A documentary film about the Station was made, titled Ocean Keeper. Interviewing the Carmichaels and others, and integrating great archival footage, the film covers the 100+ years of its rich history. It has aired on PBS as a ‘Treasure of New York’, and was an Official Selection in both the Long Island International Film Expo, and the Hamptons International Film Festival.
To quote the Ocean Keeper‘s website:
“The Amagansett Life-Saving Station has been a unique centerpiece of Long Island history since it was built in 1902. Over a period of 44 years, the dedicated men who worked at the Station saved hundreds of lives. In 1942, four Nazi saboteurs were found by Coast Guardsman John Cullen close to the Station during a nightly beach patrol.
And in 1966, the building was rescued from demolition and purchased for a dollar by Joel Carmichael whose family lived there for the rest of the 20th century. After Carmichael’s death in 2006, the house was donated to East Hampton Town for historical preservation.”
In anticipation of Libero Canto’s upcoming New York City workshop (February 15-17th), singers Deborah Carmichael and Kinga Cserjési would like to share this supplemental film: “Libero Canto – Voice is Breath,” made by award-winning director Andrea Simon in 2001. The film focuses on the work of Edvin Szamosi (son of founder Lajos Szamosi), and the history of the Libero Canto Approach.
The film, while made almost 20 years ago, still serves as an inspiring introduction to the approach, which continues to evolve and thrive through the work of dedicated teachers and students in many cities including New York, Toronto, Florence, The Hague, and Budapest. Carmichael and Cserjési feel the film will be of interest to many different people, among them singing teachers, music teachers, teachers of children, singers, musicians, actors, dancers, anyone in the performing arts, and anyone interested in the arts, pedagogy or psychology.
“The path to free singing” was first developed by Lajos Szamosi in Budapest before the Second World War. This unprecedented pedagogic approach was carried on and further developed by Lajos’s son Edvin Szamosi, who taught singing in Vienna and New York City for more than 50 years, until his death in 2014.
Through interviews and footage of lessons and rehearsals, “Libero Canto – Voice is Breath” draws the viewer into the musical and human evolution of Edvin Szamosi’s students both in New York, and in Vienna. The care, love, and attention to detail with which the film is made reflect these same qualities in Edvin’s teaching. With gentleness, rigor, and humor, Mr. Szamosi guides his students towards increasing freedom, spontaneity, and authenticity.
Deborah and Kinga are still accepting applicants for their February workshop.
for more information, click here or email [email protected].
A monumental moment in Park’s career, she wanted to share her program notes about the four works she will be performing.
Poetically conceived by Park around themes of romance and fantasy, this program moves from dreamy beginnings to a serious and somber conclusion, with Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata, composed right before the composer’s death.
Carl Reinecke (1824-1910),
3 Fantasiestücke for Viola and Piano, Op. 43
As a pianist, violinist, composer, conductor and teacher, the German composer Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) was one of the most versatile musicians of his time. He was born in Altona, then under Danish rule and initially trained under his father (Rudolf Reinecke, 1759-1883). The younger Reinecke began composing at the age of seven, and debuted as a pianist at the age of twelve. He underwent a remarkable musical education, studying with the likes of Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. Reinecke’s early works were faithful to the early masters of the Romantic era who trained him while in Leipzig. 3 Fantasiestücke for Viola and Piano, Op. 43 was composed in 1844. The opening, Andante, explores a warm, song-like viola melody while the piano accompanies with rapidly flowing triplets. The second movement contrasts the first, resembling a scherzo with a folk-like refrain. The last movement, Molto Vivace, depicts the frenzied crowds of annual fairs carried on from the medieval era.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953); arr. Vadim Borissovsky, Selected pieces from the ballet Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has influenced artists and musicians for centuries. The epitome of a tragic love story, it has been adapted to countless genres and forms such as opera, ballet, symphony, theater and film. Russian Composer Sergei Prokofiev’s interpretation initially resulted in music for ballet, written in 1935. The composer subsequently arranged the music as a standalone piece for orchestra. Three Suites from Romeo and Juliet, Op.64. Following the success of the second version, Prokofiev reduced the score for Ten Pieces for Piano, in Op.75. The viola transcription was made by Vadim Borisovsky, a founding member of the Beethoven Quartet and professor at the Moscow Conservatory. Borisovsky is an important figure in the expansion of the viola repertoire. He is responsible the hundred arrangements. Despite the challenges of arranging and reducing a piece for large forces, the two instruments are able to imitate of the colour and textural sophistication of the orchestral version.
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), Après un rêve (After a Dream), Op.7 No.1
The French composer Gabriel Fauré was a composer of immense technical skill. His ability to blend elements from seemingly disparate styles and eras made him an important bridge to the music of the twentieth century. Fauré studied with Camille Saint-Saëns, and went on to teach influential modern era figures such as Claude Debussy and Nadia Boulanger. Written between 1870 and 1877, Après un rêvefeatures one the composer’s most beloved melodies. The piece, anticipates the impressionist style of later French composers. In Après un rêve, Fauré draws the poetry of Romain Bussine. Much like the contents of the poem, the melodic gestures are full of affection and nostalgia.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147
Along with Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich is a towering figure of twentieth century Russian music. Despite the many limitations imposed on artists in the U.S.S.R., Shostakovich was a prolific composer and pianist with a distinctive style. Written in 1975, the Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op.147 was his final work. This piece was composed in 1975 and dedicated to Fyodor Druzhinin, a violist of the Beethoven Quartet, who replaced the founding member, Vadim Borisovsky as violist from 1964-1988. The piece was premiered in October of 1975, shortly after Shostakovich died. This viola sonata has three movements with a slow-fast-slow structure. In the first movement, the viola opens the theme with the pizzicato gestures continues on with a layered texture that mixes different melodic elements. The second movement is more rhythmically focused and direct than the first. It relies more on concentrated, often jagged melodic motives. The third movement, the composer blends his own ideas with borrowed material from Beethoven’s piano sonata No.14, ‘Quasi una Fantasia’, also known as the Moonlight Sonata. The final movement gradually fades away, almost as if the composer is referencing his own death.
“The eternal feminine leads us upwards,” said Goethe in the final lines of “Faust.” These wise words say it all. Although the role of women, as well as the role of women composers, is often underestimated, women did shape this world and particularly the world of classical music more than we think. A great example is the ninth-century abbess and composer Kassiani, whose beautiful scores survived up to our days. Chicago Sinfonietta, one of the most diverse orchestras in America, is happy to demonstrate the talent of women composers in its concert program called “Hear Me Roar.” It will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 11 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 12 at Symphony Center in Chicago.
“‘Hear Me Roar’ will be a celebration of the many contributions women have made to the field of classical music,” said Jim Hirsch, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Sinfonietta. “As a part of Chicago Sinfonietta’s 30th anniversary season, this concert reflects our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion by showcasing works composed by women and is the centerpiece concert of our year-long Project W commissioning project.”
Interestingly, during its 30th anniversary season Chicago Sinfonietta has been presenting a higher percentage of works by women composers than any other orchestra in the United States. Chicago Sinfonietta’s year-long initiative called Project W with its statement “Women Rule” is a great way to demonstrate the unique talent and mastership of female composers. Only by promoting music written by women and by making it available to various audiences is it possible to prove that women composers are as skillful as men and are capable of creating timeless masterpieces.
“‘Hear Me Roar’ takes Chicago Sinfonietta into uncharted repertoire with two major new commissions among three Chicago Premieres,” said Maestro Mei-Ann Chen. “The entire program is comprised of incredible works created by women composers – both past and present. While Jennifer Higdon and Reena Esmail represent the new generation of composers who are making symphonic history with every piece they compose, Florence Price and Dora Pejačević wrote music that has literally become the hidden gem of the orchestral repertoire as very few music lovers know their music well.”
This brilliant concert program will be the fourth out of five main stage programs of this concert season. Maestro Chen, Chicago Sinfonietta’s beloved and extremely enthusiastic music director and conductor who celebrates her seventh year with the Chicago Sinfonietta, will lead the program. “Hear Me Roar” will feature such talented instrumentalists as Carol Dylan, violin; Karen Nelson, violin; Marlea Simpson, viola; and Ann Griffin, cello. Interestingly, “Hear Me Roar” falls right after International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8, and within Women’s History Month (March).
“Under the baton of Music Director Mei-Ann Chen, the Sinfonietta will open the concert with Florence Price’s Dances in the Canebrakes,” noted Mr. Hirsch. “Price was the first African-American to have a symphonic work performed by a major American Orchestra. She has recently been rediscovered thanks in large part to Maestro Chen’s programming of her works with Chicago Sinfonietta and other orchestras. The first half concludes with Dance Card, a work co-commissioned by Chicago Sinfonietta by Grammy Award winning composer Jennifer Higdon.”
Price was born in Arkansas in 1887, and after intensively studying music and attending the New England Conservatory, she and her family moved to Chicago in 1927. Eventually, Chicago brought her fame and recognition, but her path wasn’t the easiest one. Price created more than three hundred compositions and was inducted into the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1940, but after her death in 1953 her music was partially lost and partially forgotten. Chicago Sinfonietta is proud to demonstrate all the passion and the talent of this African-American female composer who deserves to be praised for her hard work, enthusiasm and mastership. Her piece called “Dances in the Canebrakes” will touch the heart of every member of the audience.
It will be followed by the Chicago premiere of “Dance Card” written by Jennifer Higdon, one of America’s most frequently performed living composers. Despite the fact that Higdon started late in music, she achieved a lot as a musician and composer and has become a major figure in contemporary classical music. She received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, a 2010 Grammy for her Percussion Concerto, and a 2018 Grammy for her Viola Concerto. She is just another example of how far a woman composer can go and how much a woman can achieve. In one of her notes about “Dance Card,” Higdon enthusiastically wrote: “‘Dance Card’ is a celebration of the joy, lyricism and passion of a group of strings playing together!” Chicago Sinfonietta is happy to demonstrate all these emotions to its audience.
“The second half of the concert begins with another commissioned work, this time a world premiere by Reena Esmail entitled #MeToo,” added Mr. Hirsch. “All three of these works [premieres] will be recorded for our 16th CD and released on Cedille Records in 2019. The concert concludes with the first movement of Symphony in F-sharp minor by Dora Pejačević. This seldom heard symphony is an early example of a composition by a women composer that should be a part of the standard repertoire of orchestras all over the world.”
The piece with the modern title #MeToo is written by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail whose works combine both the features of Indian and Western classical music. This unique composer brings communities together through the creation of pieces that are loved and understood by people with different backgrounds. Her compositions are successfully performed throughout the US and abroad and have been programmed at Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Centre in London, Schloss Esterhazy in Hungary, and throughout India. Esmail holds degrees in composition from The Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music, and was a Fulbright grantee to India. Her piece #MeToo is so unique that it is worth hearing it!
The first movement of Symphony in F-sharp minor by Croatian composer Dora Pejačević will conclude the concert. Pejačević was and still is one of the most influential figures in Croatian music. She is known for bringing orchestral song to Croatian late-Romantic music. During her short life (she lived only thirty eight years) she composed fifty seven completed works. It will be an unforgettable Chicago Premiere of Pejačević’s unique and colorful piece that will make this concert program unforgettable!
If you are interested in supporting women composers and hearing their remarkable compositions, please call Chicago Sinfonietta at 312-284-1554 or purchase tickets online at www.chicagosinfonietta.org. Tickets range from $20-$99 for concerts at Symphony Center and $49-$62 for concerts at North Central College with special $10 pricing available for students at both concerts. Ticket holders are invited before the concert and during intermission to experience activities with Girls Rock! Chicago and YWCA. These activities are presented as part of BRIDGE – Chicago Sinfonietta’s audience engagement thematic concert programming established to break social, racial, and economic barriers within the symphonic experience.
This article by Betsy Schwarm about composer Gerald Cohen’s new opera STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME is reprinted with permission from Opera Colorado’s Ovation newsletter, summer 2017.
Many of the very best operas are love stories. Few, however, are closely based on actual experiences of actual couples. This season, Opera Colorado will present the world premiere of an opera telling the tale of a very true love. The work of composer Gerald Cohen and librettist Deborah Brevoort, Steal a Pencil for Me, was inspired by the romance of Ina and Jaap Polak, survivors of Bergen-Belsen and members of the Shaarei Tikvah synagogue in Scarsdale, New York, where Cohen serves as cantor.
Having known the Polaks for over twenty years, Cohen was well familiar with their experiences. “Here,” he says, “was an amazing story right under my nose.” Imagining what a powerful opera it could make, he broached the idea to Ina and Jaap, who, as he recalls “didn’t take a lot of convincing;” there was already a filmed documentary of their story, though an opera would be something new, and even more dramatic. However, at the time, Ina was 87 and Jaap 97, a fact that led Jaap to advise “write it quickly.”
Having permission from the central subjects to make an opera of their life is one thing, but one also needs a text suitable for singing. Cohen approached librettist Deborah Brevoort. “At first, I said no,” Brevoort admits. “I was just too busy to take on something new at the time. But I agreed to read the letters, and found them too beautiful to resist.”
Brevoort and Cohen sat down to visit with the actual persons at the center of the story: an immensely rare privilege in the opera world. Admittedly, when composer John Adams wrote his opera Dr. Atomic, he drew upon recently unclassified government documents concerning the Manhattan Project, but Robert Oppenheimer himself was already long gone. Of the conversation with Ina and Jaap, Brevoort says she found it “uplifting to actually spend time with them. I would be writing words to express their personalities.”
In another time and place, it might have been a romantic comedy. Brevoort sums it up: “boy meets girl – boy loses girl – boy gets girl back.” However, Ina, Jaap, and their friends and family are Dutch Jews during World War II; the Nazis are already on the scene and a concentration camp is in the immediate future.
Brevoort cautions, however, that the resulting opera isn’t a typical Holocaust story: “Their situation made them appreciate the joyous wonder of the world, how beautiful and wonderful a glass of water was. They dreamed about sitting in a chair at a table and having an ordinary breakfast. I was struck by the ordinariness of it, and the beauty.” If the classic verismo opera concept, a la Puccini, is using music to tell believable stories about believable people, here it was.
An initial version of Steal a Pencil for Me was workshopped in New York in 2013. In an opera workshop, a work-in-progress is performed before an audience, perhaps semi-staged. Seeing it come to life, its creative team can get a stronger sense of the piece and begin to refine their creation. Opera Colorado’s Music Director Ari Pelto was asked to conduct. He found the piece sufficiently intriguing that he discussed it with Opera Colorado’s General Director Greg Carpenter, and the two decided they might be interested in staging the work.
As Pelto remembers, “it had a lot of potential, though it wasn’t ready to be produced. It needed some dramaturgical attention for better story-telling.” The suggestions that Pelto and Carpenter presented to Cohen and Brevoort were well received, and the new opera began to take more definite form. “It’s a privilege beyond what you can imagine,” says Pelto, “to have this much input this early on, and it’s personally rewarding to see how far it’s come.” Pelto’s suggestions ranged from instrumental choices to re-ordering of events in Act One: factors that affect both how the music sounds and how the story flows.
Comparing the opera’s to what Ina and Jaap actually experienced, Brevoort says “there’s very little that’s invented. We changed some sequencing and altered the opening scene in context, so we could introduce one principal character to the audience before the Nazis take him. It seemed to make Ina’s memories of Rudi – at the time, he’s her fiancé – that much more vivid.” Ina and Jaap had agreed that, when one brings real life to the stage, something need to change for dramatic flow.
Ina and Jaap are the central love story, but before coming together, both had other loves. Ina was engaged to Rudi; Jaap was married to Manja. Cohen saw this “romantic square” as a perfect opportunity for an operatic quartet late in the work, with poor departed Rudi appearing as a ghost; both Rudi and Manja free their former partners to pursue new happiness. He decided to write Ina, the younger of the two women, as a light lyric soprano, making Manja a mezzo. Rudi, being a ghost, is a high tenor. Jaap is a baritone, in part to contrast Rudi, but also because Cohen himself, as a cantor, is a baritone; the composer admits he may gravitate to his own vocal range when setting important male characters. In fact, when it comes to writing an opera, he sees an advantage in his experience as a singer: “I sense what it feels like in the voice to sing these lines, what feels right and normal.” Many an opera singer wishes more composers would approach their operatic writing in that way.
Bringing out characters and situations through musical means is exactly what the best operas do, and Steal a Pencil for Me proves that this long-standing vision still works. Anyone wanting a preview of the story itself can find it on Netflix in a 2007 documentary by director Michele Ohayan that composer Gerald Cohen found truly inspirational. However, this touching tale of love in the face of deadly peril will become even more powerful with music to carry it into the hearts and minds of the audience.
After a full life together, both Ina and Jaap passed away recently. “Fortunately, they had been ableto attend the performances in Scarsdale and New York City, sitting in the front row for both performances – a deeply emotional experience for both them and the cast. The initial workshop performance was presented in honor of their 90th and 100th birthdays. Members of their extended family are hoping to come to Denver for Opera Colorado’s production early next year.