Four Ladino Folk Songs (2012) for SATB Choir — 8’
–written for the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia
1. Durme durme mi alma donzella
2. Ven hermosa ven con mi
3. Camini por altas torres
4. Cuando veo hija hermosa
Four Ladino Folk Songs was inspired by a work I wrote for Lara St. John of arrangements of Ladino songs for unaccompanied violin. I was so taken with these songs—with the richness of melodies and harmonies and wide range of emotional expression—that I decided to set four of them for unaccompanied choir. These songs are folk tunes arranged to compliment their texts; some with a gently rocking four-part texture, others with percussive sounds and effects that would be familiar to Ladino folk singers. The mood ranges from playful, to serene, from raucous to quiet despair, just as the original tunes do.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the seminal scholarship of Isaac Levy, who transcribed most of these songs in his four-volume “Chant Judéo-Espagnols;” a repository of this rich musical heritage from a dying language scattered across Europe, Africa, and Central Asia.Composer David Ludwig’s music has been called “entrancing,” and that it “promises to speak for the sorrows of this generation,” (Philadelphia Inquirer). It has further been described as “arresting and dramatically hued” (The New York Times) and has been noted for “music supercharged with electrical energy and raw emotion” (Fanfare). The New Yorker magazine calls him a “musical up-and-comer” and the Chicago Tribune says that he “deserves his growing reputation as one of the up-and-comers of his generation.” He has had performances in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Library of Congress, and has been played on PBS and NPR’s Weekend Edition. NPR Music selected him as one of the Top 100 Composers Under Forty in the world in 2011.
The New Colossus (2002) for choir – 3’ (Lazarus)
–Commissioned by Judith Clurman and the TODI Music Festival Choir
“The New Colossus” was written for conductor Judith Clurman and the Todi music singers. Ms. Clurman recommended that I set the poem by Emma Lazarus that is at the site of the Statue of Liberty. On reading these words, I was very moved by the sentiment of welcome that Lazarus–herself an immigrant–conveys in the message: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” And it is not just some people that the Statue welcomes, but everyone–even the “wretched refuse.” This to me was the true spirit of the United States embodied in poetry: our strength in diversity and tolerance. I wrote the work soon after 9/11, and because of that, the words of the poet were particularly poignant to me.
The piece begins in somber unison and remains in that setting, like chant, as the poet compares the Statue of Liberty to the Colossus of Rhodes from ancient Greece. It is not like the Colossus, she notes, in that it is not meant to be an imposing figure but instead the embracing “mother of exiles.” At the most famous lines the music opens up into harmony until the end, repeating the words “I lift my lamp, beside the Golden Door”–to the port of entry of a nation of immigrants.
“Ludwig’s The New Colossus began in sober unison. As harmonies evolved to greater dissonance, the singers became more expressive, an effective dramatic device.” –The Virginian Pilot
Hanukkah Cantata (2007) – 24’ (Trad. Hebrew and English)
–SATB Choir + soloists, 0000 0130 percussion, organ, strings
–Commissioned by the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia
–Premiered 2007 at Rodeph Shalom, Philadelphia
The Hanukkah Cantata was written for the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia and was
funded by the Philadelphia Music Project. I wrote the cantata with a lot of help from
some good friends and fabulous musicians, but my first word of thanks has to go to
Cantor Dan Sklar who not only assembled and translated the texts for me, but also sang
the wonderful Hannukah songs for me to hear. I remembered Dan’s voice all the while I
arranged these songs.
When Choral Arts director Matt Glandorf asked me to write a piece for the holiday, I
immediately saw the challenge of writing a new work to commemorate an ancient
tradition. It would need to be accessible to an audience whether or not they are familiar
with the story of the holiday. I decided to integrate Hanukkah songs in their original
Hebrew with the narrative taken from Scripture as translated into English. It was
important for me that the piece be set in the “vernacular,” so to speak, but to also
preserve what is to me beautiful folk music. To that end I kept the music within the
boundaries of functional sacred music, rather than attach it to a more abstract musical
language or idiom.
I also knew the piece would have to be in eight movements. I wanted to style it after the
customary practice of including soloists in recitative and arias who would convey the
thread of the story poetically. This made the arc of the piece clear to put together. The
opening comes with a question from the traditional song “Mi Y’maleil”: “who can
recount the feats of the holy land?” The next two movements tell of the oppression of the
Jews through the eyes of their ruler Mattathias, as well as the rise of his son Judas
Maccabeus. After Judas is pronounced “blessed,” in the fourth movement, the women of
the chorus sing the traditional candle blessings sung while lighting the Menorah.
The fifth movement opens the second half of the piece, and details the triumph of the
Jews over their oppressors. Here, they find their most holy temple desecrated; and this is
where the real heroism takes place. Rather than give up or give in, they decide to
completely rebuild and rededicate the temple, replacing every defiled stone anew—even
constructing a new altar like the previous one. The music turns to the triumphant “Al
Hanisim” to commemorate the occasion.
The seventh movement is instrumental dance music; a “dreydl dance” with a narration
that is meant to capture both traditional sonorities of Jewish music and incorporate the
importance of dance into the cantata. The narrator’s part is to tell the how the story
happened when the Jews decided to reconstruct the temple and the miracle that occurred
when they found only enough oil to light their lamp for one day. They needed enough oil
to last for eight days, or enough time to consecrate the next batch of fuel. As it so did,
miraculously confirming the merit and holiness of their efforts.
The final movement is another arrangement of the song “Maoz Tzur,” which is a song
that will be familiar to many. The medieval nature of the words conveys the unfortunate
glorification of war (a matter I tried to avoid in arranging the text, given the state of our
world. I see no reason to exalt the killing of anyone, including the “enemy,” “foe,” or
“heathen.”) But the story of the last song, and indeed the story of Hannukah is about
oppression, loss, and overcoming that loss to move on with strength and love. The Jews
defeat their oppressors and then grieve for their losses. The heroism of the story is in the
rebuilding after that loss, and the power of the community unified to help the individuals
of that community continue on. They construct a new altar after losing the old one, yet,
significantly, it is not a “new” altar insofar as it acknowledges and never forgets the loss.
My nephew, Michael Henry Ludwig, would have celebrated his tenth Hannukah this year
passed away suddenly and unexpectedly just four days before writing this program note.
He was a magnificent kid, always enthusiastic, beaming and smiling when I would bring
him close and rub my knuckles on his head. The Choral Arts Society has graciously
agreed to dedicate this performance to Michael—the premiere of this work will be in the
temple of his great grandparents. Every day I didn’t spend with him feels like time lost.
I am honored to be able to remember him with this music.
Kaddish (2006) –10’ (Trad. Hebrew)
–0000 4331 + 3 perc SAB choir and tenor soloist or a cappella
–Commissioned by Robert DeCormier
“[Ludwig's] setting of Kaddish sounded well in the voice. Of the three works, Ludwig’s by its very nature balanced the forces best. In fact, adding this piece to another piece that he premiered through the VSO, his cello concerto, has given the VSO several pieces of wonderful music that can very easily bear repetition.” –Vermont Times
About the Composer-
Ludwig has received commissions from many of the most recognized artists and ensembles. The Grammy Award-winning group eighth blackbird commissioned his work Haiku Catharsis in 2004. In 2006, Ludwig conducted a tour of his Concertino, which was one of the top ten most frequently performed orchestra works by a living composer that year, according to the League of American Orchestras. He joined the Curtis On Tour Ensemble in 2009 for a series of concerts that won critical acclaim for his song-cycle From the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayám. Past seasons have featured performances with the Minnesota Orchestra, the National Symphony, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. This season included performances at the Aspen Music Festival, Town Hall, Verizon Hall, and the Dresden Music Festival with Robert Spano.
Recent commissions include works for Jonathan Biss, Lara St. John, the PRISM Saxophone Quartet, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, and a double concerto for Jennifer Koh and Jaime Laredo’s “Two by Four” project, and a work for the ECCO String Orchestra. Upcoming projects include a works commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Benjamin Beilman, the Steans Institute at Ravinia for piano trio, World Café Live for Hannah Khoury and Jason Vieux, and a bassoon concerto for Daniel Matsukawa and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Ludwig is the recipient of the First Music Award, an Independence Foundation Fellowship, and a Theodore Presser Foundation Career Grant, as well as grants from the American Composers Forum, the American Music Center, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia honored him as a City Cultural Leader in 2009 and released a CD of his complete works for chorus in 2012.
Ludwig was the Young Composer in residence at the Marlboro Music School for three consecutive years. In addition to Marlboro, he has been in repeated residence at the Yaddo and MacDowell artist colonies and was a resident artist at the Isabella Gardner Museum. After a three-year residency with the Vermont Symphony funded by Meet the Composer, he is now the permanent New Music Advisor for that orchestra. He is the composer-in-residence and director of composition programs at the Atlantic Music Festival, Lake Champlain Festival, the Rocky Ridge Festival, and is the Artistic Director of the Curtis Summer Chamber Music Program. Active abroad, Ludwig was in residence at the Shanghai International Summer Music Festival in 2012, and is the resident composer for the STUDIO2021 Ensemble at Seoul National University.
Born in Bucks County, P.A., Ludwig comes from several generations of eminent musicians. His grandfather was the pianist Rudolf Serkin and his great-grandfather, violinist Adolf Busch. His teachers include John Corigliano, Richard Danielpour, Jennifer Higdon, Richard Hoffmann, and Ned Rorem. He holds degrees from Oberlin, The Manhattan School, Curtis Institute, Juilliard School, and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Ludwig is on the composition faculty of the Curtis Institute where he serves as the Artistic Chair of Performance and as the director of the Curtis 20/21 Contemporary Music Ensemble.