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Song of the Day: November 13

dalitblue_1_of_1This week’s Song of the Day curator is composer and thereminist Dalit Warshaw! Dalit also performed with NYFOS this week in our concert From Russia to Riverside Drive: Rachmaninoff and Friends. Thank you, Dalit!

from Dalit Warshaw:

In Closing…

It has been a true joy to embark on this genuinely rich musical adventure this past week, probing the deep emotional realms of Rachmaninoff and Schillinger, and working with musicians of such vision and poetry! The juxtaposition of this music with the sultry dreaminess of New York jazz (as heard in Ellington’s On a Turquoise Cloud) illuminated a surprising bond between these two stylistically and culturally distinct worlds: they were linked by their harmonic vocabularies which – while each finding wholly unique ways to indulge in the possibilities of chromaticism – also managed to meet, not only through a linguistic crossover, but through a ravishing emotional forthrightness, brought so poignantly to the fore in the performances of singers Dina Kuznetsova and Shea Owens. I was so thrilled that the theremin could contribute to this rare and poignant assemblage of music, and that the instrument was presented in the very musical climate intended by its inventor Lev Termen, and its most visionary and virtuosic ambassador, Clara Rockmore.

In signing off, I would like to present my own Nizk’orah, a piece written for a memorial concert honoring Clara that took place at Steinway Hall in 2001, and one that reconciles my various musical identities as composer, pianist and thereminist. There are a few meanings to the title. “Yizkor,” in Hebrew, literally means “He will remember,” and refers in this case to a part of the Jewish liturgy recited on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) when we recall those dear to us who have died. Substitute “n” for “y,” and the word becomes “We will remember”; add an “ah” as a suffix, and the meaning is “We will remember her.” As well, “Orah” could be seen as one of the possible Hebrew translations of Clara’s name, meaning “light” and “joy,” two terms that could appropriately be used to describe prominent elements of her personality. During the course of the work, I refer to some of Clara’s most well-known recordings: one might recognize wisps of a “Vocalise” by Rachmaninoff, for instance, or a “Swan” by Saint-Saens, or a “Hebrew Melody” by Achron. It is as though a continuation of Clara’s song is taking place, but one heard filtered through something of the beyond, over the River Styx.

On this recording, I perform on Clara Rockmore’s original instrument (customized for her by Termen in the early 1930’s, and on which she last performed in 1993), also enabling it to interact with my own Moog 91W model via overdubbing. The theremins are accompanied by me on the piano.

Nizk’orah can be heard on my CD, Invocations, released in 2011 and available on Albany Records.

It has been an honor and pleasure writing for the NYFOS “Song of the Day” blog this past week! For more information about my music and pending concerts, feel free to peruse my website, www.dalitwarshaw.com, as well as my Facebook page at facebook.com/dalitwarshaw. I can also be followed on Soundcloud and YouTube.

Song of the Day: November 9

dalitblue_1_of_1This week’s Song of the Day curator is composer and thereminist Dalit Warshaw! Dalit is also performing with NYFOS this week in our concert From Russia to Riverside Drive: Rachmaninoff and Friends, yesterday in Boston and tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov 10) at Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Music Center. A few tickets are still available if you want to hear Dalit in action on theremin along with soprano Dina Kuznetsova and baritone Shea Owens. 

from Dalit Warshaw:

The Russian Soul of the Theremin

First of all, let me open this post by expressing how honored I am to be writing the NYFOS blog for this week! I look forward to sharing with you a variety of theremin-related information, musings and music. Also, as a composer previously commissioned by the New York Festival of Song in 1996 for the program of Brahms Liebeslieder and “American Love Songs,” I am thrilled to be working with Steve Blier and Michael Barrett again, this time as a thereminist! One might argue that the theremin can be heard as an altered, superhuman version of voice: while the instrument is far more recognized as the voice of early sci-fi movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, figuring prominently in the film scores of Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Hermann, this extraordinary early electronic instrument can indeed be as much a conveyor of the deep Russian spirit, melodic lyricism and harmonic richness of Rachmaninoff and his musical world. And so, this particular program provides me with a lovely indulgence into the theremin’s latent vocal soul, a potential operatic presence unfettered by limitations of range, register, even gender!

The theremin is something of a paradox: while it is the forerunner for so many subsequent technological inventions ranging from high security alarm systems to the synthesizer, it also remains the electronic instrument most sensitive to human presence, despite the fact that it is played without being touched. Attached to its body are two metal antennae that each control a radio frequency oscillator, and that sense the presence of any object serving as interference within the electromagnetic field (in this case, the player’s hands). One antenna controls pitch (usually manipulated by the right hand), the other volume (typically conducted by the left hand). Playing the theremin presents its highly unique challenges and marvels, among them dealing with its imaginary, fluctuating aerial fingerboard (for which having absolute pitch is preferable). Also, dynamics and articulations are achieved inversely, as the default state of the instrument – when at rest – is sound, the hand carving away at its negative space much like a sculptor chisels at stone, through interference within the electromagnetic field.

I would like to introduce to you all the sublime musical poignancy of Clara Rockmore, as she interprets Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise on the theremin, accompanied by her sister, the divine pianist Nadia Reisenberg. A former violin prodigy and star student of Leopold Auer until an injury to her bow arm compelled her to abandon violin performance, Clara’s theremin performances can be heard as virtual translations of her violinist’s intuitions; one could almost decipher the distinctions of bowing at the frog or at the tip, the positional shifts, a limitlessly subtle palate of vibrato, all through an elaborate system of “aerial fingering” and positions deciphering pitch, dynamics, timbral nuance and expression, within nothing but air.

Song of the Day: October 6

This week’s Song of the Day curator is Russian soprano and international star Dina Kuznetsova. You can hear Dina in NYFOS’s upcoming show From Russia to Riverside Drive on November 8 (Boston) and November 10 (New York), performing songs by Rachmaninoff, alongside some of the Jazz Age music that Rachmaninoff heard during his time living in New York.

from Dina Kuznetsova:

Some of my most important musical experiences have come from participating in programs with New York Festival of Song, and this entry has a connection to Michael Barrett’s own from the previous week. One of the most beloved programs I’ve ever done was was created for NYFOS by Steven Blier and Michael Barrett, and dedicated to the relationship Dvořák had with the American Spiritual. The emotional roller coaster of alternating Dvořák’s songs and traditional Spirituals with their deep well of human experiences, and of finding the connections between them, has stayed with me for many years.

The whole program is dear to my heart, but one song in particular comes to my mind with haunting regularity, with its seemingly simple melody and straightforward emotion. When I began researching it, I saw that it followed Dvořák throughout his life and he kept reworking it; so maybe it stayed with him, too.

The song is the last song of Pisne Milostne, op. 82 (“Love Songs”), 1888; text is by Moravian poet Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky

The translation is as follows:

O dear soul, the only one
That still lives in my heart.
My thoughts surround you,
Though evil fate separates us.
If I were only a singing swan,
I would fly to you and reach you.
With my very last sigh
I would sing out my heart for you,
yes, with my last sigh.

Dvořák first wrote the melody for his early song cycle, Cypresses. He was 24 at the time and in love. The piano accompaniment, and even the melody itself, were slightly different from their final form. Those songs were not published, but in 1887 Dvořák turned back to them, rearranged some of them for a string quartet, and in 1888 reworked them again to create the cycle, Pisne Milostne. Here is an excerpt containing the song, performed by Delme String Quartet:

So often, especially when I am alone, in nature, maybe hiking, and my mind empties of stress and extraneous noise, this melody and these words come to me with their vision of beauty and devotion—“O dear soul, the only one…”

Here is Bernarda Fink singing it:

Song of the Day: October 5

This week’s Song of the Day curator is Russian soprano and international star Dina Kuznetsova. You can hear Dina in NYFOS’s upcoming show From Russia to Riverside Drive on November 8 (Boston) and November 10 (New York), performing songs by Rachmaninoff, alongside some of the Jazz Age music that Rachmaninoff heard during his time living in New York.

from Dina Kuznetsova:

It gave me acute pleasure to read and listen to the blog. It seems that people who love art song share similar obsessions, which do not have a genre boundary. From jazz singers to Sondheim, from Lorraine Hunt Lieberson to the Barry sisters, to…nearly anything and everything.
There is so much repertoire that I love that choosing five entries proved a difficult task, but for my first entry I dip into a childhood memory. My selection will be a song by Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Not a Word, My Friend” (op.6, #2, written in 1869). I’ve sung Tchaikovsky’s operas and songs, and they hold some of my fondest professional memories, but this song I did not sing (or at least have not yet sung…).  It belongs to my Grandmother, a constant and beloved and yet a mysterious presence in my childhood. She was from an educated family, with unrealized but deeply felt artistic sensibilities. Some of her family members perished in the Gulag; she lived through World War II, and suffered innumerable losses at which I can only guess.
“Play this,” my grandmother once announced, pulling out a thin sheet of paper and putting it in front of me. I started to read: “Not a word, my friend, not a sound, We will be silent together, for silent are weeping willows that lean over the tombstone…” I played the melody—short, repetitive phrases; the melody did not seem to develop…
At my twelve or so years, I was not impressed. I wanted DRAMA in sad songs, a sweep, an outcry, much like in Liza’s arias in Queen of Spades. So I put it aside. After that, I heard my Grandmother murmuring the melody to herself. And it stayed with me—that was the song my Grandmother loved. Now, decades later, I try to imagine what the song meant to her, and it is a poignant memory.

Translation: (words by Alexei Plesheev)
Not a word, my friend, not a sound,
We will be silent,
For silent are the weeping willows
That lean over a tombstone.
They bend and read
In your tired heart
That there had been days of shining happiness,
That happiness is no more.
Not a word, my friend, not a sound,
We will be silent,
For silent are the weeping willows
That lean over a tombstone.


Georg Ots (1920-1975), Estonian baritone, was a huge celebrity in the Soviet Union. He sang classical repertoire in major opera houses, but was propelled to wide fame when he starred in a 1958 Soviet movie “Mister X”, based on The Circus Princess, an operetta by Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán.
Here Georg Ots singing Tchaikovsky at a live concert in 1962.


Some bonus tracks:
The second version of Tchaikovsky’s song, by the legendary Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, live from 1964 concert, with Mstislav Rostropovich on the piano.


Georg Ots as mysterious and dashing “Mister X”, a nobleman who abandons the aristocratic life and becomes a circus acrobat.

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