Wang Jie, Blame the Obituary
Kafka meets Cubism, “Blame the Obituary” is a 20-minute concert piece for narrator and quintet: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. At times whimsical and comical, at times devastatingly bleak, our narrator takes us on a journey into his lonely soul, writing his own obituary accompanied by a microscopic animal living in his house. A virtuosic quintet plays Wang Jie’s evocative music, while narrator Fred Child (host of America’s most listened to classical music radio show, Performance Today) narrates with pathos and self-deprecating humor. Creative conception and text by American screenwriter Charlie Peters (5 Flights Up, My One and Only). By the end, the audience will have memorable tunes and delicious harmonic passages in mind, and will have reflected on the meaning of their own loves, losses, and choices during these uniquely trying passages of life. The composer wrote:
“Often enough, conventional theater frustrates me with their music choices. Can you blame me? I’m raised amongst the best musicians from all walks of music genres. On the other hand, traditional concert music programming intensely focuses on the performance of music itself. As I live and breathe this tradition, every once a while, I like to have my cake and eat it too.
The way I see it, if the concert hall looks like a stage, and lights up like a stage, it is a theater. Even if the entire cast are none other than exquisitely executed musical notes. In this sense, “Blame the Obituary” is a fun surprise for chamber music lovers. Fun because when pure music and theater plug into each other, it’s like peanut butter meets strawberry jam. Not to mention the untapped theatrical instincts of classically trained musicians. For example, the music in “Blame” not only illustrates the narrator’s emotional world, the musicians are part of the act. Why not? Did I mention music is theater?
I imagined “Blame” to be a fully immersive concert experience. It is distinctly concert music because the narrator is first and foremost a complete musician. To execute the part, in several important sections of the piece, the narrator must perform words as music. I wove these words into the fabric of the ensemble playing. The ensemble’s rhythmically charged music and the narrator’s intricate interaction with the musicians bring a truly virtuosic production.”
David Serkin Ludwig, Hashkiveinu
The “Hashkiveinu” is a Hebrew prayer said at night in preparation for sleep, both in sacred services and in quiet moments alone. It is a prayer of supplication, asking for shelter and protection through the night so that one can be sure to wake the next day. We can imagine the dangers that came after sundown for the ancient people who first uttered the words of the Hashkiveinu, and how saying the prayer could have given a feeling of calm and security in asking a higher power to guard them as they slept.
The Hashkiveinu is the inspiration for my fourth piano trio, as well. The piece has no words but seeks to capture both the fear and hopes described in the prayer. It begins resolutely and returns repeatedly to a series of cantillated melodies set to overlap as if multiple people are singing the same chant, just not quite at the same time. Out of these close canons come long passages of dreaming music which get interrupted by darker interjections. The piece itself is about cycles of day to night, the clearly illuminated and the opaque, and the space that strength and openness share together.
My brother-in-law Joel Doerfler was my friend, mentor, and as close to a father figure as I could ask for in my formative years. He passed away this spring after an illness that brought about rapid deterioration of his mind and body: one day he was the Joel I always knew and two months later he was gone. He was not religious (nor am I for that matter), but this prayer for protection in our most vulnerable moments felt only appropriate to offer in his memory.
- David Serkin Ludwig