Lament/Witches’ Sabbath (2017)
Clarinet in Bb and Orchestra
Supported by the Guggenheim Foundation, written for David Krakauer and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.
Lament/Witches’ Sabbath, written for the extraordinary clarinet soloist David Krakauer and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, is Mathew Rosenblum’s most personal piece to date. When he was a child, his grandmother told him the story of how she fled the well-documented 1919 massacre in Proskurov, Ukraine, with six children and pregnant with his mother. Lament/Witches’ Sabbath involves the recounting of his family history by incorporating Ukrainian and Jewish lament field recordings, his grandmother’s recorded voice, klezmer-tinged clarinet with orchestra, and elements from the last movement of Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, “Witches’ Sabbath.” The heart-rending cadences of the Ukrainian laments communicate a communal pain felt through the generations, and contrast the elements of fear and superstition represented in the Berlioz. Rosenblum’s use of microtonality echoes the expressive pitch world of lament singing, eschewing equal temperament in favor of the sound of unfiltered human emotion. The piece is unsettlingly timely — tackling topics such as migration, loss, memory, and cultural transformation it comes face to face with current debates surrounding these issues. The piece also represents a reconnection between Rosenblum and Krakauer, high school friends growing up in New York City. In placing the laments at the center of an expansive work of new art music, Rosenblum presents this piece both as a cathartic reconciliation with his family’s own personal history and a more universal cry of agony for communities who have endured similar persecution. – Dan Lippel
In A Dark Wood, a documentary film about the making and recording of Lament/Witches’ Sabbath, was created by David Bernabo in 2018 and premiered at the JFilm Festival, Pittsburgh (April 30, 2018) and in Europe at the On Art Film Festival, Kraków (August 31, 2018). Filmed in Pittsburgh, New York City, and Boston, the film reminisces on the friendship of Rosenblum and Krakauer while exploring Rosenblum’s remembrance of his grandmother and her story of survival. This moving documentary tells a story of the endurance of family, the winding path of friendship, and the craft of composing music. The film can be viewed at: vimeo.com/ondemand/lament
This project is very close to me; it involves the rewriting of my personal and family history through instrumental sound (klezmer-tinged clarinet with orchestra) and the sound and texture of the voice (field recordings of Ukrainian laments; sung and spoken Ukrainian, Russian, and Yiddish text by my grandmother). It is also about reconnecting with my high school friend and dear colleague, the amazing clarinetist/composer David Krakauer, for whom the piece was written. David and I worked closely together in the year leading up to the premiere to discuss the concerto’s developing musical language and structure, David’s input and support was invaluable. The work is about migration, loss, memory, and cultural transformation. It is a tribute to my grandmother, Bella Liss.
The research portion of this project began with an extensive search for field recordings of early twentieth-century Ukrainian-Jewish laments that were similar to the laments that my grandmother sang to me when I was a child. My family fled Proskurov Ukraine in 1919, during the well-documented massacre in that town. Each Passover in my grandparents’ small apartment in the Bronx packed with over 30 relatives, my grandmother would gather the grandchildren to tell us about how she and her seven children fled the city, crossed the “grainetz” (border), and eventually (after selling their silver in Vienna) landed in Palestine before eventually coming to the US. She witnessed many killings in the town square, gave birth to my mother in the woods while fleeing the massacre, and told this incredible story to us in what I now realize was an Eastern European lament style – part song, sobbing, and speaking. The new work interleaves field recordings of Ukrainian laments and recordings of my grandmother singing and telling the “grainetz” story interweaved with the clarinet soloist and orchestra. .
Loosely based on the last movement of Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, Witches’ Sabbath, Lament/Witches’ Sabbath also references my grandmother’s superstitious sensibility (which is also is grounded in Eastern European Jewish culture). The piece is a reworking of elements of the Berlioz with Klezmer inspired excursions based on the folk elements already embedded in that music. It is new music that appropriates, transforms, and interprets elements from the original. The idea of the piece is to mesh my microtonal musical language with David Krakauer’s improvisational sensibility using aspects of Berlioz’s musical material and the evocative theme of “witches’ sabbath” as a reference point.
Fear and superstition (represented in the Berlioz) are elements that drive people apart, laments bring people together; the various Ukrainian and Jewish laments presented in the piece are in sympathy with each other. Through the mining of diverse musical and cultural sources – Eastern European laments, klezmer, Western European classical, microtonal – and addressing the universal and timely themes of migration, loss, and cultural transformation, the work will speak to diverse audiences both in the US and internationally. It is my hope that my own personal journey to connect with my cultural roots and to trace and write my family history will help clarify and contribute to current debates surrounding these issues.
– Mathew Rosenblum
Read reviews for Lament/Witches’ Sabbath
New Focus Recordings FCR219, David Krakauer, clarinet, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor
Plurabelle Music Publishing (Distributed by Subito Music Corp.)
January 11, 2018, David Krakauer, clarinet, Beyond Festival Orchestra, Gil Rose, conductor, Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh
June 2, 2018, David Krakauer, clarinet, Guangxi Symphony Orchestra, Cai Yang, conductor, Guangxi Culture and Art Center Concert Hall, Nanning, China
November 15, 2019, David Krakauer, clarinet, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rossen Gergov, conductor, EUFONIE Festival, Warsaw, Poland
November 17, 2019, David Krakauer, clarinet, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rossen Gergov, conductor, NOSPR Concert Hall, Katowice, Poland
November 23, 2019, David Krakauer, clarinet, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor, Jordan Hall, Boston