Now available on all streaming platforms on the Leaf Music label, soprano Maureen Batt and pianist Tara Scott perform Elisha Denburg’s song cycle, Durme, Durme: Four Ladino Folk Songs.
Commissioned for Crossing Borders with support from the Ontario Arts Council, its digital broadcast premièred in December 2021 on the Crossing Borders: Shifting the Lens program.
“I’m thrilled to share this beautiful song cycle by Elisha Denburg,” says Batt. “I am continually impressed and enchanted by Elisha’s beautiful and nuanced vocal writing. His attention to lyricism for the voice is special. And this affinity for vocal writing is an exciting and welcomed part of the Canadian Western Classical vocal music canon.”
This interview has been edited.
Tell us about Durme, Durme: Four Ladino Folk Songs. What can listeners expect?
MB: When I received the score, I was taken by the range of energy and emotion in this song cycle. We have a lullaby, upbeat folk melodies, and a cantorial chant. From the singer’s perspective, it’s a generous and wide spectrum to get to perform. And I hope listeners fall in love with the music as much as I did.
How did the song cycle recording come about, and what drew you to it and want to record it?
MB: Much of my work is largely focused on music by living composers. This means I get to meet many composers and sing many different works and styles. But it’s a special privilege to sing multiple works by the same composer. And I have always been drawn to Elisha’s writing. I premièred two other pieces by Elisha, both of them one-act operas: The Hipster Grifter with the Toy Piano Composers in 2012 and Regina in 2014 with Essential Opera. Both have had several performances since their premières.
So, I was filled with joy when a January 2019 lunch date set the wheels in motion for this new song cycle. In my opinion, we can always use more art songs. And I’m particularly drawn to works where composers have a personal connection to the poetry or subject, as well as when composers, like Elisha, have such an affinity for writing for the voice. What a treat.
Tara Scott and I recorded this in the fall of 2021 to be included in a program called Crossing Borders: Shifting the Lens. But I knew that I wanted to release this music commercially so that it could live beyond the digital première in December 2021.
I also think my desire to record is a product of the time and environment we’re still in today. In March 2020, Tara and I had just finished another recording. As we worked on post-production for that album – and not knowing what was ahead for artists – I was inspired to look for funding for more recording projects. The past few years ended up being prolific with digital broadcast concerts, short opera films, and commercial album and EP releases; thank you, Leaf Music. I believe this is mainly because it was, and still is, a very safe way to celebrate and create new music in our current climate. And when you fall in love with something, you want to share it with everyone.
Elisha, in your notes, the song cycle explores your Jewish and musical heritage. Is this the first time in your work that you have done so?
ED: A lot of my work explores my Jewish and musical heritage through new compositions. This song cycle is the latest of many pieces that express that particular aspect of my artistic identity.
Durme, Durme: Four Ladino Folk Songs is a personal exploration of a unique aspect of my Jewish and musical heritage: Judeo-Spanish poetry and song. Although I am not a direct descendant of Jews who lived in—and were exiled from—the land called S’farad (Spain), these folk traditions have been shared in my family through the teachings and performances of my uncle, Moshe Denburg, and my grandmother, Miriam Ben-Ezra Denburg. In this song cycle, each one tells a different story, yet all are interwoven, lyrically or conceptually. I have used the poems’ traditional melodies as springboards to a newly rendered work, in the Jewish tradition of “renewing days as of old.”
– composer Elisha Denburg from his composer notes.
What do you hope listeners think about when listening to the song cycle?
ED: I would always encourage folks to read the texts and translations along with the music.
MB: I agree with Elisha regarding checking out the album booklet for extra info, including a composer’s note about the work, to enhance the listening experience. If someone is watching this on YouTube, they can turn on closed captioning (CC) for the English translations. That said, I want people to listen to and experience this music however they want. Whether listening brings up curiosity about a topic or an aspect of the poetry or whether the recording is playing while they’re cooking dinner, I’m grateful to anyone listening.
Do you have a favourite to perform? If so, why?
TS: I love playing all of them and watching Maureen interpret the third, but my favourite is A la una yo nasi. We had so much fun working on this together since it has contrasting sections, tempo changes and rhythm interplay. Elisha writes beautifully for piano, so it’s both lush and idiomatic.
MB: I’m really glad you didn’t ask this one of me. I wouldn’t have been able to choose.