Composer: Lori Laitman | Poetry by Abraham Sutzkever written in the Vilna Ghetto
Commissioned by Music of Remembrance
May 24, 2017, San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Catherine Cook, mezzo soprano; Walter Gray, cello; Mina Miler, piano
Imprisoned for two years with his wife and mother in the Vilna Ghetto, the great Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever was a central member of the ghetto’s proud resistance. He joined the Vilna Ghetto Underground, and smuggled weapons and taught Yiddish poetry. As a member of the “Paper Brigade,” he risked his life to smuggle out hundreds of rare books and manuscripts, and helped to hide and preserve a diary by Theodor Herzl and drawings by Marc Chagall. Sutzkever escaped the ghetto in 1943, and joined a partisan fighter’s unit. He survived Nazi anti-guerilla offensives by taking refuge in the forest and freezing waters of Lake Narocz. After the Soviet Army’s liberation of Vilna in 1944, he was airlifted to Moscow. In 1946, Sutzkever was called as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials to testify against the Nazi murderer of his mother and son. The following year he emigrated to Palestine, and lived in Israel until his death at age 96. During a long literary career, Sutzkever came to be considered one of the world’s great Yiddish poets. He also became an influential champion of the Yiddish language, urging communities around the world to keep the language alive.
In the Vilna Ghetto, Sutzkever responded to tragedy and suffering with poems that gave a first-hand account in classical meter and perfect rhyme, suffused with a lyricism laced with lamentation. In 2004, Music of Remembrance commissioned Lori Laitman to create The Seed of Dream, a song cycle based on those verses. One of today’s most acclaimed American composers of vocal music, she has a rare gift for embracing poetic texts and giving them new and deeper life through music. Describing the power she found in Sutzkever’s poems, Laitman remarked: “They bear witness not only to the destruction that surrounded Sutzkever, but also to his undying belief in the beauty of the word and the world.”