Voices (2011, 2019-2020)

take a listen – hear an audio preview:

LJOVA: VOICES (2011, 2019-2020) for piano and historical recordings
1. Sirota (2011) 7.5 minutes
2. Alter(ed) Zhok (2019) 6 minutes
3. Fraydele (2020) 7 minutes.

“Sirota” was commissioned by Inna Faliks and the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. “Alter(ed) Zhok” and “Fraydele” were commissioned by the Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dedicated to Inna Faliks & the memory of Fraydele Oysher and Gershon Sirota.

When Inna Faliks commissioned “Sirota”, my first thought was “I want to find a way to get Inna back to Ukraine, musically”. I’m not sure why – I knew that Inna was born in Odessa, the place where my great-grandparents were summarily executed in 1941 – but I had no specific reason, other than curiosity, that led me to recorded collections by celebrated Cantors of the Golden Age, and in turn to the voice of Gershon Sirota.

SIROTA (the title means “Orphan” in Russian, which could be coincidental) is a composition for solo piano that incorporates a recording made by cantor Gershon Sirota and choir in Warsaw in 1908. Often referred to as “The Jewish Caruso”, Gershon Sirota was born in Ukraine and served as cantor in Odessa, Vilnius, and then Warsaw, where he perished in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The first part of the composition acts as a prelude and features fragments of the recorded melody, accompanied by a relentless limping pattern comprised of a falling and rising D-minor arpeggio. After the climax, the pianist’s role becomes that of an accompanist at a synagogue, where Sirota is chanting prayers for Rosh Hashannah (the Jewish New Year).

I do not remember how the idea of using the actual recording in performance developed — what began as a search for inspiration in old recordings became a way of seeing these historical documents in a new light.

ALTER(ED) ZHOK (“Alter” means “old”, “Zhok” is a type of folk dance) takes its inspiration from a recording collected by Joel Engel in Skvira, Ukraine, in 1912. I fell in love with the beautiful, coy melody, and its slightly obscured rhythmic form. It makes for a wonderful contrast and joyful entr’acte between the voices of Gershon Sirota and Fraydele Oysher.

In an attempt to balance out a set of three pieces to complete “Voices”, I wanted to find recordings of Jewish cantorial music by women. When I came across this recording of the celebrated Yiddish actress and singer FRAYDELE Oysher from 1953, I could not get it out of my mind – the voice, so beautifully flowing, the seamlessly shifting tonalities — I would listen to it over and over. The text of the prayer, “Ov-Harachamim”, written around the 12th century, commemorates the destruction of the Ashkenazi communities around the Rhine River by Christian crusaders during the First Crusade. The text of this prayer could also be a fitting memorial for the unforgettable voices of Cantor Sirota, the anonymous clarinettist of Alter(ed) Zhok, and Fraydele Oysher.

CATEGORY solo piano music
INSTRUMENTATION solo piano and historical recording
DURATION 1. Sirota 7.5 minutes
2. Alter(ed) Zhok 6 minutes
3. Fraydele 7 minutes.
WORLD PREMIERE “Sirota” premiered on February 27, 2011, at Highland Park Community House, Highland Park, IL (presented by Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies)

“Voices” (including “Alter(ed) Zhok” and “Fraydele” premiered on March 1, 2020, at Lani Hall, UCLA Schoenberg School of Music, as part of the Milken Fund’s festival of American Jewish Music.

OTHER NOTABLE PERFORMANCES June 30, 2011 – Bargemusic, Brooklyn, NY (premiere of “Sirota”)
RECORDING “Sirota” was recorded for a live broadcast on WFMT – hear it on this page (above)
SCORE AVAILABILITY All arrangements are available for sale via PDF or mail delivery; arrangements for combinations not listed above may be commissioned on request. [contact for more info]