Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
As one enters the theater, the stage is seen dominated by three levels of scaffolding that fills the entire proscenium behind a gray scrim. Plunged into darkness as the lights go down, a single face is illuminated on the stage by a bolt of light. Smoke swirls at her feet as she starts to rhythmically recite; “I lost a sock. I lost my umbrella. I lost a sock. I lost a tooth. I lost my teeth. I lost a leg… I lost my father. I lost my voice… I lost the keys… I lost my wits. I lost my way. I lost my tongue.” This haunting meditation on the tragic and the mundane is now repeated by a chorus clad in black that slowly appears, filling the entire breadth of the stage behind a scattered pile of objects… lost objects. The voices struggle against the long slow cords from the 25-member string orchestra that appears over them on the second level of the scaffolding.
Words appear on the transparent scrim to the rising sounds of violins, double basses and timpani, scrolling down from the top and covering the backlit orchestra and chorus. The projected words of the libretto seem to unfold with the same hypnotic rhythm as the singing of the chorus and orchestra, gaining urgency as the meanings unfold. “I lost my balance. I lost my mother. I lost my shoe… I lost his number. I lost my desire… I lost my fear. I lost my land. I lost my resistance.”
Lost Objects, a collaborative musical work in 14 parts by Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe with a libretto by Deborah Artman, was performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music late last year and was easily one of the most exciting evenings of performance in recent memory. It promises great hope for a modern Jewish music.
This eclectic oratorio is directed by François Girard and includes the Bang On A Can Lost Object Ensemble, New York Virtuoso Singers, the Concerto Koln (a baroque orchestra) and the electric guitar, bass, keyboard and drums of DJ Spooky. It is intensely textual as it quickly expands its exploration of things lost into the Biblical text of offerings in Vayikra 1: 1-9; 4: 13-20; 6:5 and the Talmudic text of Baba Metzia.
The entire opening of the stage, top to bottom, is used as one shallow surface that vibrates with music, lights and text that appears on one side, then on the other, as we alternate first listening and then reading what is sung. In “Passenger Pigeon,” the thin soprano voices mourn: “Thousands of pigeons… no matter how long it is gone… the bird will always come home…” And of course, never again, for they too are lost, a lost technology. The text scrolls hundreds of obsolete technologies, an hourglass, sundial, typewriter ribbon, telegraphs, languages, each one that has slipped into a cultural oblivion. The thin voices merge now with the plaintive strings of an electric guitar on the top scaffolding and the orchestra below.
Suddenly, the voices change into the pounding chant “When Any Man,” punching out the text of a burnt offering in Vayikra: :You shall bring your offering… he shall kill the bull before the Lord… shall burn the whole on the altar… a pleasing odor to the Lord.”
The stage and uppermost level is throbbing with voices and music, drums keeping a merciless beat as all three levels of the scaffold are filled with color and light, intense shifts from crimson to ominous silhouettes and back to blood red. The boldly projected text proclaims when “the whole congregation of Israel commits a sin… a young bull… before the Lord… the blood he shall pour out… with the bull and they shall be forgiven… the fire… it shall not go out. It shall not go out.”
At the end of this riveting section, the audience bursts into a thunderous applause, shocked by the animal sacrifice and then the realization that tragically, the fire has gone out… an awesome kind of loss; of ritual, sacrifice, Temple, atonement, and finally the loss of closeness to G-d.
This oratorio, the Italian word for prayer hall, echoes the 16th century Italians who gathered to pray, read Scripture and sing hymns of praise. Lost Objects engages us because in some strange way it mirrors a Jewish experience so familiar that we have practically forgotten how special it is. Every Shabbos and Yom Tov we take out the Torah and publicly read. Our prayers are musical, repetitive, and ascend from the ordinary (hand washing, clothing, shoes) to soaring praises, the solemn affirmation of the Shema and finally the intimacy of talking to G-d Himself.
Reading the Torah breaks that rhythm and introduces pure text into our devotions. This text is read, indeed proclaimed, not individually but congregationally to all assembled. And then it is elevated and displayed for all to see, “This is the Torah that Moses placed before the Children of Israel…” We are participants in a well-rehearsed performance every Shabbos and Yom Tov, a performance of musical prayer that has as its centerpiece our text, our sacred text the Torah displayed and read as a measure of our devotion.
Halacha is introduced by the high artificial voice of a countertenor from the uppermost level of the scaffold. “I found my enemy’s ox… I found my neighbor’s ox… I cannot withhold my help, I cannot hide myself.” Again the text is arranged in our vision, this time with the verses from Baba Metziah in a block over the orchestra, a vision of broken words and insistent responsibility that flows relentlessly on through the music, voice and light. Every lost thing can, indeed must, be found. The high-pitched song tumbles into a pounding beat that demands “Missing Child. Please look… I am asking you, begging… If you hear anything, please. All prayers are appreciated.” An urgent soprano insists on help as an enormous head is projected, a child’s face smiling until she turns her head in anguish, the anguish of that which is lost, that which we all care is lost until the text itself evaporates, disappears and leaves us bereft.
The Talmud is again almost violently invoked, spare drums, urgent male voices and sopranos soaring over their pounding. “Two are holding onto a garment. This one says… This one says… and they will divide it.” Full of musical contention and clashing urgency that reflect the divided texts, now four projections each proclaim ownership of the text, each insistent until huge letters resolve the conflict. The fear of that which is lost threatens in “Not our Darkness that we fear…but our light” to strident drums until a rock guitar reveals the terrible fear of finding.
In what was until now a deeply engrossing narrative of loss and Jewish content, the libretto shifts to the mundane world and asks, “Amelia where are you… Somewhere.” While still moving, the last section about Amelia Earhart lacks urgency so deeply felt in the rest of the piece.
Loss is clearly a central motif in Jewish history and continues to function as an operative dynamic. What is so striking about Lost Objects is the expansion of our understanding of loss into the realm of presence and absence, tragedy and, finally, navigating human affairs. We are a people of the Diaspora, seemingly in a continual state of loss. What will we do once we have re-entered the land, reclaimed our lost faith and rebuilt our lost nation? Will we ever be able to lose that which was lost?
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.
Lost Objects (2001) Oratorio; music by Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe; libretto by Deborah Artman; directed by François Girard, performed by the Bang on a Can Lost Objects Ensemble, The New York Virtuoso Singers, Concerto Koln conducted by Daniel Reuss and DJ Spooky.
Available on CD at www.bangonacan.org
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Today is day six without a phone.
Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad.
I’ve been doing things that I know I would not be doing if my phone was sitting next to me, shiny screen beckoning.
Is anyone else alarmed by the way extended warranties are sold on just about anything and everything? It means one of two things – either someone has found a great way of getting consumers to part with more of their hard earned dollars or manufacturers have no faith in their own products. Neither of those options is particularly heartwarming.
As I described Gaon in a review in June 2001 (“In Search of Ancestors, Sculpture by Simon Gaon” at Yeshiva University Museum), his Bukharian Jewish roots are deeply embedded on both sides of his family, echoed in his early yeshiva education.
Let me begin by congratulating my dear machatunim, Soraya and Jay Nimaroff, on being the recipients of the Community Service Award at the Sderot Hesder Institutions 18th annual anniversary dinner.
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Do you remember the good old days when kids were kids and there was never anything to worry about? Those days never really existed, but today there are issues kids worry about that weren’t issues for some adults. They include fear of bullying, natural disasters, divorce, and violence.
In Part I talked about celebrating 30 years of Regesh Family and Child Services providing services to children, teens and families. I shared the agency’s origin and the many lessons I have learned through this journey. As I mentioned, it is my hope that my experiences will add to your toolbox of life skills.
Unfortunately, a map of the Middle East with no mention of Israel is nothing new… It is surprising however, that the world’s largest publisher of children’s literature, Scholastic Books, has joined in this trend.
About six months ago my parents and I started discussing ideas for a mitzvah project in honor of my bat mitzvah. I wanted to do something unique that would be meaningful to me and also do something that my friends could participate in. Immediately I thought of an organization called Sharsheret.
“I’m disappointed that the agreement reached with Iran leaves our unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities.
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Is there a beginning and an end to the universe? What role can medical breakthroughs play in conception or genetic engineering? Can science help us pinpoint the end of human life? Does the soul emanate from the brain or vice-versa?
Last month’s column sketched the myriad of social programs in which the Orthodox American communal worker and leader Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) was involved. Adolphus married Rachel Seixas Phillips (1828-1881), a descendant of colonial patriot families and together they had eight daughters and a son.
The fact that the Jewish Museum’s curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman presents these issues as the inescapable core of her exhibition demonstrates the courage to challenge her audience with deeply discomforting images and concepts.
Lynda Caspe’s current exhibition at the Derfner Museum is an extraordinary event. In this show of 12 bronze relief sculptures and 14 cityscape paintings we have the opportunity to see the full scope of her last six years of work that, as least with the sculptures, marked a radical change in subject matter and technique.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno famously wrote in 1949, “cultural criticism finds itself with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This statement posited that the Holocaust exposed the unredeemable rotten underbelly of Western culture and therefore the very notion of creating beauty and sensitivity was at an insurmountable impasse. Alas, as cultural history has shown, he was wrong. Strikingly, it might be said that one of the few ways still provocatively available to speak about the Holocaust is in fact through poetry.
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At the Chassidic Art Institute one artist, Harry McCormick, has rather amazingly fathomed the authentic heartbeat of the individual Jewish life. This exhibition, running until July 25, shows a mere 16 paintings, but six of them reveal a deeply perceptive and sensitive chronicle of Yiddishkeit.
Judaica Auctions and the exhibition that precede them at Kestenbaum & Company are always a cornucopia of aesthetic delights. The sheer variety and overall quality of the ceremonial objects and works of art make the exhibition and catalogue a museum-like experience. The current exhibition is no exception.
Whether it is the disastrous report of the 12 spies or the furious condemnation that doomed an entire generation to die in the wilderness, the Torah narrative in Bamidbar turns terribly grim after the glorious inauguration of the Mishkan in the second year after leaving Egypt. With this in mind, just imagine my surprise at an encounter with two artists who address these (and other Biblical) themes right around the corner.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/lost-objects-found/2005/03/16/
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