Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory

Premiering Shulamit Ran’s Newest String Quartet

We couldn’t be more excited to kick off our twentieth anniversary season by premiering a new quartet by our dear friend and colleague, Shulamit Ran. Shulamit is a longtime collaborator and colleague of ours from our residency at the University of Chicago. The new work is titled Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory. This piece and the inspiration behind it are so compelling and meaningful that we felt it was essential to dedicate our latest blog entry to serving as a resource for this piece and our performances of it. This commission is funded by Music Accord, a consortium of presenters from the US as well as Suntory Hall in Tokyo and Wigmore Hall in London.

Schedule of Performances of Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory

Pacifica Quartet with composer Shulamit Ran following world premiere of "Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory" in Toronto.

Pacifica Quartet with composer Shulamit Ran following world premiere of “Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory” in Toronto.

In Shulamit Ran’s own words

Read Shulamit Ran’s compelling notes about Glitter, Shards, Doom, Memory – String Quartet No. 3 (2012-13)

Ran, Shulamit_2014(Credit_Laura Hamm)

Shulamit Ran
Photo credit: Laura Hamm

My third string quartet was composed at the invitation of the Pacifica Quartet, whose music-making I have come to know closely and admire hugely as resident artists at the University of Chicago. Already in our early conversations Pacifica proposed that this quartet might, in some manner, refer to the visual arts as a point of germination. Probing further, I found out that the quartet members had special interest in art created during the earlier part of the 20th century, perhaps between the two world wars.

It was my good fortune to have met, a short while later, while in residence at the American Academy in Rome in the fall of 2011, art conservationist Albert Albano who steered me to the work of Felix Nussbaum (1904-1944), a German-Jewish painter who, like so many others, perished in the Holocaust at a young age, and who left some powerful, deeply moving art that spoke to the life that was unraveling around him.

The title of my string quartet takes its inspiration from a major exhibit devoted to art by German artists of the period of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) titled “Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s”, first shown at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2006-07. Nussbaum would have been a bit too young to be included in this exhibit. His most noteworthy art was created in the last very few years of his short life. The exhibit’s evocative title, however, suggested to me the idea of “Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory” as a way of framing a possible musical composition that would be an homage to his life and art, and to that of so many others like him during that era. Knowing that their days were numbered, yet intent on leaving a mark, a legacy, a memory, their art is triumph of the human spirit over annihilation.

Parallel to my wish to compose a string quartet that, typically for this genre, would exist as “pure music”, independent of a narrative, was my desire to effect an awareness in my listener of matters which are, to me, of great human concern. To my mind there is no contradiction between the two goals. As in several other works composed since 1969, this is my way of saying ‘do not forget’, something that, I believe, can be done through music with special power and poignancy.

The individual titles of the quartet’s four movements give an indication of some of the emotional strands this work explores.

1) “That which happened” (das was geschah) – is how the poet Paul Celan referred to the Shoah – the Holocaust. These simple words served for me, in the first movement, as a metaphor for the way in which an “ordinary” life, with its daily flow and its sense of sweet normalcy, was shockingly, inhumanely, inexplicably shattered.

2) “Menace” is a shorter movement, mimicking a Scherzo. It is also machine-like, incessant, with an occasional, recurring, waltz-like little tune – perhaps the chilling grimace we recognize from the executioner’s guillotine mask. Like the death machine it alludes to, it gathers momentum as it goes, and is unstoppable.

3) “If I perish – do not let my paintings die”; these words are by Felix Nussbaum who, knowing what was ahead, nonetheless continued painting till his death in Auschwitz in 1944. If the heart of the first movement is the shuddering interruption of life as we know it, the third movement tries to capture something of what I can only imagine to be the conflicting states of mind that would have made it possible, and essential, to continue to live and practice one’s art – bearing witness to the events. Creating must have been, for Nussbaum and for so many others, a way of maintaining sanity, both a struggle and a catharsis – an act of defiance and salvation all at the same time.

4) “Shards, Memory” is a direct reference to my quartet’s title. Only shards are left. And memory. The memory is of things large and small, of unspeakable tragedy, but also of the song and the dance, the smile, the hopes. All things human. As we remember, in the face of death’s silence, we restore dignity to those who are gone.

Press about the piece

Colorado Public Radio, by Brad Turner, August 14, 2015

The New York Times, by Zachary Woolfe, November 10, 2014

Classical Voice North America, by Nancy Malitz, October 31, 2014

Oberon’s Grove, November 7, 2014

Press photos

Hi-res downloadable images are below:

Pacifica Quartet with Shulamit Ran

Pacifica Quartet with composer Shulamit Ran following the world premiere of "Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory" in Toronto, May 2014.

Pacifica Quartet with composer Shulamit Ran following the world premiere of “Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory” in Toronto, May 2014.

Shulamit Ran

Ran, Shulamit_2014(Credit_Laura Hamm)

Photo credit: Laura Hamm


About the Composer

Shulamit Ran, a native of Israel, began setting Hebrew poetry to music at the age of seven. By nine she was studying composition and piano with some of Israel’s most noted musicians, including composers Alexander Boskovich and Paul Ben-Haim, and within a few years she was having her works performed by professional musicians and orchestras. As the recipient of scholarships from both the Mannes College of Music in New York and the America Israel Cultural Foundation, Ran continued her composition studies in the United States with Norman Dello-Joio. In 1973 she joined the faculty of University of Chicago, where she is now the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music. She lists her late colleague and friend Ralph Shapey, with whom she also studied in 1977, as an important mentor.

In addition to receiving the Pulitzer Prize in 1991, Ran has been awarded most major honors given to composers in the U.S., including two fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, grants and commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fromm Music Foundation, Chamber Music America, the American Academy and Institute for Arts and Letters, first prize in the Kennedy Center-Friedheim Awards competition for orchestral music, and many more.

Her music has been played by leading performing organizations including the Chicago Symphony under both Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez, the Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph Von Dohnanyi in two U.S. tours, the Philadelphia Orchestra under Gary Bertini, the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and Gustavo Dudamel, the New York Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, The Orchestra of St. Luke’s under Yehudi Menuhin, the Baltimore Symphony, the National Symphony (in Washington D.C.), Contempo (the Contemporary Chamber Players) at the University of Chicago under both Ralph Shapey and Cliff Colnot, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Jerusalem Orchestra, the vocal ensemble Chanticleer, and various others. Chamber and solo works are regularly performed by leading ensembles in the U.S. and elsewhere, and recent vocal and choral ensemble works have been receiving performances internationally.

Between 1990 and 1997 she was Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, having been appointed for that position by Maestro Daniel Barenboim as part of the Meet-The-Composer Orchestra Residencies Program. Between 1994 and 1997 she was also the fifth Brena and Lee Freeman Sr. Composer-in-Residence with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where her residency culminated in the performance of her first opera, “Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk).” She was the Paul Fromm Composer in Residence at the American Academy in Rome, September-December 2011.

Ran served as Music Director of “Tempus Fugit,” the International Biennial for Contemporary Music in Israel in 1996, 1998 and 2000. Since 2002 she is Artistic Director of Contempo (Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago). In 2010 she was the Howard Hanson Visiting Professor of Composition at Eastman School of Music. Shulamit Ran is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, where she was Vice President for Music for a 3-year term, and of the American Academy of Arts and Science. The recipient of five honorary doctorates, her works are published by Theodore Presser Company and by the Israeli Music Institute and recorded on more than a dozen different labels.

The recently completed Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory, String Quartet No. 3, was commissioned by Music Accord, a consortium of concert presenters in the U.S. and abroad, for Pacifica Quartet.






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