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ClassicsOnline Home » STOCK: Little Miracle (A) / Yizkor / Tekiah / Y'rusha
David Stock (b. 1939)
A Little Miracle • Yizkor • Tekiah • Y'rusha
About the Composer
David Stock was born in 1939 in Pittsburgh, where he continues to make his principal home. He studied trumpet and composition with Nikolai Lopatnikoff and Alexei Haieff at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (later Carnegie Mellon University), where he received his bachelor of fine arts degree in 1962 and his master of fine arts degree a year later. He earned another master's degree at Brandeis University, studying with Arthur Berger. He has also studied at the École Normale de Musique in Paris and at the Berkshire Music Center.
Cofounder and conductor laureate of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Stock has been composer-in-residence at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Symphony, and in 1992 he was chosen by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to receive its Creative Achievement Award for "outstanding established artist". As a devoted champion of music by contemporary American composers, he has served as chairman of the Pittsburgh Alliance of Composers, directed the WQED-FM New Music Project, and written for such prestigious academic journals as Perspectives of New Music.
Stock's music has been performed throughout the United States and Europe, and in England, Mexico, Australia, and Korea. Among his most prized commissions are Kickoff, which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Kurt Masur during the orchestra's 150th anniversary season, and his violin concerto, which received its premiere performance by Andrés Cárdenes and the Pittsburgh Symphony under Lorin Maazel's baton — for its 100th anniversary celebrations. Other significant works include Available Light (1995) and American Accents (1983), both for chamber orchestra; A Joyful Noise (1983) and Inner Space (1973), for full symphony orchestra; five symphonies; six string quartets; many chamber pieces for a variety of combinations, such as Triple Play (1970), Dreamwinds (1975), The Philosopher's Stone (1980), Parallel Worlds (1984), Keep the Change (1981), and Sulla spiaggia (1985); and such miscellaneous works as Nova (1974) for wind band and The Body Electric (1975) for amplified double bass, woodwinds, and percussion. He has also written several film and broadcast scores.
By the 1970s Stock had come to realize the need for finding a middle ground between new music that challenges its listeners and music that is nonetheless capable of resonating with the sensibilities of audiences not confined to so-called contemporary music aficionados. He dedicated his energies to increasing the public's appreciation for new music, developing a strategy he calls "rediscovery of the audience". One of his related goals has been to render serious new music attractive to young audiences, as exemplified by two of his works for youth orchestras: Zohar (1978), whose title and program derive from Jewish mystical literature, and Triflumena (1978). As important influences on his art, Stock credits such diverse sources as Stravinsky, Hebrew liturgy, and jazz, the last of which is well illustrated in one of his best-known works, Scat. Manny Theiner, in his article "The Music of David Stock" from the CD notes for Taking Stock (Northeastern), appropriately assessed his music as "well-defined, with clear shapes, driving rhythms, and bright colors and timbres".
Stock has taught on the faculties of the Cleveland Institute of Music, the New England Conservatory, Antioch College, the University of Pittsburgh, and Duquesne University. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship; several fellowship grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; and numerous grants and commissions from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust, the Paderewski Fund for Composers, the Barlow Endowment, Boston Musica Viva, and the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, as well as from a number of orchestras — including the Cincinnati Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Stock's guest conducting appearances have included the Silesian Philharmonic (Poland), Foro Internacional de Música Nueva (Mexico), Eclipse (Beijing), the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Chautauqua Symphony, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the American Dance Festival, the Baltimore Symphony, and many others.
A Little Miracle
Stock's dramatic cantata for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra, A Little Miracle, has been described by its librettist, Bess Weldon, as an "operatic monodrama". The story is her own creation, but it plays out against the very real and familiar theme of parent and child hiding and attempting to escape during the German war of annihilation against Europe's Jews. Here, the tale is woven around the dual miracle of birth itself and of survival through the faith and courage sustained by the memory of a mother's song.
Before the war, Tova and her husband, Yaakov, lived in a town somewhere in Poland, sharing their living quarters with her parents. When the Germans forced the Jewish population into one of the ghettos they constructed as concentration depots for ultimate deportation to the camps, her father refused to go, preferring to remain behind and face certain death. In the cramped quarters of the ghetto, Tova gives birth to Rosa — her "little miracle" — in the midst of the surrounding "decay and destruction", which is punctuated by the sound of nightly gunshots. With simplicity and judicious economy, the libretto describes the deteriorating situation in the ghetto as fellow Jews are murdered and as the population dwindles with the deportations. Apparently knowing that their turn is imminent, Tova, Yaakov, and their baby, together with her mother, Berta, hide at first in a closet [cupboard]. But as Yaakov and Berta make preparations for the family's escape, they are shot. Tova manages to flee with Rosa to an apparently prearranged location, where the two are hidden in a stifling farmhouse basement — presumably by local partisans or members of the Polish underground resistance who are willing to hide Jews. During that virtual imprisonment, when they could be discovered at any moment, Tova is sustained only by her recollection and repetition of a Yiddish lullaby that her mother sang to her as a child. The song calms her and her child and gives her courage to continue eluding her pursuers and ultimately to survive. And Tova credits the song — and its embodiment of her murdered mother's spirit — with saving her and Rosa: "I am saved by a miracle, a simple song".
Commissioned by the Mary Flagler Cary Trust, Stock composed A Little Miracle expressly for mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, with whom he had worked during her student days at Duquesne University. She sang its premiere at Lincoln Center in New York in 1999 with the New York Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz.
Stock, having determined that he wanted to write a Holocaust-related piece, discussed some ideas with Bess Weldon — an actress, writer, drama teacher (at Vassar College since 1997), and close friend of his daughter Rachel Stock Spilker (now a cantor in St. Paul, Minnesota, as is his daughter Sara Stock Mayo in Pittsburgh and his son, Jeffrey, in Haverhill, Massachusetts). "I told her what kind of work I wanted to write", he later recalled, "and within a few days she had devised the general story plan". Weldon's text was then inspired by actual stories of Holocaust survivors, as well as by related fiction and poetry. "Her writing was so inspiring", says Stock, "that the music seemed to compose itself". The events of the story are related by Tova as a first-person narrator, but, where indicated, she also sings in the name of her mother and her young daughter. A Little Miracle is dedicated jointly to those who were murdered by the Germans and to those who survived.
The title of Yizkor (lit., May He [God] Remember), Stock's single-movement elegy for string orchestra, refers to the name of the formal Jewish memorial service for specific relatives (hazkarat n'shamot — remembrance of souls). This service is conducted communally, but recited individually, among Ashkenazi Jews on four occasions on the liturgical calendar — usually within the morning Torah service, before returning the scrolls to the ark. Those four occasions are Yom Kippur and the last days of each of the Three Festivals (Sukkot, Pesah, and Shavuot).
Traditionally, yizkor has been observed chiefly with respect to one's parents, often in conjunction with pledges of charitable donations to honor their memory. But one may elect to recite yizkor in memory of others as well. Indeed, many 20th and 21st century prayer books, including some with traditional formats, provide for such additional yizkor recitation for children, siblings, spouses, other relatives, and even friends. There are also memorial prayers for collectively martyred fellow Jews (viz., those who were murdered because they were Jews), especially, since the second half of the 20th century, those who were slain by the Germans during the Holocaust. Soldiers who have given their lives on behalf of the State of Israel are also sometimes remembered within contemporary yizkor services.
Originally, the yizkor service was confined to Yom Kippur. Its introduction on the holiest of days may be linked historically to the opening passage of the morning service Torah reading, which refers to the death of Aaron's two sons (Leviticus 16). One theory also holds that it was instituted as a spiritual vehicle to induce deeper repentance on the Day of Atonement by invoking the memory of one's parents and resolving to honor them by mending one's ways. The custom of praying for the departed on Yom Kippur and Festivals was opposed by some leading medieval scholars and authorities (notably Hai Gaon and Nissim Gaon). They stressed the conviction that only worthy deeds of the departed during their lifetimes — not deeds or words of atonement by their descendants on their behalf — are of consequence before God. Nonetheless, this practice gained special significance during the Crusades and the waves of persecution in Europe in the following centuries, and by the 17th or 18th century, hazkarat n'shamot, or yizkor, had become a firmly rooted part of the Ashkenazi synagogue ritual for the Three Festivals as well as for Yom Kippur.
The word yizkor is derived from the text incipit of the principal prayer of the service: yizkor elohim nishmat … (May God remember the soul of…). The individual private recitations of yizkor may be preceded by optional Psalm verses and readings. Following those yizkor recitations, the service concludes in many if not most Ashkenazi synagogues with the prayer el male rahamim (God, who is full of mercy), which is intoned by the cantor or prayer leader. In the Sephardi rites, each of those who are accorded the honor of being called up to the Torah — to recite the benedictions in connection with its reading — recites a memorial prayer for his relatives after pronouncing the benedictions.
The piece — which proceeds as a tonal reflection of the mix of solemnity, reverence, sad-heartedness, sorrow, and ultimate acceptance that might typically characterize a yizkor service — opens with a melody in minor that seems defined by its overall descending contour. That initial thematic-melodic material sounds at first against a calm drone of open fifths, followed by harmonies in parallel progression — suggestive of traditional cantorial chant against typically sustained choral underpinning with a hint of antiquity. A second theme, this time with an ascending melodic contour, serves as counterpoint to the first, and the interplay between the two provides the basic substance of the piece. The overall spirit becomes appropriately resolute at the conclusion, with its widely spaced major chord in the final measures perhaps echoing — whether deliberately or subconsciously on the part of the composer — the faith inherent in the concluding line of the yizkor text itself (May his/her soul be bound up in the bond of life…), and in the text of el malei rahamim (Keep his/her soul alive forever under Your protective wings…).
Yizkor is an orchestral adaptation of the second movement from the composer's Fourth String Quartet. It received its premiere performance in 1999 at the Western Slope Music Festival, in Crested Butte, Colorado, where it was played by the festival orchestra under the baton of Imre Palló.
Stock's Tekiah [ t'ki'a ], is a three-movement work for trumpet and chamber orchestra. The word tekiah translates from the Hebrew literally as "sounding", but it is most commonly associated with the sounding, or blowing, of the shofar and its required hearing on Rosh Hashana (notwithstanding the various functions of the shofar on other occasions, both historically and in contemporary usage). More specifically, t'ki'a is the name of one of the three plaintive call patterns — mostly outlining the interval of a perfect fifth — according to which the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashana and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. The ordinary (short) t'ki'a ends abruptly. The prolonged t'ki'a g'dola (great t'ki'a), employed as a finale to a series of shofar blasts, is generally sustained to the limits of the blower's breath.
In Stock's mercurial frolic here through the minefields of virtuoso display and agile tonguing techniques, the trumpet might be perceived as a modern incarnation of the ancient shofar — but only as a departure point in terms of overall effect, with little actual reference to the emblematic intervals of shofar calls. The most obvious reflection of shofar patterns is heard in the recurring successions of rapid and repeated staccato and staccato-like figures — especially in the first and third movements — which recall, in combination, two other characteristically sputtered shofar calls, sh'varim and t'ru'a, even more than recalling t'ki'a itself. These dry, galloping, and swiftly paced figures are developed and transformed continuously in a motoric, ever-evolving, almost neo-Baroque pitter-patter, requiring a highly skilled trumpeter. "As a former trumpet player", Stock has explained, "I wanted to challenge the soloist to the limit, while still staying within the bounds of mainstream trumpet technique."
In the more lyrical, songlike second movement — which contains within it a short-lived scherzo — muted trumpet passages lend a blues ambience. This leads directly to the playful third movement, which is built largely on the stuttered single-pitch triplet motive presented at the outset.
Tekiah was composed at the MacDowell Colony and in Pittsburgh in 1987, on commission from the Three Rivers Arts Festival, during whose 1988 season it was premiered by Stephen Burns and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble.
Y'rusha (Hebrew for "inheritance" or "heritage") is a cleverly fashioned divertissement of unrelated melodic and modal references, tune shards, and instrumental idioms derived mostly from the perceived melos of eastern European Jewry and its immigrant generation in America. Stock has imagined these as a single collective representation of one particular aspect of Jewish musical y'rusha. The work, for clarinet solo and an ensemble of seven instruments, is permeated by sighs, wails, slides, exaggerated portamento effects, and other clichés emblematic of the performance styles and techniques of 19th and early-20th century Jewish wedding-band musicians known as klezmorim (sing., klezmer). There are hints and even partial quotations of actual tunes known to have belonged to the klezmorim repertoire, as well as other tunes that appear to be original but are conceived in the same vein. In the course of his musical development, the composer exploits, reworks, refracts, and alters these tune fragments in various juxtapositions and pointillistic reincarnations, providing mini-cadenzas for the clarinet as well.
Apart from such klezmer-associated and flavored material, there are also quotations from well-known Jewish songs. Among them is Di grine kuzine (The Greenhorn Cousin), the once-famous Yiddish popular song and fixture of the Yiddish vaudeville and music hall milieu believed to have been written in New York in 1921 by the illustrious bandleader Abe Schwartz, with lyrics, according to the prevailing copyright, by Hyman Prizant. (Jacob Leiserowitz [Yankele Brisker] persisted in his claim to authorship of the words, even though his lawsuit to that effect failed.) Di grine kuzine is a humorous song, but it also became one of the best-known expressions of immigrant disillusionment over the unanticipated economic hardships in the "new land". At the same time, it encouraged a fashion of lighthearted songs about "greenhorns" — a common tag for newly arrived, un-Americanized, and unadapted immigrants.
Also heard within this piece are allusions to the song Mazl tov (Congratulations), a prominent feature at wedding celebrations. The song probably stems from Europe, but it is also one of the best-retained customs among traditional Ashkenazi weddings in America.
The composer added a liturgical parameter with his incorporation of the now ubiquitous tune for the last line, or stanza, of the strophic prayer text avinu malkeinu (Our Father, Our King), as it is sung congregationally toward the conclusion of Yom Kippur — and of the pre–High Holy Days formal service inaugurating the daily recitation of the s'lihot (penitential) liturgy. Although the melody is universal among American Ashkenazi synagogues and at the same time bespeaks an obvious eastern European modality, its origin remains undetermined. It is not found in any notated European sources.
Another, more contemporary song whose text is from the liturgy is also featured prominently: Ose shalom, the concluding Hebrew passage appended to the Aramaic full kaddish prayer. While the words are therefore liturgical, the song itself is not and was not so envisioned by its Israeli composer, Nurit Hirsch. It began its life as a winning entry in the Hassidic Song Festival in Israel, held in 1969, and it then became almost instantly popular in North America as an expression of the post-Six Day War atmosphere of enthusiastic optimism regarding eventual and permanent peace. Despite its nonliturgical origins, however, the melody was subsequently adopted in numerous American synagogues for the concluding kaddish recitation or at other places in the service, for congregational singing.
Y'rusha was composed in 1986 in London on a Consortium Commission grant from the National Endowment for the Arts — for clarinetists Richard Stoltzman, Michelle Zukovsky, and Larry Combs. Zukovsky played the premiere performances in 1987 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group. Stock dedicated the piece to the memory of his grandmother, Eva Dizenfeld, who passed away at the age of ninety-three while he was writing it.
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STOCK: Little Miracle (A) / Yizkor / Tekiah / Y'ru...