List of abbreviations:
AT Another Timbre
SQ String quartet
1 Chaya Czernowin 1957
Czernowin was born in Haifa in 1957 and studied there until the age of 25. Then she moved to Germany to continue her studies and subsequently spent some time in Japan and again in Germany on fellowships or grants.
She also studied with Ferneyhough and Reynolds in San Diego in the early nineties.
Czernowin was awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Composer’s Prize in 2003.
It is difficult to find enough adjectives to define her work. Here are some: visceral, wild, sensual, dark, analytic, multi-sensory, sonic, concerned (with the world she is living in).
Themes like lockdown and death (Atara), the difficulty to love or to connect (The Heart Chamber) are just examples of the multitude of themes her great mind is eager to tackle.
She is known to be interested by ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), proprioception, phenomena that exist in our world but are difficult to perceive and of course psychological and physical actions or reactions of human beings.
She likes to express her musical intentions metaphorically.
1.1 Highlight: Atara Vocal YT 2020-2021
At the beginning of 2020, right before Covid hit, I had a clear concept for the orchestra piece, as follows: Crude: large blocks of orchestral mass, drifting into and apart from each other moved by momentous forceful, and unpredictable energies. This piece was to be a lament to the hubris of humans thinking that we can control the forces around us and a reminder of these unknown forces which move us and our environment. Little did I know that in March 2000 our world will stop and indeed our loss of control vis a vis nature would be so staggering.
During the 2020 Corona lockdown, I came upon a poem written by Zohar Eitan. The poem was new and was written during the lockdown. It describes the atmosphere and feelings of the lockdown and death.
Zohar is an Israeli poet/musicologist/composer, a long-term friend with whom I collaborated extensively.
I read the text and instantly knew it belongs in this piece. In this piece, the orchestra moves slowly and forcefully in huge independent blocks. As opposed to this the singers and their chamber instrumental formation are fragile, lost in the huge sudden spaces opened by the orchestra.
1.2 The Quiet Orchestral YT 2010
The Quiet is part of a trilogy of orchestral works (with Zohar Iver and Esh) in which Czernowin explores the possibilities of transcending language and attempts to create music that can be touched and felt through the ear.
It is a turning point, a new orientation in her career.
Heavy sections of material oppose lighter strands in The Quiet.
Czernowin is concerned with physics and the interactions and motions of atoms, energy, matter and other particles.
She is seeking a third realm; situated between our senses and our mind, one that is on the fringe of our consciousness.
Her whole oeuvre is a search for unknown territory, physical or mental and each work of the Trilogy is a powerful part of that quest.
1.3 Afatsim Ensemble YT 1995
Czernowin’s sound occupies a unique world and often many instruments become one composite instrument.
Afatsim is composed for an ensemble of 9 players who are spaced apart and subdivided into four groups.
The composer manages to obfuscate the groupings and the sound sources, except for a bass clarinet, are not recognizable.
First there is considerable restraint, followed by nearly inaudible passages, expressed in whispers and sighs.
Progressively the work attains real solidity and unity to find a sense of momentum which ends with a deep growl and a little grunt.
A strange, intriguing piece full of fascinating sounds.
1.4 The Guardian Concertante YT 2017
Infinite Now, the opera preceding the Guardian turned out to be darker than expected and the cello concerto is a request for some power to guard us.
Like a dream that combines waking reality with figments of our imagination
Czernowin expresses fragments from the natural world through her own voice.
The piece is a kind of exchange between the cello and the orchestra.
The cello emerges from the orchestra, but then pulls away. Wind instruments create breathy tones to resemble the sound of a bow and a string, which makes the orchestra sound like a cello.
The cello is amplified, while extended techniques add shade and color to the orchestra.
There is a solo cello after the introduction and a cadenza near the end. But don’t be fooled. This is nothing like a traditional concerto, as the cadenza is not a synthesis of the piece but rather a new place where the despair becomes transparent.
Finally, the whole orchestra crashes in all at once to end the piece.
1.5 The Hour Glass bleeds still for string sextet YT 1992/1999
This sextet is about motion and time and the music deals with phenomena that are on the threshold of hearing, speech and motion.
The multitude of timbres tends to decouple the sound from the instruments that create them.
As there is no explicit narrative, one experiences various states of multiplicity and inherent fragility.
Blood is like a pulse that affects the perception of reality and time, as well as the rhythm of our body and life.
Like in many of her other works, Czernowin uses a central idea that she distills throughout her piece.
1.6 Heart Chamber Opera DVD 2017-2019
After her remarkable first 3 operas, the emotional Pnima, the bold Zaide-Adama and the darkly majestic Infinite Now, Czernowin delivers a new kind of opera with Heart Chamber.
She wrote the libretto herself, made use of microphones that play back pre-recorded singing and videos so that the stage becomes a visualization of an internal landscape. Her orchestral writing is luminous and is boosted by ravishing electronic enhancements. A small chorus of voices in the pit binds the work together.
There is no flowing narrative, but eight close-ups define the action. It all starts with a chance encounter wherein a woman walking up the stairs drops a honey jar which is picked up by a man and returned intact to the woman.
A short dialogue ensues which sets possibilities of a love relationship in motion.
The fluid form adopted by Czernowin runs parallel with a love connection of which the outcome cannot be predicted and there is no real closure at the end.
The two characters have an alter-ego voice that describes their inner feelings and thoughts.
The opera has 5 modalities which are connected to different groups of instruments:
-Close ups that enact the plot
-Sound floods or surges that flood and saturate the concert hall
-ASRM Episodes which mimic small movements of mouth or body
-Dreams which relate to the social pressures connected to a love story
-Forests. Invisible forests, forests of muscles and veins, a forest of hair
All this sounds quite complex and the opera requires several viewings in order to be fully appreciated as the precision of the writing, the attention to details and the various expression modes of the voices are mind-boggling.