SONGS OF REMEMBRANCE
JAKE HEGGIE’s 33-minute piece of music theater will likely stand out as among the most powerful song cycles of the 21st century. It is an eloquent testament to Heggie’s humanity and to his prowess as a composer, song writer and story-teller. Whether one hears the recording or witnesses a staged production (which was the vehicle of its 2007 world premiere in Seattle, restaged in 2008 at The Broad in Santa Monica, CA), the music and the words (another tour-de-force by the brilliant librettist and frequent HEGGIE collaborator GENE SCHEER) are certain to grip the emotions and remain etched in the memory. Perhaps because the subject–one man’s love for another–still sparks controversy even in this age of tolerance, but certainly because the piece is so poignantly beautiful it can move one to tears.
HEGGIE and SCHEER tell about the persecution of gay people in Nazi Germany, the least known and told among almost countless Holocaust stories — which gave reason for MINA MILLER, founder of Music of Remembrance, to seek out JAKE HEGGIE to illuminate through a new piece of chamber music the tragic horrors that shattered the lives of homosexuals in the Third Reich. Music of Remembrance is a Seattle-based organization that fills a unique spiritual and cultural role by remembering Holocaust musicians and their art through musical performances, educational activities, musical recordings and commissions of new Holocaust-related works.
HEGGIE who was unfamiliar with the organization was intrigued and immensely challenged by the subject. Accepting the commission, he envisioned a theatrical song cycle and put his heart and soul into the project. First, he dug up as much historical information as he could. Then, he searched for a story that would communicate in the most human terms the historical and moral significance of the tragedy. He found it in a 2000 film entitled “Paragraph 175″ – named after a section of the law extant in Germany until 1970 that severely criminalized homosexuality, empowering the arrest and imprisonment of gay men on the grounds of intended sexual contact such as a mere exchange of “a look or a touch”.
The documentary highlighted the stories of five gay men, among them Gad Beck, who survived the Holocaust and lives to this day, and his 19-year old lover Manfred Lewin who–along with his entire family– did not. Heggie found the title for his work in the unreasonably punitive provision of “Paragraph 175″; and in the opening question of Manfred’s poetic diary “Do you remember?” he saw the title of the song that would set the musical and emotional tone for the entire piece. It remained for GENE SCHEER to distill the contents of the diary and dramatize the story of Gad and Manfred’s love affair. He imagined a fictional meeting between Gad who wants only to forget the horrors of the past and Manfred who, appearing as a ghost, wishes only to remember the deep, timeless love that filled their young lives in Berlin, circa early 1940s.
This imaginative juxtaposition of present with past informs HEGGIE’s highly evocative music. Composed for a unique ensemble of piano, flute, clarinet, violin and cello, it blends the classical with elements of swing and jazz in true HEGGIE style. Listen to some excerpts. You’ll be riveted, you’ll be moved, you’ll be blown away by HEGGIE’s music and SCHEER’s lyrics – a chamber music theater piece like no other!
|DO YOU REMEMBER?||THE VOICE|
|GOLDEN YEARS||THE STORY OF JOE|
|SILENCE||DER SINGENDE WALD|
Note: The World Premiere held on May 7, 2007 at the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall in Benaroya Hall, Seattle was recorded live and released on the Naxos label, with baritone MORGAN SMITH as Manfred (a sung role) and actor JULIAN PATRICK as Gad (a spoken role). The CD includes two other Music of Remembrance commissions: In Memoriam, a work for solo cello and string orchestra (or string quartet) by GERARD SCHWARZ and The Seed of Dream, a piece for baritone accompanied by cello and piano by LORI LAITMAN, based on poems written in the Vilna Ghetto by ABRAHAM SUTZKEVER. MORGAN SMITH reprised the role of Manfred in the work’s California premiere held at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica on December 4, 2008, with tenor JOHN HALL as Gad. The work was also staged by the Eastman School of Music on December 10, 12 and 14. A new version premieres in Seattle on April 2, 2011 with baritone MORGAN SMITH and the SEATTLE MEN’S CHORUS conducted by DENNIS COLEMAN.