Book of prayers
volume 1, series 7, for cello and piano
For me this work is very special, because the premiere of it was the beginning of my collaboration with phenomenal young cellist Sebastian Bäverstam. This creative collaboration continued all the subsequent years and continues now. Sebastian played at the concert at New England Conservatory this most challenging - both technically and interpretation-wise - work, when he was 12 years old (just turned 12), and he learned it in 10 days before the concert, his play was incredible by any highest standards, I still have the recording from that concert! Since then I wrote the whole library of cello/piano and solo cello works for him - to play with me and solo. We called our duo “Jupiter Duo”, as the planet Jupiter - in astrology - is the ruler of Sagittarius (I am Sagittarius) and co-ruler of Pisces (Sebastian is Pisces), and besides people say that when we play together it is like one person is playing - it is a perfect consonance of two creative personalities.
Somebody great said once: “When we play music, no matter what we play, we always pray”. So I use the word ‘prayer’ first and foremost in this sense - as music, in my opinion, is humankind’s covenant with Almighty.
In 3 movements of this piece I sought to convey the complexity of human relationship with the Divine - aspiration of human soul upwards; the state “between trepidation and hope”, experienced by all believers; sorrow - both our human sorrow and the Sorrow of Almighty who always grieves together with all humans who grieve; supplication and subsequent consolation and love which come both from Above and from other human beings; jubilation (when the marrow of our bones is singing and dancing) and many other ineffable states of human mind and heart in their aspiration to connect with the Divine.
series 2, FOR solo cello, in 3 movements
“Sephardic Romancero” series 2 for solo cello in 3 movements - written for Sebastian, knowing that for anybody else it will be almost impossible to play this piece - it uses to the utmost all the resources of that instrument. All 3 movements of this piece are somber, dark, impassioned utterances, with sorrowful sarabande-like pace of the 1st movement, bizzarre and quirky 2nd movement and mournful, soulful Largo of the 3rd movement.
Sephardim are Spanish and Portuguese Jews, their language is Ladino - the most ancient variant of Spanish. After the Holocaust only 10% of them remained... In this piece there is a slight ethnic - Spanish and Middle Eastern - tinge of the musical material, but it is not that obvious, it lies deeper within, as an organic element of my style.
I use many kinds of extended techniques in this composition. Sebastian can do miracles on the cello - I asked him to produce at certain places such sonority on the cello, as if it is some Middle Eastern folk bowed-string instrument playing, and you will notice a couple places where it does sound this way!
three film noir pieces
for solo piano
Both solo piano compositions - “Three Film Noir Pieces” and “Spiral Staircases” - were composed in connection with the concerts at New England Conservatory (NEC), which my friend, great musician Ran Blake, the head of Contemporary Improvisation Department at NEC, arranged at that time. At these concerts there was an actual movie demonstrated on the screen at Jordan Hall of NEC, and each of the participants of the concert - professors and students - received from Ran a fragment of the movie, to which he or she had to play the music at the concert, during the demonstration of the movie. I decided in both cases to compose more than was demanded - instead of one piece - three. “Three Film Noir Pieces” were written in connection with “Cat People” and “The Curse of Cat People” movies, shown at that evening. I played at the concert the first piece, two more I wrote additionally, they are not tied to any concrete episode of the movie, but more - to the crazy, sick, oppressive and sinister atmosphere of both movies, and they were not used at the concert.
concerto for cello and orchestra, arr. for cello and piano, in 2 movements
“Third Vigil” in 2 movements was at first written as Concerto for cello and orchestra, but after I made the arrangement of it for cello and piano and we played it with Sebastian at the concert, I understood that I like it even better as a cello/piano piece!
By the Third Vigil I mean not the third sleepless night of someone who suffers from insomnia, but - in the 1st movement - the third change of guards at night, at the Temple in those olden times - still night, but nearer to the dawn, a solemn and mysterious ritual, accompanied by the fragments of nightly prayers, whispered talks, various rustles and murmurs of night, and the rustle of thoughts and ideas in the head of a philosopher or a poet: “Don’t sleep, don’t sleep, you artist, don’t lose a single night - you are Eternity’s hostage, a prisoner of Time” (Boris Pasternak).
The 2nd movement has a subtitle in Hebrew - “Bat Col”, it is that echo, that our whole world represents in its relationship to the World Above: all, that is in this world is only resonance, only a partial tone, a residual, a shadow of what is Over There, therefore the principle of echo plays great role in this movement. There are splashes of virtuosic passages for both cello and piano, but here they represent bursts of light rather than splashes of ocean waves. In the end of this movement the material, with harmonics of cello, from the 1st movement returns, but with anticipation of soon coming dawn in it - the prescience of Light.
I wrote both parts in this work counting on Sebastian and myself as performers, so both parts are very challenging in every way.
three pieces for solo piano
“Spiral Staircases” were written the same way as “Three Film Noir Pieces” - I received for the concert that movie episode in which a female protagonist of this film of the same title - a mute (but not deaf!) young woman - dreams of the man she loves, imagining that she dances with him, and then - that they are at the church, filled with people who gathered for their marriage ceremony there, the priest asks her that usual question, and she can’t answer ‘I do’, as she can’t speak, so in her mind there is only the echo of the priest’s question, and then - her thoughts return to the tragic reality of her actual life. In “Spiral Staircases” that piece is the 3rd, and I gave it the subtitle -”Bitter-sweet Dreams and Bitter Reality”. The first and second pieces were not written for the concert, but the 1st of the pieces was written in connection with the concrete movie scene - that one, in which the mute young woman tries to attract attention to her horrible situation, hurling pieces of furniture to produce noise, as she can’t ask for help verbally, I gave it the subtitle - “Trying to Break Through the Wall of Silence”. The middle piece - “Up the Spiral Staircase that Leads Down” - is connected mostly with general heart-rending and tragic atmosphere of the movie.
querying the silence
volume 1, series 2, for cello and piano
This work consists of 4 movements, the title “Querying the Silence” uses the words from one of my poems in Russian from the cycle “24 preludes”. All 4 movements use extensively the effect of echo, as the only result of our querying the silence would be the echo of our own words. The idea came to me in 2003, at the time of my greatest loss and grief that I can’t find words to describe - the time soon after passing away of my precious, most beloved Mother, who was the greatest treasure of my life, the greatest gift of Almighty to me.
The 1st movement of it is intense, passionate dialogue of two instruments, which in reality is a monologue - because of relentless echo principle all the questions are rhetorical, of course...
The 2nd movement - mournful Barcarola, with lulling rhythms - “gliding along the river of Oblivion”, otherworldly mysterious episodes, with the outburst of despair in cello in the climax point, which is immediately rippled away by piano’s soft “waves”.
The 3rd movement is the most enigmatic - truly for me two instruments here represent two Guards at the Gates of Silence, whose questions it is impossible to answer, and who never expect any answers, as the questions are directed into Silence.
The 4th movement - it has jubilant, otherworldly dance-like rhythm - maybe celebration on the Isle of Joy - Over There, Above, with greeting fanfares for every ferry that comes There.
book of prayers
volume 2, series 4, for cello and piano, in 3 movements
The last piece on the album - “Book of Prayers” volume 2 series 4 - is one of rare for me compositions in which lighter colors prevail. It is also the most “consonant” by sonority, at times even quasi-tonal. It is one of my “Georgian” pieces, as I call them. Georgia - this little Trans-Caucasian country - I consider my one another spiritual Motherland. It has the most amazing folk music - Georgian folk poliphony is considered by UNESCO as one of the cultural treasures of humankind, and really, it is amazing - three-part very sophisticated folk songs, which local people sing in what is called Georgian bel canto. These people managed to save their cultural treasures during Soviet regime...In 3 parts of this work there is that very slight something in the musical idiom, that might suggest an ethnic Georgian tinge, but all within the parameters of my own style - it doesn’t lie on the surface, it is deeper within - it is more the spirit of Georgian music rather than the letter of it. Georgia became a Christian country the first in Europe (together with Armenia), they have the most phenomenal (by their architectural beauty) monasteries and cathedrals there, some date from 10th and even 9th century. This particular composition for me always is connected with one monastery - Djvari - there.
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