New Ghetto Music [chamber orch+voice+electronics]


for orchestra, voice, and field recordings of Roman cantors from 1950-60


Full Recording [audio:New Ghetto Music_2.mp3|titles=NEW GHETTO MUSIC|artists=The Knights, Christina Courtin, voice; Eric Jacobsen, conductor]

EXCERPT #1: 3’35”-8’35” [audio:New Ghetto Excerpt.mp3|titles=EXCERPT 1 from NEW GHETTO MUSIC|artists=The Knights, Christina Courtin, voice; Eric Jacobsen, conductor]

EXCERPT #2: 10’22”-12’45” [audio:New Ghetto Excerpt_2.mp3|titles=EXCERPT 2 from NEW GHETTO MUSIC|artists=The Knights, Christina Courtin]

New Ghetto Music continues my series of works based on the music of the Roman Jewish tradition. In 2008, I came across nearly ten hours of reel-to-reel tapes of Roman cantors chanting, captured in the 1940-60s by Leo Levi, an Italian ethnomusicologist. These recordings captivated me, with stoic, iron voices seemingly encapsulating more than two thousand years of history since Jews first set foot in Rome.  This piece, however, deals more loosely than my other works with a literal history, and instead deals with a notion of ghetto. Thus, what we hear first is not strictly Jewish music, but rather a nod to the exuberant, hypnotic wildness of Sardinian Tenores singing.  As Christina Courtin approaches the orchestra, singing and playing the violin, I felt compelled to use this ancient, rugged music to create a sort of ritual for beginning, for setting the stage, and for fusing two things (cultures, musics, timbres) into one.

Once the orchestra fully engages, we hear a charged set of interludes, ruminations, variations, deconstructions, and constructions mostly all based on one liturgical melody, or piyut, whose glowing, swaying melody grabbed my attention, with its ineffable sadness and joy. Rather than using the original Hebrew poetry (most likely written in the 11th century), I asked Christina Courtin and my friend, the poet Barbara Ras, to write a new text, reflecting on the original meaning and interpreting it in a personally meaningful way.

This piece was made possible through the generosity of Meet the Composer Commissioning Music/USA Program, the Marlot Foundation, and Jane and Bernie Frischer. Thanks also to Simone Ghetti for creating the electronic component of this work. I am indebted to the extraordinary efforts and collaborative spirit of The Knights, Eric Jacobsen, and Christina Courtin.