Tonight’s program features two works by Kurt Weill, a German composer who immigrated to the United States after the Nazis came to power in 1933. The concert opens with a suite of songs from musicals he composed between 1928 and 1943 and closes with a set of songs he originally conceived as a ballet. In between we will hear Bruce Adolphe’s Violin Concerto, which is based on the life of Joachim Prinz, a rabbi who urged his fellow Jews to flee Germany when it fell under Nazi control. Eventually Prinz himself fled, seeking sanctuary in the United States, where he participated in the Civil Rights movement.
In 2013, violinist Daniel Hope commissioned a suite of Kurt Weill’s music from British composer, conductor, and arranger Paul Bateman. The resulting work – “Song-Suite for Violin and Orchestra” – takes the listener on a musical journey through some of Weill’s most popular and recognizable songs. With this Suite, Bateman seeks to represent an important period in Weill’s life: his emigration from Germany to the United States. This transition fostered in Weill two contrasting compositional goals, one concerned with uncompromising exploration and experimentation, and the other with catering to a massive, demographically broad audience. Historian David Drew, widely considered the world authority on Weill, introduced the idea of “two Weills,” each epitomizing one of his disparate ambitions. In his arrangement, Bateman juxtaposes works from each of the “two Weills,” evoking a sense of his development over time.
The Suite opens with “Havana Song” from Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which premiered in 1930. The opera, with a libretto by Bertolt Brecht, is set in a destination-city for pleasure-seekers. The piece itself is sung by a young woman who discusses the price of her companionship. Next comes “September Song” from Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday, a 1938 musical with book by Maxwell Anderson. This melancholy discourse on the passage of time is the finale of the musical’s first act, but has found a second life as a standard. Then, Bateman switches gears with the lively “Kannonen-Song” from The Threepenny Opera (1928) and “My Ship” from Lady in the Dark (1941). The latter, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, features Liza, the musical’s protagonist, struggling to remember a nursery rhyme from her childhood. Bateman follows these with a song from One Touch of Venus, whose Broadway premiere in 1943 makes it the latest work presented in the Suite. The song in question, “Speak Low,” has lyrics by renowned poet Ogden Nash. The finale, The Threepenny Opera’s best-known song, “Mack the Knife,” is versatile enough to encapsulate the work of the “two Weills” and thus provides a fitting ending to the Suite.
Weill fled Nazi Germany because both his music, which was strongly influenced by jazz and other popular styles, and his Jewish heritage put him in serious danger. Also in danger was Joachim Prinz, a German-born rabbi who lived in Berlin until 1937. Bruce Adolphe’s Violin Concerto “I Will Not Remain Silent” tells his story. Prinz warned his fellow Jews of the coming crisis and encouraged many of them to leave. By doing so he saved countless lives. When Prinz immigrated to New Jersey, he did not settle down for a quiet life. He continued to speak out as part of the World Jewish Congress, and he became involved in the Civil Rights movement. Prinz even gave a public oration during the famous March on Washington, right before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech. Adolphe chose Prinz as the subject for his Concerto to celebrate his profound contributions to both Jewish culture and American Civil Rights.
As a composer, educator, performer, and author, Adolphe has enjoyed a successful career. Fueled by his interest in the interplay between music and neurology, he authored a book of exercises to help develop what he calls “Musical Imagination.” Furthermore, he has taken up the appointment of composer-in-residence at the Brain and Creativity Institute in Los Angeles. His passion for learning also bleeds into the realms of history and social consciousness, as is evidenced by his Concerto. As Adolphe himself explained, “The violin represents the voice of Joachim Prinz throughout the Concerto. In the first movement, the orchestra represents Nazi Germany; in the second movement, the orchestra represents America during the civil rights era.” The way Prinz’s voice manifests itself in the violin is passionate and urgent. This contrasts drastically with the dissonant, martial, and uncompromising voice of Nazi Germany in the orchestra. The second movement begins more peacefully, although there is still plenty of strife in Prinz’s new home. Steeped in this struggle, Prinz’s voice continues to “speak out” against injustice, racism, and prejudice. A beautiful soliloquy in the form of a passionate violin cadenza brings the Concerto to a close.
On his way to the United States Kurt Weill stopped in Paris, just in time to witness the creation of a new dance troupe, Les Ballets. Choreographer George Balanchine and dancer Boris Kochno commissioned a sung ballet – or ballet chanté – from Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Although he had no interest in working with Brecht again, Weill begrudgingly collaborated on this, their last project together. The resulting piece, The Seven Deadly Sins, was dedicated to the influential patron of the arts Marie-Laure de Noailles, who was involved with some of the most important artists of the 20th century including Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, and filmmaker Luis Buñuel.
The Seven Deadly Sins features roles for five singers and one dancer. Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya originated the singing role of Anna I, and Tilly Losch danced the part of Anna II. The two communicate with each other, giving the sense that they are two separate people, but one could interpret the two roles as two aspects of a single personality. Anna I’s strong will and fierce determination help her to convince Anna II to suppress her true feelings. A male quartet provides commentary, acting as the Annas’ “family.”
The Prologue introduces us to Anna, who, too proud to sell herself, decides to travel to seven different cities to seek her fortune, but she encounters a deadly sin in each. In the first movement, Sloth, Anna’s family sings a church chorale, warning her to avoid laziness. The second movement, a waltz titled Pride, finds Anna performing topless dances in Memphis. Wrath is a foxtrot and takes place in Los Angeles, where Anna works at a movie studio, though her anger quickly gets her fired. Then the family assembles in Philadelphia for Gluttony, an (almost) a capella barbershop quartet that warns Anna to watch her weight. She moves on yet again, but must contend with Lust in Boston. She is torn between a wealthy man she does not love, and a poor man she does. Greed (Tennessee) is an aria sung by Anna’s father, who expresses the family’s concerns about Anna’s reputation. Finally we will hear Envy in San Francisco, where Anna expresses her jealousy of those who can be true to their feelings. In the epilogue, Anna moves back to her family’s “new little house” in Louisiana. The Seven Deadly Sins received mixed reviews, and was mostly forgotten until its revival shortly after Weill’s death in 1950. Since then, it has grown in stature, becoming one of Weill’s most respected post-emigration works.
– Christine Lee Gengaro PhD © LACO
tonight’s compositions in LACO’s history
All three works on tonight’s program are new to the LACO repertoire. American composer Bruce Adolphe’s contemporary work, Violin Concerto, “I Will Not Remain Silent,” is bookended by two works from Kurt Weill. A collection of Weill’s popular songs, “Song-Suite for Violin and Orchestra” (arranged by Paul Bateman for violinist Daniel Hope), receives its US premiere. Vocalist Storm Large and vocal quartet Hudson Shad perform Weill’s famous The Seven Deadly Sins.