WYNER: The Mirror / Passover Offering / Tants un Maysele (Naxos Milken Archives: 8.559423)
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MUSIC OF YEHUDI WYNER
YEHUDI WYNER (b. 1929)
THE MIRROR?á Suite from music for the play (1972-3)
PASSOVER OFFERING (1959)
TANTS UN MAYSELE (1981)
Prominent contemporary American composer Yehudi Wyner has produced a diverse array of orchestral, chamber, choral, theatrical, vocal and solo instrumental works, among them many commissions from prestigious organizations including Carnegie Hall, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Koussevitzky and Ford Foundations.?á Many of his major works have been informed by the Judaic heritage--particularly the vibrant Yiddish culture--that was his birthright and pervaded his experience from earliest childhood.?á His father was conductor and composer Lazar Weiner (1897-1982), the leading exponent of Yiddish high musical culture and the acknowledged master of the Yiddish art song.
Reflecting on the role of Jewish musical idioms in his compositions, Yehudi Wyner has remarked:
I sought to synthesize a contemporary aesthetic andtechnical thought with musical elements of clearly definable Jewish character.
Turns of melody, dance rhythms, cadential figures, typical sonorities of aninstrumental or ensemble nature--emerging from a body of various musicshistorically connected with Jewish life--were important elements in those piecesI intended to be characteristically Jewish.\
The first work on thisMilken CD is a suite from Wyner's incidental music to The Mirror,a play by Nobel Prize-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, one of the greatestwriters of Yiddish fiction in the modern era.?á As Neil Levin, the MilkenArchive's artistic director points out, The Mirror "concerns religiouslife among small-town Jewry in eastern Europe; the sexual frustrations oftenproduced by communally and religiously institutionalized sexual repressions andinhibitions; and the road to fantasy from those frustrations, which could leadto mystical and even satanic alliances with demons and with evil."?á In hismusical treatment of this tale of a pious woman who succumbs to temptation, ifonly in her imagination, Yehudi Wyner clearly recognized Singer's preoccupationwith revealing a consciousness of sexuality within that insular world, as wellas his passionate condemnation of superstition and hypocrisy.
The composer describedthis concert suite as "functionally after the manner of Stravinsky's L'Histoirede Soldat, but without narration."?á He acknowledged the importance ofseveral Jewish musical sources with which he had long been familiar: secularfolk and religious song, the music of klezmer bands, the monophonic modes ofthe Near East, and music of the Sephardi Jews of the Mediterranean basin."?á Healso noted his use of musical parody and stylistic distortion, which echoesSinger's employment of those same devices in prose.?á The instrumental ensemblesimulates an eastern European klezmer band.?á This work is performed here byRichard Stoltzman, clarinet; Daniel Stepner, violin; Robert Shulz, percussion;James Guttman, double bass; Carol Meyer, soprano; Judi Brown Kirchner, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Kirchner, tenor; and RichardLalli, baritone, joined by the composer as speaker.
Using these small forcesand working in a concentrated, highly idiomatic musical language that is bothevocative and arresting, the composer employs an economy of musical means toachieve his expressive goals.?á He is more concerned with capturing the play'satmosphere and mood than underlining the details of the drama itself; in effectinterpreting an emotional rather than a narrative journey.
In his chamber work PassoverOffering, Wyner sought, in his own words, "to evoke the drama andsentiment of some aspects of this legendary [biblical] history."?á Despite thesubtitles given to the five movements, which delineate the basic elements ofthe Passover story--from slavery and plagues to exodus, desert wandering andhope for the promised land--the composer viewed this work not as a literalmusical narrative, but rather as "reflections and meditations on certainsituations."?á The instrumentation was carefully chosen: the trombone representsthe signaling character of the shofar (ram's horn), and the flute evokesbiblical cantillation motifs.?á Wyner acknowledged his use of certain EasternEuropean Jewish folkloric musical idioms in this work, but described it as "amixture of a type of Stravinsky's neo-classicism with the approach of AlbanBerg."?á Passover Offering is performed on this recording by RichardStoltzman, clarinet; Carol Wincenc, flute; Ronald Thomas, cello; and DavidTaylor, bass trombone.?á
Tants un Maysele (Dance and Little Story), scored forclarinet, violin, cello and piano, has deep personal significance for thecomposer, who was inspired by two virtuoso piano pieces based on easternEuropean folk themes written by his father and dedicated to him as a child.?áShortly before his father's death, Wyner was able to present him with his ownnew composition based on those original works.?á The first section, Dance,features Hassidic-type dance rhythms, but is also, in the composer's words,"infused with a kind of violence and peremptory rage...and a sense of extrememystery and confusion."?á The contrasting second movement, Little Story,has a less frenzied, mystical quality, and is based on a slower, tranquil folklike theme of Wyner's own composition.?á This movement has distinct Brahmsianovertones, and features an effective use of instrumental color.?á On thisrecording, the composer is at the piano, with violinist Daniel Stepner,clarinetist Bruce Creditor, and cellist Jennifer Langham.
A student of PaulHindemith at Yale and Randall Thompson and Walter Piston at Harvard, YehudiWyner has earned numerous honors, including the Rome Prize in composition; twoGuggenheim Fellowships, the Elise Stoeger Award from the Chamber Music Societyof Lincoln Center, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.?áSince 1990, he has held the Naumburg Chair in Composition at Brandeis University.?á Previously he was head of the composition faculty at Yale University, dean of music at the Purchase campus of the State University of New York, amember of the chamber music faculty of the Berkshire Music Festival atTanglewood, and a visiting professor at Cornell and Harvard universities.?áWyner is also a highly respected pianist and conductor.