Mathew Rosenblum, chair of the Department of Music in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, is just back from hearing his most personal composition to date performed for an international audience. His clarinet concerto “Lament/Witches’ Sabbath” is a collaboration with American clarinetist David Krakauer, a high school friend of Rosenblum’s from New York City. The Polish National Radio Symphony recently performed the piece in Warsaw and again in Katowice, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project presented the work at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.
The composition tells the story of Rosenblum’s grandmother, Bella Liss, whose family fled Proskurov, Ukraine, in 1919 during that town’s massacre. Every Passover, in the family’s crowded Bronx apartment, Bella would gather Rosenblum and her other grandchildren to relate how she and her six children fled out the back door and got onto a hay cart to make their escape. Before they left, Bella tied the family’s sterling silverware to her legs, underneath her long skirts. As she fled, she stopped in the woods to give birth to Rosenblum’s mother. Eventually, they crossed the border and ended up in Vienna, where Bella sold the silver for tickets to Palestine, where she and her family lived for four years. Sometimes Bella wailed and cried while telling the tale, making it a passionate lament.
The work combines actual recorded Ukrainian and Jewish laments, Bella’s own voice, Krakauer’s clarinet and a strong allusion to Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique,” all in Rosenblum’s microtonal musical language.
“Through the mining of diverse musical and cultural sources … and addressing the universal and timely themes of migration, loss and cultural transformation, the work speaks to diverse audiences, both in the U.S. and internationally,” Rosenblum said.
Hear Rosenblum explain a portion of the composition in a Music at Pitt podcast.