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ClassicsOnline Home » BERGER: Miracles and Mud / Sink or Swim / Doubles / for amos
Jonathan Berger’s music is deeply spiritual and hauntingly evocative. These works for string quartet and solo violin include Eli Eli, an adaptation of a beloved Hebrew melody written in memory of journalist Daniel Pearl; Miracles and Mud, a plea for coexistence; for amos, a reflection on the fragility of life; Sink or Swim, a set of variations on a Scottish love song; Doubles, described as “a quartet of profound depth and beauty”.
By David Denton
Jonathan Berger (b.1954)
Miracles and Mud
All the works on this recording have references to other music. Some, like Eli Eli and parts of Doubles are overt, while others are, at best, vague allusions.
Eli Eli (in memory of Daniel Pearl) is based upon David Zehavi's setting of a poem by Hanah Senesh, a young émigré to Palestine who died the age of 23 on a mission to rescue Jews from her native Hungary during the Second World War.
Sink or Swim (for violin solo) is based upon the traditional Scottish American folk-song ' The Water is Wide '. The only recognizable snippet of the song is in the last of its four movements.
Miracles and Mud (for string quartet) alludes to very brief fragments of two folk-songs, one Palestinian and the other Israeli, each about an emotional bond to the land. The title is a pun on two types of coffee, one the European instant coffee (called 'nes' or 'miracle' in Hebrew) and the other, Arabic coffee called 'botz' (mud). Upon entering any household in Israel or Palestine the guest is often greeted with the question 'Nes o botz' (literally 'miracle or mud'). The piece juxtaposes the music of these two cultures sometimes set in violent contrast and other times finding a common ground. The piece has alternatively been interpreted by reviewers as being “hopeful and optimistic” or “desperately pessimistic”. Depending upon the news of the day either interpretation may be appropriate.
for amos (solo violin) was written for a young boy, the friend of my son, as he was undergoing critical surgery to remove a lesion near the brain. The piece has no actual quotations, but each of its six movements alludes to types of music young Amos loved at the time.
Doubles was commissioned by the Hudson Valley Chamber Music Festival for the St. Lawrence String Quartet. The piece hints at, alludes to and occasionally directly quotes impressionable songs of my youth. These include (in order of appearance) ' Carry It On ', a song of the civil rights movement, ' Die Moorsoldaten ', a song of the Nazi concentration camps, ' Keep Your Eyes On the Prize ', a spiritual used in unionization campaigns and in the civil rights movement, the Yiddish folk-song ' Dona Dona ', and ' La Quince Brigada ', an anti-Fascist song from the Spanish Civil War.
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BERGER: Miracles and Mud / Sink or Swim / Doubles ...