|Leonard Bernstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Leonard Bernstein was never happy with the text to his Symphony No. 3 ("Kaddish") written to lament the death of President Kennedy. Following its 1963 debut in Israel, he believed that version of the Jewish prayer for the dead needed a stronger relationship with the Almighty. When he met Samuel Pisar, he knew he had found the perfect librettist.
Pisar, the youngest survivor of Auschwitz, became an international lawyer, author, humanitarian, adviser to presidents and world leaders and recipient of many earned and honorary degrees. Following his example, two of his children currently are White House advisers.
Close friend though he was of Bernstein, Pisar watched several decades pass before a national tragedy convinced him to undertake the project. When he and conductor John Axelrod first met and worked with Christoph Eschenbach to coordinate the score and Pisar's narration of his new text for its 2003 Ravinia debut in Chicago, they were like kindred spirits, two young boys in a sandbox. The only major change they made was a space added after the Tower of Babel and before the Finale to create a long interval in which Pisar gives his sermon, first a message to the world, then his personal message of optimism.
Pisar has a voice like Gregory Peck and a commanding presence like the statesman he is. His tremendous ability to attract attention projects the power a rabbi, a priest or an imam might present to a congregation. The emotional text opens with an invocation to God. Haunted by his own survival, Pisar has seen his father tortured, executed and tossed into a mass grave and his mother, sister and schoolmates sent off in a cattle-train.
When he was rescued by Russian and American soldiers, he was "a skeletal kid with shaved head and sunken eyes, trembling at the threshold of a Birkenau gas chamber." The lullaby, perhaps the most dramatic segment, recalls the sweet voice of his grandmother "silenced in the ovens of Treblinka."
After 9/11, he knew he had to comply with Bernstein's final wish, but first he had to go back to those terrible memories, bring them to life and make every word a bomb. Technically, he had to speak totally embedded in Bernstein's complex atonal machinery. When the orchestra reaches the lullaby, the music becomes softer leading to a reconciliation with God toward "tolerance, solidarity and peace on this fragile planet." At the final word, "Amen," the audiences look stunned. They stand as if they are not going to applaud, then they burst out as if released to express what they have just felt. They know the text is authentic and they know where Pisar has been.
Pisar and Axelrod, who studied with Bernstein and shared a mutual interest with him in jazz and good music of all genres, have presented this masterpiece many times with major orchestras in several countries. In September, they will appear in Moscow with the Russian National Symphony Orchestra at the invitation of the Russian government to commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, something Pisar never dreamed could happen.
By Emily Cary
Emily Cary is a prize-winning teacher and novelist whose articles about entertainers appear regularly in the DC Examiner. She is a genealogist, an avid traveler, and a researcher who incorporates landscapes, cultures and the power of music in her books and articles.
Article Source: EzineArticles