As the date for Our America approaches on Wednesday, March 7 at 7:00pm at The Cooper Union, I wanted to take a moment to share with you my very personal connection to this program. The increasing tensions around immigration have increased my sense of urgency to celebrate the contributions that immigrants make – and have always made – to the artistic and cultural health of our country.
I myself come from a family that emigrated from Central Europe to New York during the first part of the 20th century. My father grew up in a Yiddish-speaking household, and my mother and her immediate family fled Vienna after Hitler invaded. Thanksgiving at our house always began with my Hungarian-born grandmother saying “God Bless America!” This had a great impact on me… she meant it with all her heart. America had saved her.
This same grandmother was a classical singer who reinvented herself as a voice teacher when she arrived in New York. She introduced me to many aspects of classical music, especially opera. Her husband, my grandfather, was a doctor and accomplished amateur violinist who died shortly before I was born, but I inherited his love of gypsy music and his three violins – practically the only belongings to survive his long and difficult trip from Europe. To this day I embrace some of the old-school romanticism and expressiveness of Central European “schmaltz” in my own music making.
At Our America you will hear sounds from Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean. The program includes two new commissions along with music by composers we’ve come to consider quintessentially American – Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin, to name a few – all of whom came from immigrant families.
What you’ll hear next Wednesday isn’t just history – it’s a living manifestation of the rich, complex, and vibrant music that is only possible when peoples and cultures are able to flow freely. MasterVoices is dedicated to the art of musical storytelling, and to my mind these are some of the most poignant and relevant stories to tell right now.
I hope to see you next Wednesday at Our America!