Starting in June 2018, we are very excited to share a new project, which has been in the works for 2 years. "Yiddish" is an exploration of the rich world of Jewish popular music in Poland between the two world wars, and the substantial influence this music had in Europe, and subsequently in the US after the war. Jewish humor and self-irony is ever present in the songs that made up jewish cabarets such as "Azazel" in Warsaw in the early 20th century. We believe that this was the greatest influence for the what we now associate with Cabaret, namely the Berlin cabaret scene in the 1920s.
With the help of the National library in Jerusalem, which holds a vast archive of jewish music and jewish songs, and the head librarian Gila Flam, who's knowledge of yiddish song is quite amazing, we rummaged through a huge selection of Yiddish songs and after a long process selected five. We then approached Leonid Desyatnikov, who's work we have been following for many years, and were so delighted when he agreed to take these songs and transform them into a new composition for singer and string quartet. To perform these songs, we will team up with Israeli soprano Hila Baggio, who is not only a superb vocalist, but also a wonderful actress and performer. After seeing her in a performance of Schönberg's "Pierot Lunair" we were convinced she was the right person for this project. The songs will be sung in Yiddish.
Together with these five songs we picked Erwin Schulhoff's "Five Pieces for String Quartet" and Erich Korngold's second string quartet. Schulhoff was a jewish composer who thrived in the period between the wars. While his music is undoubtedly serious and full of depth, he incorporates light, humorous and popular musical styles into his music. The Five Pieces are a String Quartet depiction of an evening out at a cabaret, kind of a 1920s suite of dances including a wonky waltz, a Tango, and a Tarantella. We picked this piece to show how the cabaret genre infiltrated "serious" music in the way we find a courante or gigue in Bach's suites or the Menuet in Schubert's. Schulhoff was one of the Jewish composers condemned by the Nazi in the 1930s as degenerate, and was ultimately sent to Theresienstadt and murdered.
Erich Korngold's biography is by now quite known. He was considered the great hope of classical music in Vienna in the early 1900s. A true wunderkind, who seemed able to continue the great arc of viennese composers, he composed sonatas, an opera, and a string quartet while still in his teens. The rise of Fascism, like many others, brought him to Hollywood, where he became the foremost film score composer of his time. His collaboration with fellow immigrants such as Jascha Heifetz, gave us fantastic classical compositions such as his Violin concerto, often heard on concert stages today. Korngold's second string quartet was composed in the United States, but is deeply rooted in Central European traditions.
We picked this piece because it represents the dissemination of jewish culture into the American film industry. Many of the professionals in the vast polish jewish film industry immigrated to the US and became the backbone of the emerging film industry in Hollywood. Korngold was an important member of this community.
We can't wait to share this special project with you.
Here is what composer Leonid Desyatnikov wrote about his 5 songs.
YIDDISH – 5 Songs for Voice and String Quartet (2018)
YIDDISH was the secret language of my Soviet parents; they used it when something was discussed that was not meant for the children's ears.
YIDDISH – the language of the Jewish diaspora – is a macaronic language in which the words and idioms of the respective country of residence are embedded. When I heard Russian phrases in the flood of semi-familiar phonemes (in 'Yosl un Sore-Dvoshe') I was seized by sentimental feelings. That was one of the main reasons why I accepted the proposal of Ori Kam (violist in the Jerusalem Quartet) to write this work.
YIDDISH – 5 Songs for Voice and String Quartet – are based on the material of cabaret songs that circulated in Warsaw and Łódź between the two world wars. My cycle is a series of free transcriptions of such songs. Usually, this type of music is assigned to the 'lowbrow' area. It is the eclectic culture of the assimilantes, the lumpen proletariat and the outsiders, the culture of cheap chic, and at the same time – in its best forms – a brazen, talented culture full of self-irony and latent despair. The strict, staid sound of the string quartet transforms this music into an exquisite gravure.