Novel voices sometimes take time to be heard. They need a special kind of nurturing, of advocacy, of defense. They are fragile, like the wings of a bird – and yet, they can make us fly; “hope” is the thing with feathers, as Dickinson says. Their struggle is long and always courageous. They must fight their circumstances, their past, their uncertain future, and above all, fight those other voices that want to
thwart them continually, mock them, imprison them, hamper their dreams, wreck or ignore their important messages. These messages – which like morning light show us the possibilities in tomorrow and the “hope” inherent in all tragedies – are what the music chosen for this concert program tries to capture: works which tell the story of “hope through adversity.”
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano Op. 28 (1945) – arr. for viola R. J. Adler
Novel Voices (2019)
I. Stories and Dreams
II. Dance of Uncertainty
III. Call and Prayer
Lullaby from “Gayaneh” – arr. Carr-Petrova Duo
Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 13 (1984)
I. Allegro moderato
III. Recitativo. Allegro feroce
Within this program live several novel voices, and they are novel for many different reasons. Weinberg, a Polish Jew in Soviet Russia, doubly marginalized by virtue of both his Jewishness and his Polishness, forced to displace himself to another country because his own was occupied by the Nazis (who murdered his sister and parents), writing music that showed us all that one’s ethnic roots alongside one’s pains and joys could be turned into powerful art; Khachaturian, the Armenian working in Moscow, who emerged victorious from the shackles of official state censorship; Fernando Arroyo Lascurain’s piece, Novel Voices, a unique composition inspired by our travels through the Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project into refugee camps and communities around the globe; and finally, Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata for Viola and Piano – which portrays the viola (often kept throughout music history in the violin’s shadow) on equal footing with the piano – an instrument widely recognized as a solo instrument for centuries.
With Mieczysław Weinberg’s Clarinet Sonata (arranged for viola by Julia Rebekka Adler), we begin tonight’s program stepping full-heartedly into the realm of tragedy, an ever-present companion in the life of refugees. Essentially, the darkness here serves actively as a background to something maybe even more important: the finding of some kind of peace, of building one’s place and voice in this world. The tragedy is the locus of transformation.
Most of Weinberg’s music has a programmatic element, and this Clarinet Sonata constitutes the composer’s response to the discovery of the deaths of his sister and parents in the Polish Trawniki concentration camp during the Holocaust. Weinberg was born in Warsaw, of Jewish and Moldovian descent. After initial studies at the Warsaw Conservatory, he was preparing to enter the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, in order to study with the legendary pianist Jozef Hofmann, when Poland was invaded by the Nazis in 1939. Weinberg was only 20 years old. Already in Warsaw, by virtue of his Moldovian and Jewish roots, he experienced estrangement – but nothing could prepare him for the next years. Relocating to the Soviet Union (first to Minsk, later to Tashkent, and finally to Moscow) Weinberg lived a penniless existence, writing music for the circus and suffering neglect, censorship, and even imprisonment by the Soviet regime. The Clarinet Sonata, in its three movements, runs the full gamut of human experience, ranging from meandering monologues of contemplative beauty, to music hall songs, secular Jewish music, dance-like passages of playful yet ironic and biting qualities, dark moods of impending doom, puckish and sardonic contrasts, unabashed anguish, bucolic freshness, klezmerian laments, pleasant and pastoral charm, even coyness, alternating with obsessive and piercing rhythms, veiled irony, bittersweet melancholy, hints of cabaret music, and a heart-breaking adagio in which the music debates itself between grace and resignation. This huge fresco, showing in novel ways how music and the theater are inextricably linked (both his parents worked in a theater, and he grew up playing in it), paves the way for the premiere of tonight’s performance: Novel Voices by Fernando Arroyo Lascurain.
We present here the celebration of the real “novel voice” of this program: the voices of all of the children we met during our Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project trips and their moving life stories. Fernando Arroyo Lascurain, a young Mexican composer who accompanied us on our journeys, has added a magnificent new work to the viola and piano repertoire, the live soundtrack of our Project. On the piece, Lascurain comments: “Novel Voices is a journey through the stories and impressions we experienced when meeting friends from all over the world who had to leave their home seeking shelter, compassion and a new life.
The first movement, Stories and Dreams, begins with an intimate melody inspired by folk songs sung to us by children we met in the Bulgarian Ovcha Kupel Refugee Camp. This lullaby then transforms into an adventure theme signifying the hopes and dreams of many of the people we befriended. This theme is abruptly interrupted by a disjointed development which sends us into melodies and memories from our visit to the Palestinian Deheisheh Camp and subsequently returns to an even grander adventurous theme. The movement ends with a solemn reprise of the original melody over a chord progression which was originally conceived for a reading of a poem titled ‘Who Am I Under This Blue Burka’ by a brave refugee woman from Afghanistan, Massama, whose life story of selflessness, bravery, and generosity continues to inspire us.
Dance of Uncertainty begins with a Bulgarian dance rhythm which Anna shared with the children in the Jelling Refugee Center in Denmark, to which we danced, had a wonderful time playing the “statues game,” and subsequently fell to the floor again and again in rounds of giggles. This dance rhythm eventually turns into an uncertain, frantic dance of cross rhythms, syncopations, and ‘crashing waves’ of frenetic energy meant to reflect the refugees’ tragic and often traumatic journeys of escape to find peace and a new life.
The final movement, Call and Prayer, is a visceral response to the reality surrounding the lives of the people we met. In a way, it is our own story through the Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project’s journey. It begins with a “call” or, if you will, a screaming sense of hopelessness or impotence in the face of overwhelming tragedy. This develops into a dark lullaby taken from the music we composed together with refugee children in the Danish Red Cross School in Denmark. This theme attempts to capture a nostalgic sense of safety found in a parent’s arms, and signifies the sacrifice many of the refugee parents we met have undertaken in trying to provide a safe place to call home for their children. The movement ends with a prayer for compassion, empathy, hope, and new life for our refugee friends. I invite you to experience this piece imagining a journey from childhood to adulthood – a journey with dreams and grand adventures which becomes devastated by uncertainty and tragedy, but ultimately turns toward compassion, hope, and the discovery of peace.”
In Gayaneh, the 1930’s ballet, Aram Khachaturian portrays the story of the heroine in the title: a woman fighting mightily between romance and love on one side, and nationalistic zeal on the other. At the climax of the ballet, the plot comes to a halt, and Gayaneh, deploring her husband’s cruelty and behavior towards her, begins to sing her child to sleep with a haunting lullaby of mysterious beauty. As is well known, lullabies are ancestral music, sung to children in all countries at all times, in order to encourage relaxation and sleep – and most importantly, in order to soothe and alleviate any pains or worries while providing a feeling of hope and the protection of motherly care. A lullaby can also offer a novel voice to a mother’s worries and concerns, giving her the opportunity to literally “be heard” – and thus soothing not only the child, but also the mother. A lullaby can enable courage and resilience during times of distress or vulnerability or during times of adversity and pain. This piece has gradually become our own very personal lullaby to the many children we met during our visits to the refugee camps and a testimony to our belief in the healing power of art and music. We too, gave a novel voice to this ballet excerpt, Lullaby, transcribing it for the first time for viola and piano.
And finally, we arrive at tonight’s closing selection, Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 13, a piece which we were immediately and are still continually drawn to, as it has always evoked strong, visceral responses in us and our audiences due to its macabre, fantastical nature. The piece has been hugely instrumental in our Novel Voices workshops, in demonstrating the full-range of expressive capabilities of both instruments, and as a duo, we have enjoyed Liebermann’s choice to present the viola and piano as equal partners.
Praised as “a masterful orchestrator” (Wall Street Journal) and “radiantly visionary…a composer unafraid of grand gestures and openhearted lyricism” (TIME), Lowell Liebermann is one of America’s most frequently performed and recorded living composers; he has written works in all genres, several of which have gone on to become standard repertoire for numerous instruments.
Liebermann’s Sonata for Viola and Piano received its premiere at New York City’s Town Hall in 1985 and was written for violist Neal Gripp, winner of the 1984 Juilliard Viola Competition. It has been described as “a three-movement work graced with the prized New Yorker’s distinct talent for finding in the language of the Romantics a new, more urgent musical way to express obsession.” (Slate)
The opening presents a haunting melody in the viola over trickling piano filigree, but quickly transforms into a jarring discussion between the instruments, which relentlessly travels back and forth between the heights and depths of macabre expression. The Andante opens with a barren solo piano theme marked “senza espressione” later taken on by the viola with “grand espressione,” as if to fight off the stifling nature of the cold piano melody. Written in the form of a passacaglia variation movement, Liebermann masterfully weaves in each new variation to start on the next note in the succession of pitches found in the opening theme itself. The resulting layering of variations leads us through several maniacal, sparse pianissimos, and – slowly, progressively – continues up into triple forte outbursts of anxious despair, finally bringing us back again to the sparcest sounds and textures of all. The final movement catapults us into a fierce recitative imbued with terror and fury – regularly and mercilessly interrupted by the piano. After this initial “argument,” the instruments launch into a relentless, wild and devilish dance of fury.
Notes by the Carr-Petrova Duo