Art from Ashes, vol. 2
Letter to Warsaw for Chamber orchestra and soprano
Introductory Remarks: Bret Werb, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall
Holocaust Remembrance concert at Benaroya Hall
May 10, 2004.
|Jane Eaglen, sopran
Mina Miller, piano
Music of Remembrance musicians
Amos Yang, violoncello
John Cerminaro, horn
Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola
Jody Schwarz, flute
Nathan Hughes, oboe
Laura DeLuca, clarinet
Raymond Davis, violoncello
David Gordon, trumpet
Valerie Muzzolini, harp
Jeannie Wells Yablonsky, violin
Jonathan Green, contrabass
Gerard Schwarz, conductor
|A cycle of six songs separated by instrumental sections
Texts by Pola Braun, Polish poet and cabaret artist (1910 - 1943, Majdanek concentration camp)
Two of the poems written in the Warsaw ghetto
Four poems written at the Majdanek concentration camp
01. Jew [6:09]
02. Allegro mesto [3:02]
03. Tsurik a heym (return home) [6:40]
04. Allegro [1:49]
05. Andante [3:35]
06. Moderato martiale [3:55]
07. Mother [8:53]
08. Allegro molto [7:15]
09. Letter to Warsaw [7:21]
10. Allegro martiale [3:06]
11. Lento [4:43]
12. An Ordinary Day - Moving Day
In January 2003, MOR Artistic Director Mina Miller approached me about writing a song-cycle based on six unpublished texts by the Polish cabaret artist Pola Braun. These texts were composed while Braun was incarcerated in the Warsaw ghetto and in the concentration camp Majdanek. They were originally set to music that no longer exists. I was inspired by these poems, and their descriptions of a woman's loss of freedom and her home. That's how it all began. I am so fortunate to have had such incredible texts to set.
Recorded in Seattle's
Benaroya Hall last December, and released in time for its May 10
premiere performance, Letter to Warsaw made both news and music.
The music is a single work, about an hour long, for small orchestra and soprano voice, by the Emmy-award winning American composer Thomas Pasatieri. He wrote it for one of our generation's most celebrated operatic soprano voices, that of Jane Eaglen. The words she sings in this world premiere recording are translations of poems by a Jewish woman who performed in Warsaw cabarets, then in the Warsaw ghetto, and finally in the concentration camp where she was killed. The performance on this CD is by Seattle's Music of Remembrance, conducted by Seattle Symphony Music Director Gerard Schwarz.
So little is known about this poet that the producers of the CD never managed to find an identifiable photo of her to use on its cover. Like millions of other memories, the life of Pola Braun would be vanished smoke today, if it weren't for people like those who rescued her poems from a remote archive.
Without the original Polish, one can't know how Braun's rhythms went, but her intimate commentary is what this music is about. "An Ordinary Day" and "Moving Day" move us precisely because they are reports from the daily life of one person's normal life in a most abnormal time. "Mother" imagines that time transformed, soothed by the common tenderness of mothers, no matter what country they call home. It was a brave imagination, Pola Braun's, and she paid for its expression with her life. Like a jeweler, Pasatieri has lovingly placed Pola Braun's poems in settings that reveal their startling brilliance.
Pasatieri and Eaglen join forces here on a work that was commissioned by Music of Remembrance. In consultation with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's resident musicologist, Bret Werb, MOR's artistic director Mina Miller suggested the texts to Pasatieri, a much-admired American composer whose forte is writing operas featuring strong female characters. The composer agreed to the project if Eaglen would perform the premiere. Gerard Schwarz was midwife for Letter to Warsaw, bringing singer and composer together, and enthusiastically offering to conduct.
The voice of Jane Eaglen is justifiably celebrated as one of the treasures of our generation. To Letter to Warsaw, this intelligent artist brings equal measures of power and tenderness, honed in the great opera houses of the world, as she interprets the poems of the cabaret artist.
According to the sketchy accounts available, Pola Braun herself was a performer of passion. This recording allows some of Eaglen's enormous spotlight to shine into the shadows that overtook Braun and millions of her fellow European Jews.
Pasatieri has set six poems and the traditional Mourner's Kaddish, and tucked them lovingly into the musical equivalent of a velvet-lined jewel box. Orchestral introductions and interludes cushion the broken, or jagged, or resigned hearts of these poems, and move the listener along as in a dream.
More than just a series of songs, Letter to Warsaw reflects its composer's consummate skill as an orchestrator for many of Hollywood's most successful films. Sometimes swelling, sometimes strident, Pasatieri's strings tell this 1940s-era story by evoking a musical language familiar to both cabaret and concert hall audiences. French horn and trumpet, clarinet and oboe comment and blend. The pianist is MOR's Miller; most of the other performers are members of the Seattle Symphony. Thus, the level of the performances on this recording is of the highest caliber in terms of both skill and commitment.
The marriage of poetry and music in Letter to Warsaw succeeds so well that a listener without the booklet in hand is not lost. Both Eaglen's prowess as an interpreter and Pasatieri's sensitivity to the phrasing of the English texts ensure this success. Some might wish to hear these texts in their original Polish, but that might require a different composer. Braun, of course, didn't write the Kaddish; Pasatieri's inclusion of it at the end of this work reveals the non-Jewish composer's own heart, melted into Braun's and displayed on his sleeve.