Composer Daniel Asia at Chamber Music Milwaukee

Daniel Asia, noted composer, spoke on Judaism in classical music, and Chamber Music Milwaukee played his music to support his points.

By - Sep 17th, 2012 04:00 am
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Danial Asia. Photo courtesy of Kolot Management.

Saturday night, composer Daniel Asia explored the connection between Judaism and classical music. The context was a UWM Chamber Music Milwaukee program that was a special Peck School Year of the Arts event.

Breath in a Ram’s Horn: The Jewish Spirit in Classical Music was less of a concert and more of a lecture-demonstration. Asia’s far-reaching talk began with such matters as the nature of music and prayer and extended into the nature of time, peace, religion in a secular world, the presence of pianos in homes, other composers (Stravinsky and Chicago composer Ralph Shapey mentioned by name), and even sharks. Excellent performances, by UWM music faculty members, of four Asia works illustrated the discourse.

Songs of Trancendence encompass three brief sets of variations on traditional Jewish songs. The simple, clean textures of Asia’s settings and guitarist Rene Izquierdo’s quiet performance made it easy to follow the melodies as they were elaborated. The set offered easy entry into Asia’s musical world.

In Oseh Shalom, from Asia’s Two Sacred Songs for soprano (Valerie Errante), flute (Jennifer Clippert), cello (Stefan Kartman) and guitar (Izquierdo), Asia drew on an excerpt from the the Kaddish. His musical setting resembled a mobile; Asia reordered and reconfigured and thus provided new meanings in different contexts as the text repeated.

Pianist Elena Abend played Why (?) Jacob, a reworking of materials from an earlier choral work. Asia wrote the original for the dedication of a new concert hall at the high school he had attended in Seattle. Rather than the expected celebratory music, Asia composed a meditation on a high school friend killed during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and, by extension, on others no longer present. The music swung between simple diatonic passages and denser, more dissonant harmonies and aggressive textures, to jarring effect.

Robert Swenson sang Breath in a Ram’s Horn, a cycle of songs on five texts by Asia’s friend, Paul Pines. The texts illustrate scenes in a story of difficult family life. These songs are more traditional in concept than the excerpt from Two Sacred Songs. Clippert, Kartman, clarinetist Trevor O’Riordan, violinist Bernard Zinck, and pianist Jeffry Peterson played the accompaniment, a colorful counterpoint to both the vocal line and the text. The instruments served as emotional undercurrents below the surface of the words and vocal lines.

This concert touched on just one aspect of Asia’s work. To explore it further, visit the composer’s website.

Chamber Music Milwaukee, the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center and the Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies jointly presented this program, given at UWM’s Zelazo Center.

Don’t miss anything! Keep track of Chamber Music Milwaukee and all of our town’s performing arts; bookmark Matthew Reddin’s comprehensive TCD Guide to 2012-13.



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