Musical composition by Alden Jenks
Performed by the San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble, conducted by Nicole Paiement, with mezzo-soprano Raeeka Shehabi Yaghmai
A brief peek into Yaghmai’s rehearsal with Jenks for the premiere performance of The Soup may be seen in this documentary about her from Bebin TV, starting at the 4:30 minute mark.
Poems by A.H. Afrasiabi, translated by Niloufar Talebi
Video from The Translation Project — a scene from Icarus/Rise, “a multimedia theatrical piece based on new Iranian poetry, created, translated and narrated by Niloufar Talebi, in collaboration with choreographer and video artist Alex Ketley and composer Bobak Salehi” (text from YouTube).
The Translation Project’s page goes on to say:
Based on the poetry in BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World, ICARUS/RISE is inspired by the Iranian spoken word tradition of Naghali, which is practiced in the streets, cafes, public rituals, or ‘art music’ stage. By giving this spoken word tradition new content (new poetry in BELONGING) — rather than its usual content of classical Persian poetry and myths — and fusing it with western theatrical elements, ICARUS/RISE gives voice to hybrid-Iranians, reflecting their experience in contemporary society.
Poem by Paul Celan
Video by Philipp Fröndt, Max Straßer and Martin Race
This perhaps overly literal interpretation of the poem is the only one on YouTube to employ moving images. The slideshows, however, use a recording by Celan himself. Here’s the one I found the most effective:
To put Celan’s reading in context, Gail Holst-Warhaft writes,
The Todesfuge has acquired a unique status among poems about the death camps. To many of its readers, it seemed to contradict Adorno’s famous dictum about the impossibility of writing poetry after Auschwitz. Of all Celan’s poems, the Todesfuge has been the most discussed, anthologized, and translated. Celan’s own reading of the poem, preserved on record, emphasized its relentless rhythm, an effect achieved by repetition, alliteration, and a dance-like beat that reinforces the grotesque musical imagery of a poem originally published in Romanian and called “Tango of Death.” The title recalls the Jewish musicians forced to perform by the S.S. At the Janowska camp near Lvov (not far from Celan’s birthplace in Czernowitz) Jewish musicians were ordered to play a “Death Tango” during marches, grave-digging, tortures, and executions. Before liquidating the camp, the S.S. shot all the musicians. At Auschwitz, the term “Death Tango” was used for whatever music was played when groups of prisoners were executed. Without the lilt of this macabre dance music, the poem loses much of its effect.
Inevitably, then, the poem attracted the attention of composers. Here’s a video of a live performance of Elmir Mirzoev’s setting:
Updated 15 May 2016 with a new video. The text below refers to earlier YouTube uploads of portions of the work.
Nazim Hikmet Oratoryosu, by Fazil Say (at piano)
Poetry by Nazim Hikmet
Bilkent Symphony Orchestra and State Polyphonic Choir, conducted by Ibrahim Yazici
Vocals in “My Country” by Kansu E. Tanca (child) and Genco Erkal; reading in “Traitor” by Zuhal Olcay
To appreciate the first section, it probably helps to know that Hikmet spent most of his adult life in exile. In fact, his citizenship was only just restored, posthumously, 46 years after his death.
One more section of the oratorio with English subtitles seems worth sharing, despite the fact that the video ends abruptly. The subtitles here are in captioning that must be turned on via the arrow-shaped icon on the bottom right corner of the video.
The poem is Yasamaya Dair, “On Living,” and the translation here is by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Poetry doesn’t get much more life-affirming than this — at least, not without turning into very bad poetry. I love that Nazim puts grief at the center of it, as the source or motive for our determination to live fully.
I discovered this organization and its very fine videos completely by accident last night — just doing keyword searches on YouTube. It’s not entirely clear who the performers are on this particular film; the credits for the DVD as a whole are at the bottom of this page.
Iran has one of the richest poetry traditions in the world, so I’m very pleased to be able to feature some contemporary Iranian poets here, thanks to The Translation Project.