The Dybbuk Suite Op. 35 (1922)
Joel Engel (b. Berdyansk, Crimea, 1868 - d. Tel Aviv, 1927)
Dance commissioned by Music of Remembrance (2010)
Donald Byrd, choreographer; Emily Pihlaja and Andrew Pontius, dancers
Laura Deluca, clarinet; Mikhail Shmidt, violin; Natasha Bazhanov, violin; Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola, Walter Gray, cello, Jonathan Green, double bass; Matthew Kocmieroski, percussion
Recorded November 4, 2018 at Benaroya Hall
Joel Engel led the Moscow chapter of the Society for Jewish Folk Music for over a decade until 1919, publishing folk song collections and some 150 compositions by himself and other Russian-Jewish composers. In 1912, he joined the folklorist and Yiddish writer S. Ansky on an ethnographic expedition to collect Jewish music and other folk culture in the shtetls of the Pale of Settlement. The results of this expedition included hundreds of musical transcriptions and early field recordings that became the inspiration and source material for Jewish composers to the present day.
There they learned a tale about a "dybbuk," the soul of a dead person possessing a living one. Captivated, Ansky went on to write the play "The Dybbuk," and Engel wrote the incidental music, including traditional songs he had heard in the shtetls such as the Chassidic song "Mipnei Ma (Why?)" about the ascent and descent of the human soul. "The Dybbuk" had its premiere in 1922 in Moscow's Habima Theater and went on to become the most famous Jewish play in the world. Engel's music, in its day performed across continents, has largely been lost to succeeding generations.
In 2010, MOR commissioned Spectrum Dance Theater's brilliant Donald Byrd to create original dances, adding a dimension of intimate physical presence to Engel's hauntingly evocative music.