Notes and Editorial Reviews
German-born American composer Gershon Kingsley has described his creative world as one in which “Mozart dances with the Beatles and Carl Jung struggles to reconcile the opposites of our human soul.” Focusing equally on secular and religious theatrically oriented works, he has infused his music with classical, jazz, popular, and electronic elements, resulting in a highly individual style that blends the traditional with the contemporary and even the avant garde. Heard on this CD is Kingsley’s haunting and compelling musical-theater piece for voices and chamber ensemble, Voices From the Shadow, which is based on intensely personal poems related to the Holocaust—many of them written in the concentration camps—by thirteen poets in six different
languages. This is followed by three sacred works: Jazz Psalms—vibrant prayer settings for singers and jazz combo that fuse idiomatic jazz rhythms, sonorities and vocal styles with echoes of traditional liturgical melodies, and excerpts from two choral compositions that combine the enduring spirit of the Sabbath liturgy with electronically synthesized sounds. Both Shabbat for Today, a spirited setting of the Saturday morning service, and Shiru Ladonai (Sing to God), a Friday evening service rich in lyricism, utilize Moog synthesizers to create the instrumental sounds, and demonstrate how Kingsley expanded the expressive boundaries of traditional synagogue music. Noted actor Harry Goz is heard as the narrator in Shabbat for Today.
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R E V I E W S:
For its 32nd release, the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music brings us a CD of works by the German-born (1922) American composer, Gershon Kingsley. Some may know him from his pioneering work on the Moog synthesizer, and indeed two of the pieces on this program—Shiru L’Adonai and Shabbat for Today—combine synthesizers and voices. Others may know Kingsley from his work in radio, television, and motion pictures, or from his association with the Joffrey Ballet, Josephine Baker, and several Broadway shows. He was also Jan Peerce’s accompanist on a number of international tours.
Kingsley is not the first composer, nor is he likely to be the last, to set to music poetry written by Holocaust concentration camp victims and survivors. Kingsley himself is fortunate to have escaped that fate when his family left Germany shortly after the infamous Kristallnacht in 1938. He spent eight years in Palestine, before immigrating to the US and taking up residence in Los Angeles, a welcoming haven at the time for Jewish refugee musicians and composers.
Voices from the Shadow (1997) is the main business of this release. It is a collection of 18 songs composed to poems written by concentration camp inmates and later survivors. Many were written in fear and desperation, others in hope and an unshakable faith in God’s ultimate compassion. Needless to say, most of the poems, but especially those by or about children, are heartrending. In “My Number is 434” (a reference to the indelible numbers tattooed on the arms of the inmates), a young girl sings, “I dream I am wearing an organdy dress, for I’m sixteen, at my first ball. In my hair is a poppy, in my heart a thrill.” Then too there is the sardonic, morbid humor of a child numbed by and inured to death in the “Terezin Nursery Rhyme:” “Mercy, mercy me! We’re riding in a hearse. Mercy, mercy me! We’re riding in a funeral coach. Here and there we stop off to drop off a corpse or two.”
Relying on a modest chamber ensemble of strings, clarinet, and piano, Kingsley’s settings do not overwhelm the texts. He allows them to speak for themselves, employing his instrumental accompaniments to underline the heartache and the horror with subtle but devastating effect. A striking example is “Ich möchte gerne,” in which the poet longs once again to hear the sound of a train taking him to distant places where he can watch the stars. Throughout, the clarinet imitates the sound of a chugging locomotive. The hideous irony it suggests, of course, is the image of the endless comings of the trains filled with Jews, like cattle, headed to the slaughterhouses. I presume the original languages of the poems have been retained, for the songs alternate between German, Yiddish, English, French, Polish, and Czech. This is a CD—or certainly half of one—not to be missed...Others will enjoy the jazz and synthesizer pieces more than I did. But Voices from the Shadow deserves an urgent recommendation.
Jerry Dubins, FANFARE
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