of wider recognition." Now, so many years later, with the help of colleagues, Manno seems to have begun receiving just that.] Twenty-one years ago, the Met almost rejected Manno's application to become a member of its chorus, on the grounds of his being primarily a composer, despite his already having served for 10 years in the New YorkCity Opera Chorus. [It was a privilege to have been a part of the changing of that decision, to have worked with him then, and to have attended this wonderful concert of music composed by this fine musician.]

Halka: Poland's national opera

[Part of the closedmindedness of that era, under the late Chorus Master David Stivender, was a hostility to Eastern European languages and all modern operas.] As the Met slowly works to overcome these obstacles from the past, mounting Moses und Aron at last, along with operas in the original Czech by Dvorak and Janacek, it would do well to consider Stanislaw Moniuszko's Halka, which has been rightly called the Polish national opera, akin to the Czech Bartered Bride of Bedrich Smetana (which the Met only does in a rather stilted English translation) or the Hungarian Hunyady Laszlo of Ferenc Erkel. There were at least two distinct versions of Halka presented in the composer's lifetime (1819-1872): a two-act version presented in Vilna in 1847 and 1854, and a four-act version for Warsaw in 1858. There was also an adaptation by Leon Schiller which played up the social commentary of the betrayal by the nobleman Janusz of the peasant girl whose name gives the opera its title. Underplayed was the religiosity of her feelings as she stops herself from bursting in to his church wedding and killing him. Instead, like the heroines in so many 19th-century Slavic dramas (and operas), she drowns herself in the river.

Nina Polan's Polish Theatre Institute in the USA presented the two-act version in concert, with three arias interpolated from the Warsaw version, at the Consulate General of Poland in Manhattan the night before Valentine's [Day]. Music Director Pablo Zinger [(a native Uruguayan of Polish parentage)] conducted capably from the piano. Mariusz Kwiecian, a native of Krakow making his Met debut in comprimario roles this season, was a vocally magnificent Janusz, ably supported by Warsaw bass-baritone Krzyztof Kowalewski in several roles, often providing a quasi-surrogate for a full chorus.Helena Biktasheva, a beautiful, slim coloratura soprano from Kazakhstan, was impressive as the noblewoman Zofia. Lyric soprano Robin Rubendunst was an affecting Halka. [Only Gregorio Rangel experienced any perceptible vocal difficulties, in a part because the role he sang differs in the two versions, being a baritone in one and a tenor in the other, and only a singer comfortable in both ranges could presumably handle it in a hybrid presentation of this kind. ]

The charming, melodious, and moving opera, in whatever version, is well worth attention, as is the company, which will touring with it around the country and in Rzeszow, Poland in October.

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