Through an Open Window
Lucy Wenger, Piano
Six Improvisations on Hassidic Melodies
2. Achat Sha’alti
3. Vah’hi Vishurun Melech
Tara’s Love will Melt the Sword
7. Light Suspended
8. Tear “drops”
9. Rocking, Blue Interior
10. Affectionately Outward
A Dissimulation of Birds
11. A Host of Sparrows
12. A Chattering of Choughs
13. An Ostentation of Peacocks
14. A Watch of Nightingales
15. A Party of Jays
16. An Exalting of Larks
Sonata: Fred the Cat
17. Give a Cat a Twig and He Takes a Tree
18. Purr Dance
19. Fred the Cat and Distant Mountains
20. Fred the Cat Flies to Heaven
Variations on an Irish Song
(Down by the Salley Gardens)
22. Variation 1
23. Variation 2
24. Variation 3
25. Variation 4
26. Variation 5
27. Variation 6
28. Variation 7
29. Variation 8
30. Variation 9
31. Variation 10
32. Variation 11
33. Variation 12
Lucy Wenger, Piano
Six Improvisations on Hassidic Melodies
(And you shall spread forth to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. Genesis 27:14)
II. Achat Sha’alti
(One thing I ask from the Lord, one thing I desire-that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of the Lord and to meditate in His Temple. Psalm 27:4.)
III.Vay’hi Vishurun Melech
(And He was King in Jeshurun. Deuteronomy 33:5)
IV. Kozatske - Cossack Dance
V. Nigun - melody
VI. Rikud - dance
Paul Schoenfield was introduced to Hassidic music in 1985 after having been given a book of Hassidic melodies and asked to provide dinner music for a synagogue banquet. According to the composer, “The tunes — some ecstatic, others reflective — enchanted me, and becoming absorbed by them eventually led to the composition of a piano suite, Six Improvisations on Hassidic Melodies. Although three of the movements are based on Biblical texts, much Hassidic song is wordless, employing only vocalized syllables. This is because, according to the Hassidic Rebbes, melody was of primary significance. It was the melody that brought one to the heights of ecstasy and true religious fervor.
There is a philosophy behind Hassidic music quite distinct from traditional Western or synagogue music. Hassidism regarded the expression of exuberant joy and union with God as primary religious duties. The intangible facets of music were recognized as higher worlds, and one finds expressions such as “Song is the soul of the universe,” “Impurity knows no song, because it knows no joy,” and “Music originates from the prophetic spirit with the power to elevate one to prophetic inspiration.” Not surprisingly, in modern times the significance of these melodies is such that they are becoming a form of religious exercise, even when not joined to the set occasions of religious service or joyous gatherings.
Paul Schoenfield, a man whose music is widely performed and continues to draw an ever-expanding group of devoted fans, is among those all-too-rare composers whose work combines exuberance and seriousness, familiarity and originality, lightness and depth. His work is inspired by the whole range of musical experience — popular styles both American and foreign, vernacular and folk traditions, and the 'normal' historical traditions of cultivated music making, often treated with sly twists. Like certain other 20th-21st century composers, he looks for his inspiration in the national spirit, which in his case he describes specifically as that of the Jewish American. The spirit is, however, multifaceted: like Charles Ives, he enjoys the mixing of ideas that grew up in entirely different worlds, making them converse, so to speak, and delighting in the surprises that their interaction evokes. Above all, he has achieved the rare fusion of an extremely complex and rigorous compositional mind with an instinct for accessibility and a reveling in sound that sometimes borders on the manic.
A native of Detroit born in 1947, Paul Schoenfield began musical training at the age of six, eventually studying piano with Julius Chajes, Ozan Marsh, and Rudolf Serkin. He holds a degree from Carnegie-Mellon University, as well as a Doctor of Music Arts degree from the University of Arizona. A man of broad interests, he is also an avid student of mathematics and Talmud. He held his first teaching post in Toledo, Ohio, lived on a kibbutz in Israel, was a free-lance composer and pianist in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and ultimately moved to Cleveland and then to Israel. He and his family currently have homes in Israel and the United States.
Mr. Schoenfield has received commissions and grants from the NEA, Chamber Music America, the Rockefeller Fund, the Minnesota Commissioning Club, American Composers Forum, Soli Deo Gloria of Chicago, the Juilliard School, the Cleveland Orchestra, and many other organizations. Although he now rarely performs, he was formerly an active pianist, touring the United States, Europe, and South America as a soloist and with groups including Music from Marlboro. Among his recordings are the complete violin and piano works of Bartok with Sergiu Luca. His compositions can be heard on the Angel, Decca, Innova, Vanguard, EMI, Koch, BMG, and the New World labels.
— Joel Sachs
Tara's Love Will Melt the Sword
The piece is dedicated to and addresses two female manifestations of Buddha, in particular the Blue Tara-healing Buddha and White Tara-compassionate Buddha.
What a mess we are in, in the world now. I believe that possibly the only way out of all this primitive violence is to fully surrender to the place of the heart/mind which "draws us closer to the face we long to love." (Isa Upanishad). This place in the human psyche is universally available and known to all on some level of personal, incarnate, experience. We are all responsible to find this place within us, as there is no external fix-it, God, no magical way out of the acceleration toward human annihilation.
I think of each of the four movements of the piece as purposefully modest and intimate meditations:
1) Light suspended: gamelan style, bitter-sweet, static, modality, available light, but in suspension, potential state. A view of the possible beauty, serenity, but we're not quite there.
2) Tear "drops": as in the Baroque Doctrine of Affects, a repeated musical gesture of tears, weeping, softening response to grief, broken-heartedness, hoping for a humanizing result. "Drops", in the Buddhist sense of potency. This is in the spirit of my initial idea for the piece, hence, I had first wanted to call the overall piece "Tinctures", but this seemed too obscure (as if the present title isn't!!)
3) Rocking, blue interior: I was thinking about the mandala experience of walking the interior of a Buddhist palace, ie. one of Blue Tara. This allusion is my fantasy of practicing the tradition of utilizing a mandala in this way. There is a rich, quiet, passion to this movement. It hovers close to the bone, near hopelessness, no pretense of how difficult it is to turn this madness around. The piece nudges on the human spirit, unrelenting in its rocking meters and minor modality.
4) Affectionately outward: the most tonal (bitonal, polytonal, in any case there's modulation!), far reaching, nearly a promenade in spirit! Almost jaunty and frenchy at times. This one is a release from the introversion of the other movements. Although this music is the most recently composed, I know the least about it consciously. But I think it will balance the first one pretty well. Where the first used a huge range on the piano with lots of open octave doublings as the harmonic palette, this one uses its large range with kind of matter-of-fact pianisms.
Janice Giteck (b. 1946, New York) is the composer of Emiko Omori's feature film-memoir Rabbit in the Moon which received both national Emmy and Sundance awards in 1999; Tikkun-Mending (2000), for tenor and orchestra; and Navigating the Light, a collaboration with Seattle poet Judith Roche (2001) based on the lives of inmates at Echo Glen Children's Center (Washington State Correctional Center). Other concert-music commissions include the San Francisco Symphony, Bang on a Can Festival in New York, Thamyris of Atlanta, and Relache of Philadelphia and currently the Seattle Chamber Players. She has scored three award-winning films by Pat Ferrero and is recorded on CD for Mode, New Albion, Periplum, as well as PBS, Wabi Sabi, Hearts and Hands, Persistent Visions films. Works have been performed and broadcast throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and India and she has received funding from Meet The Composer, NEA, NEH, Seattle Arts Commission, California Arts Council, Lila Wallace, Djerassi and Gerbode Foundations, the French government. Janice Giteck is included in New Grove Dictionary of Music, American Music in the 20th Century among others and holds BA, MA in Composition from Mills College and an MA in Psychology from Antioch University. She attended the Paris Conservatory and primary teachers include Darius Milhaud, Olivier Messiaen and Rebecca Weinstock. "Much of her music just hangs in the air... it is touched by light... it glows transparently." (Seattle Weekly). Janice Giteck's Om Shanti is a deeply spiritual work." (MS. Magazine).
A Dissimulation of Birds
The wellspring of musical inspiration sprung from birdlore is well represented in the musical realm. From Daquin’s The Cuckoo to Messiaen’s monumental Catalog of the Birds, to the second movement of Bartok’s third piano concerto, the image of birds and often the “bird calls” themselves have served as the musical material for many composers’ palettes. This fascination is certainly justified. On a direct level, birds are, by nature, perhaps the world’s most musical creatures, with songs both unique and richly diverse. This has led many a composer to transcribe to paper, as accurately as possible, these bird songs, and to present them, in conjunction with his imagination and sense of order, as a musical offering.
I set about writing these pieces for piano based not upon the musical sounds of the birds themselves, but rather on the names bestowed upon them found in the Book of Saint Albans and the Egerton Manuscript. These ancient “hunting” terms, coined by the gentry, express a colorful and poetic sensibility of the habits, characteristics, and “personalities” of the birds. Although other animal groups are represented in these ancient texts, it was the bird groupings that caught my eye (and ear) with their anthropomorphic magic.
A Few Observations:
A Host of Sparrows
Sweeping across the winter dusk, arcing majestically into the setting sun. Snow drops silently from a fir branch. The sparrows sweep, like a palindrome, back across the frozen sky.
A Chattering of Choughs
A twittering and nervous conversation, seemingly erratic to everyone but them.
An Ostentation of Peacocks
The peacocks, clothed in their finery, strut about in pompous display. This showy spectacle begins to disintegrate and fall apart. It ends, as vanity often does, in a grotesque caricature of itself.
A Watch of Nightingales
A distant bell tolls the onset of darkness. The vigilant nightingales watch and protect throughout the night until the first light of dawn.
A Party of Jays
The foolhardy and mischievous jays band together. Snippets of song cascade into one another as the revelers sing and dance throughout the night.
An Exalting of Larks
An image seen from afar, silent, as if in slow motion.
— Bill Rea
The music of Bill Rea has been described both as “purposely crafted iconoclasm” and “spontaneous eclecticism”. He has composed chamber works, compositions for piano, harpsichord, voice, percussion, electric bass guitar, orchestra, and works for dance.
Born in Alabama in 1951 he developed, at an early age and without the aid of a teacher, the ability to read standard music notation and acquired an understanding of harmony. In his twenties, while performing throughout the United States and Europe with guitarist Glenn Phillips, he studied the theory and counterpoint methods of Palestrina, Walter Piston, and Paul Hindemith. Primarily self-taught as a composer, his only “formal” study was from 1991 to 1997 with Hannetta Clark, former assistant to Arnold Schoenberg, Ingolf Dahl, and Halsey Stevens.
His commissions often include works for diverse instrumentation, the challenge of which he seems to relish. Planum Temporale (1981) is written for two basses and percussion; Tango (1990) is scored for trumpet, trombone, accordion and marimba; Verticals and Transitions (1999) calls for electric bass guitar and percussion; and Terra Sancta (2001) is set for harpsichord, marimba and bass drum.
Rea’s music has a controlled improvisatory aesthetic, derived in part from thirty years of performing in Phillips’ innovative and groundbreaking ensembles. His work does not fit easily into any “school” or trend, but rather, is a culmination and assimilation of many musical ideas and experiences. Commissions have come from Ondine and Company Dance, Atlanta Council for the Arts, the Cultural Olympics (Atlanta 1996), Music Teachers National Association (Georgia Composer of the Year, 2000), and performers Laura Gordy and Peggy Benkeser of Thamyris, Lucy Wenger and Mayu Tsuda, David Buice, and Duncan MacMillan.
Sonata: Fred the Cat
Alan Hovhaness can be considered a true musical multiculturalist; East meets West in perfect synthesis in his works. The list of influences on his work is long and diverse, and ranges from Renaissance polyphony to Armenian, Hindu and Japanese musical traditions. An amazingly prolific composer, with opus numbers running well above 400, Hovhaness wrote 67 symphonies, more than any composer since Haydn, besides a vast array of other orchestral music, chamber music, vocal and choral music, and stage works. A significant percentage of his instrumental output is for piano solo, including over twenty sonatas which are titled rather than numbered.
The Sonata "Fred the Cat" was commissioned by the Canadian broadcaster and journalist Jurgen Gothe upon the death of his cat, Fred. A perfectly proportioned miniature (the work lasts barely six minutes), it is constructed of the simplest materials. Except for the third movement, a hymn-like piece consisting mainly of chords, the writing is restricted to two parts. The outer movements feature steady left-hand ostinati over which the right hand weaves arabesques; the second movement, "Purr Dance," functions as a tiny scherzo. The entire sonata breathes a certain dignity and elegance, and serves as a heartfelt memorial to a feline friend.
— Bryan Bishop
Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) was born near Boston, Massachusetts to an Armenian father and a Scottish mother. He began composing at the age of four and by age fourteen had written an opera. His parents, however, were less than encouraging and he finally had to compose covertly, sometimes hiding the manuscripts under the bathtub.
Determined to pursue a career in music, Hovhaness enrolled in the New England Conservatory where he studied composition with Frederick Converse. Later, at Tanglewood, he studied with Bohuslav Martinu. It was here at Tanglewood that he encountered harsh criticism from some of his contemporaries such as Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and others. This only seemed to further encourage him to proceed along his own stylistic path.
Hovhaness was influenced by both East and West, particularly Armenian, Indian and Japanese music. He traveled extensively to these parts of the world to further study the music there.
Although Hovhaness loved Western counterpoint, his music does not use the standard Western scales or harmonic progressions. One often finds an ever-changing melody over a static bass. The harmonies are consonant and are organized modally, rather than in the conventional tonal manner. Hovhaness said, "To me, atonality is against Nature. There is a center to everything that exists... the planets have the sun, the moon has the earth... all music that has a center is tonal."
There is a decidedly mystical and religious feeling to many of Hovhaness’ works. During the 1940's, he was greatly influenced by the mystical Greek painter Hermon Giovannis. During the 1970's and later, Hovhaness’ works show more of a Western influence, including that of Renaissance polyphony. He is considered by many to be a foreshadower of Minimalism.
Variations on an Irish Song (Down by the Salley Gardens)
Poem by William Butler Yeats
Tune set by Herbert Hughes
Down by the *salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.
In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.
— William Butler Yeats
From Crossways (1889)
*A salley is a willow tree. The English usage of salley for willow tree may come from the Gaelic.
This theme and twelve variations is a 21st century work decked out in 19th century finery. It is, both symbolically and literally, a looking back on what might have been; a looking back to lost chances and missed moments. Its structure has a traditional pattern: a simple theme of sixteen measures in ABA form, with variations extending over the course of the work, using aspects of the theme’s melody or harmony in the ensuing variations. But here, for the most part, the similarities with the past end.
The challenge of working with this most “tonal” of themes, and then expanding the variations into a contemporary musical language was solved primarily by changes in harmony, time, tonality, and texture. Throughout the course of the variations, this simple melody is transformed, turned inside out, upside down, and subjected to various 20th-21st century compositional techniques: bitonality, fragmentation, ostinato patterns and modal treatment to name a few. This work begins and ends with unadorned simplicity, but within is a fantastic journey that not only looks back with a tinge of sadness, but also rushes forward into an imaginary world of crashing waves, magical dreams and mythic legends.
Variations on an Irish Song was commissioned by and dedicated to pianist Lucy Wenger, and appears on this CD as the premier recording.
— Bill Rea
Lucy Wenger was born in New York City. She began studying piano at the age of 13 after moving to Tucson, Arizona. She attended Mills College in Oakland, California on a piano scholarship and studied there with Bernhard Abramowitsch and Darius Milhaud. During this time she had the honor to be chosen by Igor Stravinsky to perform at the International Stravinsky Festival in Berkeley, California.
During her years in California, Lucy's musical horizons were broadened through studies at Fontainebleau, France and master classes in England with Denise Lassimonne and Frank Mannheimer.
After receiving her B.A. degree, Lucy went on to earn an M.A in Music History from University of Oregon-Eugene. More graduate studies followed in the Doctoral Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Lucy has taught at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she played with the Fine Arts Quartet and recorded with flutist Israel Borouchoff.
After moving to Atlanta, Georgia, Lucy took a leave of absence while raising her three sons. When she returned to her career, she again became involved in chamber music, accompanying and solo performances. Many of her performances were with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and she appeared on many college recital series as well. In 2001 she and violinist Mayu Tsuda gave the premiere performance of Invisible in Bright Light, written for them by the composer Bill Rea.
Lucy Wenger's playing has an extraordinary ability to reach the listener, and has been called "warm and lyrical" with "great clarity and intensity."
Lucy recently moved to Seattle, Washington, where she is continuing her active career as a teacher and performer.
Producer: David Frost
Recording Engineer: Jonathon Stevens
Assistant Engineer: Inbae Han
Digital editing: Brian Richards
Piano Technician: Denis Brassard
Produced and recorded using the facilities of the Music & Sound Program at The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, December, 2003. Theresa Leonard, Director of Audio.
This CD is dedicated to Jonathan, Michael and Daniel. May they always see possibilities around the corner.
This CD could never have materialized without the encouragement, generous support and creative guidance of my good friends Roxanne and Bill Rea.
I am grateful also to the composers Paul Schoenfield, Janice Giteck and Bill Rea, whom I know and with whom I have been privileged to work. Thank you for letting me bring your wonderful music to life.
Thanks also to producer David Frost, whose expertise, patience, sense of humor and superb musical instincts were invaluable.
Finally, a thank-you to my friend Kiki for showing me the way to Banff!
Innova is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.
Philip Blackburn: Director, Design