Sparks of Glory: In Sleep The World Is Yours

Free to the public.

2014 marked the centennary of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict that ended the world as many knew it and ushered in a frenzied creative turmoil in all of the arts.  SAM’s collection included pioneering works that reflect the radical artistic innovation that emerged in WW I’s wake. In this concert-with-commentary, MOR Artistic Director Mina Miller drew on these art works to illustrate how the period’s new musical directions responded to the same upheaval. Composer Erwin Schulhoff was profoundly disillusioned by the war, and his early musical style was influenced by the Dadaist movement. The iconoclastic Schulhoff was silenced in a Nazi labor camp, but his Second String Quartet  (1925) exemplifies the audacity that made him an important musical figure between the two world wars. The Hungarian composer László Weiner died at 28 in a Nazi labor camp, but his beautiful Duo for violin and viola (1939) is a haunting reminder of a potential the world will never know. Soprano Megan Chenovick sung American composer Lori Laitman’s In Sleep The World Is Yours. This 2013 song cycle, commissioned by MOR, sets the poignant poetry of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, a promising young talent who died in a Nazi slave labor camp at the age of eighteen. We’ll never know what music these artists might have created in a longer life and in a normal world, but their moral courage can inspire us all, and challenge us to understand the extraordinary depth of human capacity. All works performed by some of Seattle’s stellar instrumentalists, many drawn from the Seattle Symphony. 

Concert Program:

Erwin Shulhoff
String Quartet No. 2 (1925)
Mikhail Shmidt and Leonid Keylin, violins; Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola; Mara Finkelstein, cello

Laszlo Weiner
Duo for Violin and Viola (1939)
Mikhail Shmidt, violin; Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola

Lori Laitman
In Sleep the World Is Yours (2014)
Poetry by Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger
(b. Czernowitz, Romania, 1924 - d. Michailowka labor camp, Ukraine, 1942)
Commissioned by Music of Remembrance
Made possible by Music of Remembrance's Commissioning Circle
Megan Chenovick, soprano; Ben Hausmann, oboe; Mina Miller, piano

Lori Laitman offers the following remarks:

Selma was born to a German-speaking Romanian Jewish family in 1924. A talented writer, she began creating poetry at age 15. Her works consist of fifty-two poems and five translations. In 1942 at age 18, Selma died of typhus in a labor camp in the Ukraine. Thanks to the dedication and love of her friends, and later her relatives, her poetry survived, and resulted in the 2008 publication Harvest of Blossoms. What I found inspiring about Selma’s poetry was that she was able to speak the truth in simple but clear poetic language. Behind the apparent simplicity of her words, however, was a depth of feeling and thought that, for me as a composer, was very exciting — because when setting a poem to music, I look for words that an audience can grasp aurally —but also for an underlying complexity that provides me with opportunities for creating dramatic music to illuminate the text. In this respect, Selma’s poems were perfect.

I chose three poems from Selma’s book: Lullaby, Yes and Tragedy, allowing me to create a cycle with a dramatic musical arc. The combination of soprano, oboe and piano perfectly suited the mood of the poems.

Lullaby spotlights Selma’s imagination, her capacity for love and hope, as well as her sense of foreboding and the realization that dreams might provide the only comfort in the increasingly dark days.

Yes is a good example of simple surface language combined with a complicated subtext. The song progresses from a turbulent opening to a peaceful close, as Selma understands how memory will always keep loved ones close.

Tragedy ends the work, and Selma’s heartbreaking words reveal her reality: “to give all of yourself and realize/you’ll fade like smoke and leave no trace.” Yet, Selma kept writing. She knew how important the mind and imagination were when facing the unimaginable.

And how lucky for us that she did leave a trace. While one wonders how she would have grown, her beautiful poetry gives us a glimpse of a supremely intelligent, spirited and gifted young girl.