Monday, February 23, 2015

Notes from the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival (4) Julian Marshall's "Out of the Darkness"

A unique work performed in the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival, all the events of which took place in the halls of the attractive Dan Eilat Hotel, was Julian Marshall’s “Out of the Darkness” (February 6th). A graduate of the Royal College of Music, Julian Marshall (UK) has spent many years teaching, performing and writing light music, working in recording and as an improviser and solo jazz musician, also writing music for theatre. However, with composition becoming his consuming passion, Marshall has written a Missa Brevis, many jazz compositions for his own bands, songs, a film score for “Old Enough” and “The Clock of the Long Now”, a millennium commission written for the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra and several school choirs. His cantata “Out of the Darkness”, premiered on Winchester and London in 2009, written for mezzo soprano, choir and two ‘cellos, was inspired by a poem of the same name by Gertrud Kolmar (1894-1943), a German-Jewish poet who perished in the Holocaust. Writer and poet Jacob Picard has referred to her as one of the most important woman poets in the whole of German literature. “In 2008” writes Marshall “I stumbled across the poetry and letters of Gertrud Kolmar and was at once struck by what a remarkable woman and poet she was…Her writings suggest that even in the darkest of circumstances she was able to meet her fate with a stoic equanimity.” Her poem” Aus dem Dunkel” (Out of the Darkness) , written in 1937, evokes “powerful, dreamlike images of crumbling and decay – serving as an eerie foretelling of the imminent tidal wave of horror about to hit the world…” In the compositional process, Marshall looked for a musical language that would meet the darkness in the poem, but different influences came to him, a mix of styles, such as tango, bossa nova and more abstract ideas. The chamber cantata falls into seven sections, the sixth – “River” - being the only section not from Kolmar’s poem, but from two Sephardic ballads. Of this Marshall writes: “I have allowed myself this poetic license as River allows brief time for reflection away from the journey of the main text”. The work’s texts are in German, English and Spanish.

Performing the work, we heard ‘cellists François Salque (France) and Hillel Zori (Israel) with the Kölner Vokalsolisten (Germany) and Danish-born soprano Rosemarie Danziger (Israel); conducting was baritone Ansgar Eimann (Germany), a founding member of the Kölner Vokalsolisten. The vocal ensemble opened with low, held notes.
‘Out of the darkness I come, a woman,
I carry a child, but no longer know whose;
Once I knew it…’
Presenting its rich choral soundscape, the Cologne singers dealt well with the challenges of the choral text, its tonal and atonal moments (tuning forks used) and gentle clusters, its jazzy rhythms and harmonies, its drama and effects, always remaining focused on the text’s meaning within Marshall’s changing, multi-genre compositional style. Rosemarie Danziger’s lush, creamy vocal timbre gave beauty and expression to the dejected mood of the text, whether in solo singing or threaded through the rich musical collage, the ‘cellos (Salque, Zori) adding vehemence, intensity and resonance – both emotional and sonorous – to Kolmar’s richly varied depictions of what she passes on this sole journey. Spiraling to forte sounds, the work concludes with:
‘A cave awaits,
Its deepest chasm a shelter for the metal-green raven who has no name.
There I shall enter,
Under the aegis of those huge, shadowing wings
I shall crouch down and rest.
Somnolent, I shall listen to my child’s mute, growing word
And sleep, my face turned toward the East, until sunrise.’

When asked whether “Out of the Darkness” would fit into the category of a “Holocaust piece”, Julian Marshall answered thus: “My answer is both yes and no. It is, in as much as the text is, of course, deeply embedded historically in European and Jewish social context. It is also, however, for me, important to approach the piece in a broader context: as an enquiry into the critical issues of freedom and constraint that have relevance for so many today.”

A thought-provoking work within the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival’s musical fare, here was a collaboration between Israeli and overseas artists and the chance to hear a contemporary and very different work.

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