Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

AUFBAU 66:21 October 19, 2000 p.13

Musical Setting for
Song of Songs .

It has been 42 years since Mario Davidovsky came to the United States at the age of 24 from his native Argentina, having been brought up there by a family that had emigrated from Europe and described itself as "patriarchally Jewish." He became "terminally agnostic." But he still hasn't lost his pronounced Spanish accent.

This could be heard, ever so slightly, in the intonation patterns of his latest work for soprano and orchestra, _Shulamit's Dream_, commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony in 1993 and given its New York premiere by Susan Narucki and the Riverside Symphony at Tully Hall last week.

[The setting of the words "fine gold," for example, emitted a quality not only exotic but just slightly (and probably inadvertently) foreign. That one reservation aside,] this is a fine, colorful, "quasi-rhapsodic" (in the composer's own words) setting of an inexhaustibly expressive text, The Song of Songs, which in fact has provided inspiration for at least two other works by Davidovsky: a cantata in memory of his sister and a set of songs.

This latest piece, "the closest I have come to a piece for the theater," has been performed "five or six times," and is just now being recorded by Narucki and the Riverside under its music director George Rothman. It will be released next year by Bridge Records[, which now does Riverside's recordings; the orchestra has also recorded on New World Records (including a work of Davidovsky's)].

Meanwhile an excerpt can be heard on the web at

Davidovsky's most famous piece, the sixth of his ten Synchronisms, each involving a mix of live and electronic sound, [may also be heard, excerpted on the web, at

It] was [premiered in Bennington and] recorded 30 years ago by the late [pianist,] Robert Miller, a man of steely temperament who could be very hard on young composers, but who did exactly what Davidovsky required, netting the composer a Pulitzer Prize. [Shortly thereafter, Davidovsky became chairman of the Composers Conference at Bennington, and remained so as the conference moved to Johnson, VT and then Wellesley, MA].

In 1994 Davidovsky became the Director of Harvard University's Electronic Music Studio. [He has also served as a member of the Board of the Robert Miller Fund for Music, and as Vice Chair of the Koussevitzky Music Foundation of the Library of Congress.] A co-founder of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, his name dots the Internet in the biographies of well-placed composers who proudly list him as their teacher.

Susan Narucki is a fine performer, well-versed in difficult contemporary works, from Les Noces to Le marteau sans maître, in which genre this falls. She was particularly effective in the evocations of a dream in Part II, the repetitive treatment of the words "I sought him," and the trailing-off reiterations of "Have you seen him...?"

Alice Tully Hall was, surprisingly, not very full for the premiere, but the applause was long and loud. The Riverside Symphony is at their best in works like these. [The performance of Tchaikovsky's Hamlet, which preceded it, was a bit stiff. We did not stay for the concluding Sibelius Sixth.]

--Leonard Lehrman & Helene Williams

[photo available at]

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