Out of te Whirlwind
Alvin Curran
Crystal Psalms : An Homage to Kristallnacht
Milken Archives Digital Volume 19: Digital Album 6

February 3, 2015
1 Part I by Paul Pazmandi 24:02
2 Part II by Hjørdis Jakobsen 29:22
On October 20, 1988, a large part of Western Europe heard a unique radio concert - Crystal Psalms - a concerto for musicians in six nations, simultaneously performed, mixed, and broadcast live in stereo to listeners from Palermo to Helsinki.
This special event, composed and coordinated by me, while part of a worldwide series commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the infamous Kristallnacht, was, through its unusual concept, one that demanded and demonstrated an exceptional quality of international artistic and technological collaboration - bringing together groups of musicians and technicians (some 300 in all, in six major European cities) who neither saw nor heard one another yet performed as one unified ensemble to realize this complex score
At my suggestion, this concert was organized in the fall of 1987 at a meeting in Rome, where the producers from each radio station - Danmarks Radio, Hessischer Rundfunk, Germany; ORF, Austria; Radio France; RAI, Italy; and VPRO, Holland - were present. The RAI in Rome was chosen to be the main technical center. The music was written between May and September at my home in Poggi d’Oro (Velletri) near Rome. The recording heard here is a document of that one-time-only concert broadcast remixed by me in 1991.
The score was composed to be played by complementary ensembles in each of the six locations. These consisted of a mixed chorus (16 to 32 voices), a quartet of strings or winds, a percussionist, and an accordionist. While each group of musicians was conducted independently, a recorded time track - heard by each conductor - was used to synchronize all six ensembles.
A prerecorded tape containing sounds of many aspects of Jewish life was often employed together with the live sounds. Hence, the archaic sounds of the shofar, the Yemenite Jews praying at the Western Wall, famous eastern European cantors taken from old sound archives, children in a Roman Jewish orphanage, my young niece singing her bat mitzva prayers, and my father singing in Yiddish at a family gathering. Ship horns, trains, crows, and breaking glass, too. Amid this sonic panorama one hears live choral fragments from the work of the Jewish Italian Renaissance composer Salamone Rossi; of Abraham Caceres, who composed for the famous Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam; and of the renowned 19th-century composers for the Hebrew liturgy, Louis Lewandowski and Salomon Sulzer.
The music is structured in two contiguous sections. The first, lasting twenty-four minutes and dominated by the percussion using fallen and thrown objects, is an eighteen-voice polyphonic structure, where the musical fragments in each “voice” are repeated cyclically and woven by chance into an increasingly denser texture. The remaining twenty-nine minutes shift without warning from one music discourse to another - from the sound of an idling car to a Yiddish lullaby, to a ram’s horn, to breaking glass; from a familiar warm melody to random sonic collisions. Here tonal chords are anchored to nothing. Innocent children recite their lessons in the midst of raging international chaos. Glass breaks and telephones go unanswered. Cantors from Budapest invoke Israel amidst a demented loop of Verdi’s “Va, pansiero.”An Offenbach tune bleeds into a forgotten shtetl song and winds up in 16th-century Italy with foghorns and Strauss waltzes across a field of menacing cows.
There is no guiding text other than the mysterious reoccurring sounds of the Hebrew alphabet and the recitation of disconnected numbers in German, so the listeners, like the musicians, are left to navigate in a sea of structured disorder with nothing but blind faith and the clothes on their backs - survivors of raw sonic history.
This event - for me a very special form of human artistic collaboration - now exists, alongside the memory of the inhuman pogrom of 1938 that inspired it. One can only wish that it had been otherwise, that instead we could be remembering and celebrating some noble acts of humanity and love.


Artists :

Paul Pazmandi
Horst Kies
Felix Lielacher
Edwin Stemberger
Francesco Badaloni
Alfredo Santoloci
Michael Riesler
David Keberlee
François Chuillier
Philippe Laborde
Claus Myrup
Tim Frederiksen
Per Norby
Svend Larsen
Marjolein Meier
Judith van Swaay
Guus Fabius
Tobias Prenen
Christian Schwarz
M. Honettschlagel
Manfred Beutel
Norbert Hardegen
Lionel Dublanchet
David Rueff
Morris Capone
Max Bounay
Edwin Buchholz
Mini Dekkers
Mogens Ellegaard
Gertraud Zourek
Antonio Caggiano
Marianne Delafond
Robyn Schulkowsky
Peter Prommel
Gert Sørensen
Gerald Fromme
Keiko Fromme

Choirs :

Sesquialtera Vocal Ensemble
Chœur de Radio France
Jugendchor des Staatstheaters Kassel
Nederlands Radiokoor
Danmarks Radios Kammerkor
Chor des Österreichischen Rundfunks
RIAS Kammerchor

Conductors :

Enrico Razzicchia
Denis Laborde
Klaus Ullrich
Kerry Woodward
Frans Rasmussen
Erwin Ortner
Brynmore Llewelyn-Jones