Boris Brott is one of the most internationally recognized Canadian conductors, holding major positions as music director in Canada and the United States. He enjoys an international career as guest [...]
New Jewish Music, Vol. 2 - Azrieli Music Prizes
They spoke about it
The Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP)
Established in 2014 by the Azrieli Foundation, the Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP) offer opportunities for the discovery, creation, performance, and celebration of excellence in music composition.
Two international prizes recognize excellence in new Jewish music: The Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music is awarded to a composer who has written the best new major work, and the Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music is awarded to encourage composers to creatively and critically engage with the question “What is Jewish music?”
The Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music was added in 2019 to engage Canadian composers in creating new musical works that creatively and critically engage with the challenges of composing concert music in Canada today.
Scores, proposals, and supporting documents for the biennial prizes are accepted from nominators and individual composers of all faiths, ages, backgrounds, and affiliations. The winning submissions for the Jewish prizes are selected by the AMP Jury for Jewish Music. The Canadian Commission is selected by the AMP Jury for Canadian Music. Both juries are comprised of a pool of leading experts assembled from the fields of music creation, performance, and research.
All three prizes are awarded to composers whose work displays the utmost creativity, artistry, and musical excellence. Winners receive a $50,000 cash prize, the premiere of their prize-winning work in Montréal, subsequent international performances, and a commercial recording of their work on the Analekta label.
Further aims of AMP are to educate the general public about the universal appeal and artistic importance of both Jewish and Canadian music, whether through live performance, recording, composer talks, panel discussions, or other related programming. Learn more about the Azrieli Music Prizes at azrielifoundation.org.
En el escuro es todo uno (In the Darkness All is One) by Kelly-Marie Murphy
Kelly-Marie Murphy’s wide-ranging catalogue includes concerted works for harp and orchestra (And Then at Night I Paint the Stars, 2002) and for cello and orchestra (This is the Colour of My Dreams, 1997). Now she combines these two solo instruments in a single composition, a double concerto for harp and cello entitled En el escuro es todo uno (In the Darkness All Is One). This 2018 Azrieli Commission-winning work was given its world premiere by the McGill Chamber Orchestra (now the Orchestre classique de Montréal) conducted by Yoav Talmi at the 2018 Azrieli Music Prizes concert in Montréal on October 15, 2018. The soloists were Rachel Mercer (cello) and Erica Goodman (harp).
While there may not be another concerto like it, there does exist a duo of these two instruments by the name of Couloir, consisting of harpist Heidi Krutzen and cellist Ariel Barnes. It was Couloir that Murphy had in mind when composing the work, and it is their performance of it that graces this recording.
The work’s title comes from a Sephardic proverb that, in Murphy’s words, “encourages us to understand that we are all equal; once you remove the trappings of society and economy, we are more similar than we are different. Each of the four movements uses music from the Sephardic tradition as its source; specifically, Ladino [the language of Spanish and Portuguese Jews] folk songs. I chose songs that were somehow related to women’s lives and the importance of ‘mother.’ The concept can be as literal as the importance of mother to children, or as broad as the importance of Israel as the mother of the faith.”
The concerto’s first movement uses a Lamenta from Bulgaria. It is “for the most part slow and lyrical,” says the composer. “The lyricism is often interrupted by a loud, rhythmic, jagged, line. We register these interruptions but carry on with the progression of events. This illustrates how we are able to acknowledge and turn away from brutality and sadness in our own lives and history.” The opening words are “Mother, mother, rain falls from the heavens. Tears fall from my eyes.”
“Si veriash a la rana is a Ladino children’s song found in Turkey and the Balkans,” continues Murphy. “It is a fast, rhythmic, and humorous teaching song that instructs girls how to enjoy the chores of the kitchen, reminding them that they share those chores with their sisters.” Following a soloistic opening based on prayer modes, this second movement launches into a dance-like section that presents the folk song.
The third movement (Yigdal) is a cadenza for the two solo instruments plus vibraphone. It is modal in nature and incorporates threads of the Yigdal hymn, often used to close the Friday evening service, as it is sung in Constantinople.
The final movement is based on two songs: Noches, noches, buenos noches (a romance, most likely from Sarajevo) and Ven Chicka Nazlia (“Come, little tease,” a fun, fl irtatious song, most likely from Turkey). The movement arrives without pause, immediately following the cadenza. The first part, slow and atmospheric, consists of a canonic presentation of the theme from Noches, noches. The remainder of the movement is built on the fast and uplifting melody from Ven Chicka Nazlia, bringing the concerto to a rousing conclusion.
Nigunim (Violin Concerto No. 2) d’Avner Dorman
Avner Dorman’s Nigunim (Third Violin Sonata) was premiered in New York in 2011 by Gil and Orli Shaham, for whom it was written. In 2014, the composer orchestrated the piano part, and in 2017 heavily revised it, in which form Nigunim won the 2018 Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music. The first performance of this orchestrated version was given by the McGill Chamber Orchestra (now the Orchestre classique de Montréal) conducted by Yoav Talmi at the 2018 Azrieli Music Prizes concert. Violinist Lara St. John was the soloist.
In this music, says the composer, “I tried to bring more of the sonata’s folk elements and rhythmic variety to the fore through orchestral colours, often by using instruments in unusual ranges and with unorthodox performance techniques. I think the biggest challenge was to preserve the role of the original piano part without overwhelming the violin and maintaining a balance that makes the piece sound like a genuine concerto.”
Nigunim (the plural of nigun, also spelled niggun) are a type of Jewish religious song, largely improvisatory in nature and often incorporating repetitive sounds such as “bam-bam-bam” or “doi-doi-doi.” In tone they may be mournful and devotional or joyous and triumphant. Dr. James Loeffler, on the website myjewishlearning.com, notes that nigunim are “often described as mystical musical prayers or a spiritual language beyond words. They are songs formed of multiple melodic phrases, typically sung without instrumental accompaniment and without words,” and are “performed in a distinctive expressive vocal style with dramatic inflections similar to cantorial music referred to by the Yiddish words krekhts (literally moan, sigh, or sob) and kneytsh (pinch).”
Dorman writes that in preparing to compose his Nigunim, “I decided to explore the music of various Jewish traditions from different parts of the world and how they relate to larger local musical traditions. To my surprise, I found that there are some common musical elements to North African Jewish cantillations, Central Asian Jewish wedding songs, Klezmer music, and Ashkenazy prayers. Though I did not use any existing Jewish melodies for Nigunim, the main modes and melodic gestures of the piece are drawn from these common elements. Moreover, different sections of the piece draw upon local non-Jewish musical traditions of each of these regions. For example, the second movement uses principles found in Georgian folk rhythms and harmonies, and the fourth is inspired by Macedonian dances.”
Seven Tableaux from the Song of Songs by Srul Irving Glick arranged for soprano, piano and string orchestra by François Vallières
The Biblical Song of Songs (i.e. the best of all songs) consists of eight chapters of love poetry that celebrate the mystery and power of human love and sexual desire, seen as gifts from God. The Old Testament attributes these texts to Solomon, although their narrator (“The Beloved”) is not Solomon himself. In fact, he is barely mentioned; yet his legacy as a man of great wisdom and his love of learning shine through.
The love of the couple in The Song of Songs serves as a potent metaphor for God’s transcendent love that will someday inform the whole world. What better way for a man in our time to celebrate a milestone in his marriage than to ask a prominent composer to set a selection of these texts as an expression of love for his wife? That’s exactly what Dr. Garson S. Conn did in honour of his wife Jean for their 30th anniversary, in asking Glick to write his Seven Tableaux from the Song of Songs. The commissioning fee was shared by the Laidlaw Foundation via a request from Syrinx Concerts Toronto. The work’s dedicatee was the composer’s “dear friend” Sara Wunch, whom he later married.
Seven Tableaux from The Song of Songs was composed in 1992 and first performed at the Jane Mallett Theatre in Toronto on November 28, 1992. Its original scoring was for soprano and piano trio, in which form its premiere was given by Valerie Sirén (soprano), Luiz Grinhaus (violin), Leo Grinhauz (cello), and Berta Rosenohl-Grinhauz (piano). In early 2019, François Vallières arranged the score for voice, piano, and string orchestra expressly for this recording.
Like his great predecessors in the Lied, Schubert and Schumann, Glick makes use of distinct rhythmic or melodic motifs to lend each song a unique character. He also employs instrumental preludes, interludes, and postludes to separate passages of text. When the vocal line appears, the instrumental component does not act as mere accompaniment, but serves as partner to the voice. The vocal lines are grateful and tenderly lyrical, in keeping with the subject matter. Performance directions such as “lovingly,” “expressively,” “with intensity,” “exuberantly,” and “serene, with inner passion” further underscore the composer’s sensitivity to the quality and message of the texts he is setting.
Maestro Boris Brott has declared Dr. Azrieli’s preparation for the recording “conscientious, detailed and smart. She has invested every phrase with nuance and feeling. It’s definitely the best interpretation of Glick’s score to date and I am proud of our work together on it.”