“The music of Gnesin will be one of the discoveries of the twenty-first century” – A.G. Yusfin
This album introduces the music of Mikhail Fabianovich Gnesin (also spelled Gnessin) (1883, Rostov on the Don – 1957, Moscow), a great, wrongfully neglected Russian composer of the 20th century. Gnesin composed many significant works inspired by Jewish musical tradition. He was a founding member of the St. Petersburg Jewish Music Society (1908), a group of young Jewish composers devoted to creating a Jewish style in classical music. He played an important role in the musical culture of Russia and was influential as a music theoretician and teacher. During the Stalin regime his music was unjustly forgotten. Gnesin’s music is expressive, attractive and well composed, and has such rare qualities as humour and irony. Reason enough to pay tribute to him.
Mikhail Gnesin, son of a rabbi, inherited his musical talent from his mother, who came from a musical family. He studied composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory (1901-1909) with Liadov and Rimsky-Korsakov, who played an important role in the development of the Jewish movement in Russian music, encouraging Jewish students to focus creatively on their own musical heritage. Gnesin’s career as a composer began brilliantly. Famous musicians such as Casals, Szigeti, M. Yudina, N. Zabela-Vrubel and Ziloti performed his early music inspired by the Symbolist Movement and he won the Glinka Prize. He developed theories about a declamatory singing style that drew the attention of the director Meyerhold. A collaboration between the two arose that lasted intermittently from 1909 to 1927. Yet he found his true calling as a composer of Jewish music. Gnesin’s first composition in Jewish style was published in 1914. He travelled to Palestine in 1914 and 1921 to research Jewish music. In 1922 he spent time in Berlin doing editorial work for Jibneh, a music publishing house. He considered emigrating, but decided to return to Russia, where he tried to continue the Society of Jewish Music in Moscow with his Jewish colleagues. However, the increasing ideological pressure on Jewish culture at the end of the 1920s cruelly terminated the renaissance of Jewish music in Russia. The composers had to write music in line with Soviet social realism. The Society ceased to exist in 1931. The musical works based on Jewish tradition were effectively neglected and forgotten. Gnesin trained many Soviet composers at conservatories in Leningrad and Moscow and the Gnesin Music Institute in Moscow directed by his sisters Elena, Evgenia and Maria. He received the title Honored Art Worker of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic in 1927, an arts doctorate in 1943, and the State Prize in 1946. He defied the authorities when he publicly stood up for Shostakovich and Prokoviev, who were accused of “formalism” in 1948.
The album includes two song cycles by Gnesin and several pieces for chamber music ensemble.
1. Song of a Knight Errant for cello and piano, Op. 34 (1921), is dedicated to the memory of the 13th-century Jewish minstrel Süßkind from Trimberg. The character of the piece is defined by the intertwining of medieval Provençal and Jewish intonations in the melody and the percussive chords in the piano part that evoke the hoof beats of the minstrel’s horse.
2-5. In Jewish Songs for voice and piano, Op. 37 (1923-1926), Gnesin creates musical scenes from ancient and modern Jewish history. Yad Anugah Haitah Lah (Her Hand Was Delicate) is an arrangement of a popular Arabian tune Gnesin transcribed in Palestine in 1921. The Song of Mariamne (without words) was composed for Friedrich Hebbel’s tragedy Herod and Mariamne. It is rooted in the archaic intonations of ancient Jewish chants. Shir Hashirim (Fragment from the Song of Songs / We Have a Little Sister) is a playful song including elements of Jewish dances. Closely intertwining a synagogal recitative and a Yiddish song, Der Soyne ba di Toyern (The Enemy Is at the Gates) disparages the instigators of pogroms.
6. A dancing tune from Galilee that Gnesin transcribed in Palestine serves as principal theme for the variations of Óra for 4-hands piano, Op. 35 (1922-1923), developed in eight short variations.
7-9. The Three Melodies (or Small Pieces) for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, Op. 60 (1942), were composed for plays staged at the Mari Theatre in Ioshkar-Ola, where Gnesin was evacuated to during the war. The Song of Dzherèn is based on a Turkmen tune. Ukrainian Dance needs no explaining. The Lyrical Intermezzo freely interprets a Russian folk song.
10-19. The vocal cycle Music to the Story of Red-headed Mottele by Joseph Utkin, Op. 44 (1926-1929), depicts realistic scenes in a small Jewish town just after the Revolution. Mottele is a poor tailor who can laugh at his poverty. The clash of traditional Jewish customs with new revolutionary practices creates cheerful, absurd and sad situations. The music follows the poetic text that renders a refined interpretation of suburban Jewish speech in Russian and subtly reproduces its characteristic intonations, using the entire musical arsenal of small Jewish towns – lyrical nigunim, celebratory tunes, and synagogal recitatives.
20-25. The Jewish Orchestra at the Ball of the City Mayor (Grotesque), Op. 41 (1926), is a suite from the incidental music Gnesin wrote for the performance of Gogol’s Revisor at the Meyerhold Theatre in Moscow in 1927. In the party scene, Meyerhold staged a Jewish orchestra playing festive dance music, as in Gogol’s time. Gnesin noted that “by means of professional music, a peculiar phenomenon of everyday musical life is imitated here, namely the music of Jewish folk musicians.” Using the form of conventional mid-19th-century dances, the composer punctuated them with typical Jewish intonations, creating the comical effect of paradoxical disharmony of form and musical content. The suite is performed here in an arrangement for ensemble (cl, vl, vcl, pi, perc) by Alexander Oratovski and with improvisations by clarinettist Perry Robinson.
26. The Piano Trio "To the Memory of Our Perished Children", Op. 63 (1943), was inspired by the death of Gnesin’s son Faby in 1942. The principal theme of this composition is the Jewish song Amol iz Geven a Judele (There Lived a Little Jewish Fellow) about the death of a son. The second subject is a melody composed by Faby at the age of eight in 1915. The musical drama of the Trio arises from their intensive interplay and development.
Sovali (Sofie van Lier) – soprano (2-5, 10-18)
Michel Marang – clarinet (7-9)
Perry Robinson – soprano and sopranino clarinet (19-25)
Grigory Sedukh – violin and piccolo violin (7-9, 19-26)
Alexander Oratovski – cello (1, 7-9, 19-26)
Anat Fort – piano (1-6, 10-25)
Marcel Worms – piano (6, 26)
Sara Crombach – piano (7-9)
Roberto Haliffi – percussion (19-25)
Sound engineer: Dick Lucas
The greater part of the CD (tracks 1-5 and 10-25) was recorded live during a concert on Nov.10th, 2002 at the Bethaniënklooster in Amsterdam. The other tracks were recorded in the same hall on Nov. 11th, 2002 (tracks 6 and 26), and on Dec. 12th, 2005 (tracks 7-9).
Some reactions to the concerts:
Museum “De Buitenplaats,” Eelde: ”We enormously enjoyed the fascinating program… already assuming that something exceptional was awaiting us … you did not prove us wrong…The musicians inspired playing set the audience aflame …they were ravingly enthusiastic.”
AMJ, Geneva: “Your appearance was a wonderful experience … it is one of the year’s nice souvenirs.”
JMI, London: “This concert really gave London the opportunity to hear the varied output of this composer for the first time.”
Prof. Joseph Dorfman, Tel Aviv: “Congratulations! I see a great triumph and success in retrieving one of the great 20th century musicians to the art of performance. Your project “Mikhail Gnesin”, which began in 2002, has now received wonderful development. You are returning Gnesin’s music to St.-Petersburg, the city in which he studied and matured, and where he received his professional basis at the highest artistic level; and to Moscow, which was the center of his life as a Jewish artist and an educator of generations of composers and musicians.”
Prof. Edwin Seroussi, Jerusalem: “I congratulate you for your artistic contribution to the renewal of the international interest on Gnesin.”
Vladimir V. Tropp, Gnesin Museum, Moscow: “…It's wonderful, that you do such an important work, as your Gnesin project…”
Nina Kostenko, Museum-Apartment N. A. Rimsky-Korsakow, St.-Petersburg:
“For the first time in Russia an international ensemble performed the songs and chamber music of M.F. Gnesin. The professionalism, virtuosity and artistry of each musician gave a deep impression to the audience. The program was interesting and varied, fully showing Gnesin’s creative oeuvre. Singer Sovali gave an appealing performance of the song cycle “Music to the Story of Red-headed Mottele”.”
Prof. A.G. Yusfin, St.-Petersburg: “On 15, 16, 17 and 18 September 2003 in St.-Petersburg and Moscow the concerts, dedicated to the works of the outstanding Russian composer of Jewish parentage Mikhail Gnesin were held. Gnesin is one of the great composers of XX century, writer of many important works related to the Jewish musical tradition.
First of all, it is necessary to point out the great cultural significance of the concerts, which have revived valuable and spiritually significant works of one of the great composers of the 20th century.
The success of the concerts was based on the great performance of the international collective, their enthusiasm and dedication to this project.
With interest and pleasure I participated in these concerts – gave two lectures about life and works of Gnesin. After the concerts listeners expressed their gratitude and astonishment – they never heard Gnesin’s music before and didn’t realize that he was so great a composer.
I think it’s very important that for the first time the listeners could hear the music of this classical Jewish composer, who was undeservedly forgotten.”
Soprano SOVALI (Sofie van Lier) pursues a personal approach in music and vocal expression, and is interested in the experiment. Initially a dancer in the Dutch National Ballet, she started her vocal career as “Voice” with the Nedly Elstak Trio. She studied singing with Gerhard Meyer in the Netherlands, and Eleanor Steber in New York. She also took lessons from the Indian singer Uday Bhawalkar and the renowned jazz musician and composer Ornette Coleman. Sofie van Lier got a Master’s degree in musicology at the University of Amsterdam, where she graduated with Frits Noske and Ton de Leeuw. She has given solo recitals in the Netherlands and abroad and performed in music/theater, musical and film productions. With the Nedly Elstak Trio she recorded for ESP-Disk’s “The Machine”, and for the BVHaast Label she recorded songs by Dutch composer Bernard van Dieren, accompanied by pianist Paul Prenen. She was featured on the Klezmokum CDs “Le Dor Va Dor” and “From Ancient and Newer Roots” (BVHaast CD 0700 and CD 1205). In 2002/2003 she organized and participated in the “Mikhail Gnesin Project”, and in 2004-6 in the project “Zun mit a regn” (Sun and Rain) –Jewish Songs and Chamber Music by M. Weinberg, V. Basner and D. Shostakovich (JMP CD 001. Her latest album release is “Curtain Call for the St.Petersburg Jewish Music Society (1908) – 100th anniversary”, which she recorded with pianist Paul Prenen (JMP CD 002). Her repertoire is varied and includes vocal works in different styles from different periods.
MICHEL MARANG (Holland, 1962) studied clarinet with Walter Boeykens and finished conservatory cum laude in 1987, in which year he also got his degree in philosophy at Amsterdam University. After this he studied with Hans Deinzer (Germany) and followed Masterclasses with Roger Heaton (England) and Susan Stephens (USA). Apart from his occupations in classical music, theatre, and world-music, Marang specialized in contemporary music. He worked together with many composers, a.o. Olivier Messiaen, Morton Feldman, Edison Denisov and Karlheinz Stockhausen. With the latter he studied his monumental ’Harlequin’, a 45 minute solo for dancing and miming clarinettist. Over twenty compositions were dedicated to him. As a soloпst, Michel Marang performed in most countries of Europe, USA, Russia, Ukraпn, Estonia, India and the Middle-East. He is a guest teacher at the Moscow Conservatory. More information: www.michelmarang.nl
PERRY ROBINSON - soprano & sopranino clarinet - composer. “Perry Robinson is widely regarded as the most gifted modern jazz clarinetist” Robert Palmer, New York Times.
For over four decades, Perry Robinson has been the sui generis master of the clarinet in jazz, folk and avant-garde music. Early in his career he was a sideman with Tete Montoliu, and he has since worked with some of the world’s best musicians, including the Brubeck Family, Gunter Hampel, Henry Grimes, Bill Dixon, Naná Vasconcelos, Carla Bley, Archie Shepp, Charlie Haden, Badal Roy, John Carter, Anthony Braxton, Mark Whitecage, Pete Seeger and George Clinton. He has been a mainstay of Burton Greene’s Klezmokum and of Lou Grassi’s Po Band, which has recorded with Marshall Allen, John Tchicai and Joseph Jarman on CIMP. His own trio Raga Roni, featuring Badal Roy and Ed Schuller, released its self-titled debut disc in 2002 on Geetika Records. Robinson also performed on William Parker’s trio recording Bob’s Pink Cadillac on Eremite. The Perry Robinson Quartet, featuring pianists Simon Nabotov and Christoph Adams, bassist Ed Schuller and drummer Ernst Bier, has released four CDs: Nightmare Island, Call to the Stars, Angelology and Still Traveling on the West Wind and Timescraper labels; the trio of Robinson-Schuller-Bier is featured on Children’s Song (Konnex Records).
Another aspect of Perry’s diverse talent was heard when composer/conductor Gary Schneider wrote “Concerto For Jazz Clarinet and Orchestra” for Perry to premiere in 1985 with the Hoboken Chamber Orchestra. Perry performed the “Concerto” again with New York’s American Composers Orchestra, New Jersey’s Chamber Symphony of Princeton, and at the In Zelt Festival, Freiburg, Germany.
Recently Perry has been playing with Wynne Paris and Groovananda, the band Centazzo-Robinson-Stowe featuring percussionist Andrea Centazzo and pianist Nobu Stowe, the Israeli clarinetist Harold Rubin, U.S. Pipe & the Balls Johnson Dance Machine, and the Israeli composer-pianist Anat Fort, whose new ECM release A Long Story features Perry. Perry's autobiography, The Traveler, was published in 2002.
Violinist GRIGORY SEDUKH (1952, Kharkov, Ukraine) is a violinist with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Quartet and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, professor of string studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, and is the featured treble violin soloist with the St. Petersburg Hutchins Violin Octet. Grigory Sedukh has recorded several solo CDs including: “Orientale”, “From Nigun To Operetta”, Five Sonatas by D. Scarlatti with violin and organ, “History of the Tango” by Piazzola, “Amor”, “Suite in Old Style” by Schnittke with violin-piccolo and harpsichord, and “Grigori Sedukh, Violin Soloist” (available on CDbaby). More information: grigorysedukh.narod.ru/index-violin-piccolo.html
Cellist/composer ALEXANDER ORATOVSKI graduated with honors from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1973. He won prizes at the Russian National Concours in Moscow in 1972 and the International Concours in Gernsbach, BRD in 1991. He played cello in the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and solo cello in the St. Petersburg Chamber Orchestra (1974-1990). In 1990 Alexander Oratovski came to the Netherlands, where he joined the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (1991-1993) and the Brabants Orchestra (1993-1999). He became a Dutch national in 1996. In 2000 he moved to Germany, where he works as solo cellist with the Meininger Orchcestra (BDR). Oratovski’s first encounter with unknown work by the Russian Jewish composers of the St. Petersburg Society of Jewish Folk Music (founded in 1908) was in 1988. Soon concerts with music by these composers were organised in St. Petersburg. Since 1991 Oratovski regularly performs these forgotten, but fascinating Jewish musical works. His album "Jewish Music of the 20th Century" was released in St. Petersburg in 2008 by Bomba-Piter Inc. (CDMAN346-08).
ANAT FORT - pianist, composer. Born near Tel-Aviv, Anat began studying classical music at the age of five, open to all the musical sounds of her environment. Seeking to balance a natural tendency towards freer playing with a firm grounding in the tradition, she came to the United States in 1992 and enrolled in William Paterson University to study with jazz greats Rufus Reid, Norman Simmons and Harold Mabern. After graduation, she moved to New York, studied improvisation with Paul Bley and composition with Harold Seletsky, and self-produced her debut recording, Peel, in 1999. As a composer she received commissions for chamber ensemble, chorus and orchestra, and she has been performing her music at venues worldwide such as the Tel-Aviv Opera House, the Israel Festival, the Montreal Jazz Festival, The Blue Note and many more. Anat received two artist-in-residence grants from the Jerome Foundation as well as the Creative Connections award from Meet the Composer. A session recorded with drummer Paul Motian, bassist Ed Schuller, and clarinetist Perry Robinson was brought to the attention of the legendary producer Manfred Eicher ECM Records, and the resultant CD was released in 2007 as A Long Story. An important presence on the NYC alternative jazz scene and equally highly regarded in her homeland, Anat currently splits her time between Israel and the US and performs with bassist Gary Wang and drummer Roland Schneider in her touring band, the Anat Fort Trio. More information: www.anatfort.com
Pianist MARCEL WORMS studied at the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam with Hans Dercksen. After his graduation in 1987, he continued his studies with Alexandre Hrisanide and Hans Broekman, specialising in 20th Century piano music and in chamber music. He gives concerts worldwide with his Blues and Tango projects and recorded CDs with the music by Jean Wiéner and Francis Poulenc, a series CDs related to Picasso, van Gogh en Mondriaan, and music by the Spanish composer Frederico Monpou. He is involved in the rediscovery of Dutch Jewish composers that were persecuted by the nazi’s. He regularly plays together with flutist Eleonore Pameijer, violinist Ursula Schoch and soprano Irene Maessen. More information: www.marcelworms.com.
Pianist SARA CROMBACH studied with Naum Grubert at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. She followed master classes in Hungary with the Kodály Quartet and at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow with Boris Berman and Sergei Dorenski. She also studied with Maria João Pires. She performs often as a soloist and in duos with pianist Bernd Brackman and cellist Wladislaw Warenberg, with whom she recorded a CD of Russian romantic masterpieces. She also recorded with the Armenian Chamber Orchestra Yerevan.
ROBERTO HALIFFI, percussion. Roberto Haliffi was born in Tripoli (North Africa) from a Sephardim family. At an early age he started playing darbuka, an arabic drum and trap set in folk bands. His uncle Bicio introduced him in jazz bands. Together they played for the American military base and in night clubs. He also had his pop band with his musician friends. In 1967 he was forced to leave Tripoli. He went to Milano (Italy) where he met pianist Sonny Taylor who inspired him to play Latin Jazz Funk music. Another positive experience for Roberto was playing with the African conga player George Aghedo and the famous clarinetist Tony Scott. In 1973 Roberto came to Holland and played jazz with Burton Greene, Curtis Clarke, Wilbur Little, Nedley Elstak, Woody Shaw, Pia Beck etc. Funk with John Marshall, Rosa King, Hans Dulfer, and worked for singers like Denise Jannah, Angela Groothuizen, Soesja Citroen. Internationally he played in Switserland with Gene Conners and Delta Rythm Boys. In England with John Marshall, in France with Rosa King and Ingram Washington, in Spain with Pia Beck, in New York with Klezmokum band, Essiet Okun Esiet, John Tchikay and Perry Robinson. He recorded over more than twenty CD’s and albums and is working on two new ones. More information: www.robertodrums.com
See also our CDs ”Sun and Rain - Jewish Songs and Chamber Music by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Veniamin Basner and Dmitri Shostakovich” (JMP CD001), and ”Curtain Call for the St. Petersburg Jewish Music Society - 100th anniversary” (JMP CD002).
JEWISH MUSIC PROJECTS, firstname.lastname@example.org / www.joodsemuziekprojecten.nl