SAMUEL ADLER BELIEVES “LIFE IS A GIFT”
The risk-taking composer of 400 published works taught for sixty-three years at Juilliard and Eastman, and has given masterclasses and workshops at over 300 universities world-wide. Having studied with Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, Randall Thompson, and others, he knows just about everyone on the twentieth-century American music scene and has received numerous awards including ASCAP’s “Aaron Copland Lifetime Achievement Award.” He believes that one should compose in the “energy of his time,” and is without doubt one of the greatest living composers and conductors. Sixty years of his compositions are represented on this album: from A Hymn of Praise to several works written in the last five years. Known for his optimism and “life-affirming spirit,” he is uniquely positioned to speak to our time.
At age ten Samuel Adler narrowly escaped Nazi Germany during Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.” As he and his father collected sheet music in the loft of the synagogue, saving all that they could on that terrifying night, soldiers heard them from down below. It was the sudden collapse of the pipe organ that allowed Adler and his father to run and escape through an underground tunnel. His family took the last train out of Germany with their bags full of sheet music, paving the way for Adler to study and nurture his musical gifts in America. At age ninety-four, he continues to compose, sharing his prolific musical gifts.
His “life-affirming” spirit comes through powerfully on this album. These texts recount God’s goodness on the journey of life —through the hills, valleys, and mountaintop experiences. The texts from the Psalms cover every emotion from pain to joy, disappointment to elation, from sorrow to hope. A Hymn of Praise affirms that “His love shall be our strength and stay while ages roll.” Let Us Rejoice with its setting for women’s voices and handbells is full of exuberant excitement. My Beloved is Mine was written in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Gloriæ Dei Cantores, celebrating the long-standing relationship of the composer with the choir. Choral Trilogy opens with “Why have you forsaken me?” the Psalmist crying out to God, but then moves to the words from Romans 8 “The Spirit helps us,” and “nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God.” The final movement is full of praise, singing, dancing, joy, and hallelujahs. We are then taken to the comforting words of Psalm 23 in a lush and glorious arrangement, set in both Hebrew and English. The culminating work, To Speak to Our Time, was commissioned for the eightieth anniversary concert of Kristallnacht. In Adler’s words, “This music was composed to deliver a message to society today of the plight of refugees worldwide as we must work for a world of peace.” Adler presents the listener with a powerful pilgrimage from unspeakable horrors and pain to a feeling of confident peace and hope. The final work, How Sweet the Sound, is a beautiful setting of the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace.
Samuel Adler aims at “healing or repairing the world so that by our life’s work we would leave the world a better place when we depart from it.” He is well known for his ecumenical vision and for building bridges through music. It is this mutual vision and passion that brought Samuel Adler and Gloriæ Dei Cantores together.
In preparation for this recording, members of Gloriæ Dei Cantores delved into the composer’s works studying the texts, the compositional style, and the vision. Each choir member brought a distinct perspective, sparking lively discussions and unifying the vision they aimed to portray through the recording. Throughout this process conductor Richard K. Pugsley worked with the choir to bring their study, vision, and emotional connection to the texts and the music to life on the recording floor, bringing forth a message that “speaks to our time.”
Richard K. Pugsley is an avid storyteller as is Samuel Adler, aiming to communicate the texts set to music as authentically as possible and in true harmony with the composer’s vision. To Speak to Our Time is a musical journey with all of the emotions that make us human. Travel with us on this pilgrimage and may Samuel Adler’s music illumine your path.
From the Composer
“My settings of sacred texts have always had a very special place in my creative life, and the works included on this recording are very close to my heart, especially since they are recorded with such conviction, insight, and energy. It is this kind of music making for which every composer yearns, and it is more than fulfilled on this recording. My wonderful association with Gloriæ Dei Cantores goes back many years with quite a few recordings including A Prophecy of Peace under the inspired direction of Elizabeth Patterson. Now with Richard Pugsley's magnificent leadership, many more of my sacred music works will be made available. I am so very grateful for this magnificent recording, and hope it will be enjoyed by people of all faiths.”
- “Samuel Adler (b. 1928) who studied with Copland and Hindemith, taught for 63 years at the Juilliard and Eastman schools of music. Sixty of those years are represented on this album, including most notably the powerful title-piece, To Speak to Our Time, commissioned by the Dresden Chamber Choir for their remembrance concert on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht...The 20-minute piece is scored unusually for a cappella choir and two violins, from which Adler has created music that stretches the familiar to express emotions that can be clearly understood from musical signals: dissonant, soaring choral lines and consoling, compassionate resolutions, woven through with strands of lyrical ecstasy and brief, enchanted solos...The singing is powerful, passionately sculpted and proud. The work's four short instrumental movements, providing abstract commentaries in the form of musical dialogues, are expertly played by Lucia Lin and Julianne Lee. The unique St. Cecilia organ at The Church of the Transfiguration of Cape Cod, its pipes located in suspended mahogany chambers lining the north and south sides, plays a key role, ubiquitous yet discreet, whether sounding glowing notes or more forceful phrases as signal posts. In How sweet the sound, a beautiful setting of 'Amazing Grace,' it illuminates the ending in a radiant embrace.”
Laurence Vittes, Gramophone
- “***** FIVE STARS
“Adler talks of the importance of setting sacred texts to him. He has worked closely with Gloriæ Dei Cantores for many years, and the conviction of their performances shines through... My Beloved is Mine (written to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Gloriæ Dei Cantores) introduces a sense of dialogue and transcendent beauty: particularly impressive here is the smoothness of the upper voices- legato. The Choral Trilogy’s...rhythms here are sprightly and coupled with a real harmonic understanding throughout, particularly in how Adler uses different levels of dissonance to illuminate the text. Interestingly, Adler sets Psalm 23 in both Hebrew and English. Hebrew is a mystical language in and of itself and as a result the music seems to attain ever more profound depths. Harmonies are deep and appealing, with the organ seeming to deepen the sense of mystery. Tuning from the choir is, as so often with this group, astonishingly pure...
The “Chor der Wandernden” is remarkable, with sparse choral lines and textures coupled with solo vocal lines creating a sense of disorientation...There is much beauty here, regardless of where one’s beliefs might lie.
Finally, How Sweet the Sound; or, Adler’s own setting of Amazing Grace. It is truly lovely, too. This is a disc for all lovers of choral music, and for all lovers of heartfelt compositions. Stunningly recorded, it is a sonic, mystical, treat.”
Colin Clarke, FANFARE
- “***** FIVE STARS
“Adler’s writing for the chorus is unfailingly beautiful, expressive, lyrical, and respectful of the human voice’s potential and limits. And when performed by the voices of GDC, the impact is both moving and radiant....Throughout, the performances by GDC under the leadership of their Conductor/Director, Richard K. Pugsley, are exemplary for their tonal radiance, clear diction, and pristine ensemble. There is also an exuberance of spirit I find captivating. The joy of singing is apparent in every bar. The recording strikes an admirable balance of resonance and detail. Members of GDC provide the eloquent program notes. Texts and translations are also included. A marvelous disc in every respect.”
Ken Meltzer, FANFARE
- “Under Director Richard K. Pugsley, the US-based choir Gloriæ Dei Cantores has gained a reputation for its impeccable vocal blend as well as bold programming, including its recent championing of the music of Jewish composer Samuel Adler. Adler and his family escaped Nazi Germany in 1939, settling in the United States, where he went on to compose more than 400 works. European and American influences unite in his choral music, most notably in “Choral Trilogy”, an ambitious work for choir and organ that nods to both Herbert Howells and Adler’s teacher Aaron Copland. In “Psalm 23,” Adler sets Hebrew and English texts, acknowledging both his heritage and adopted home in music of mesmerizing beauty. “To Speak to Our Time,” commissioned for the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, brings the plight of refugees across the world into powerful focus.”
- “The centerpiece of the program is To Speak to Our Time, Adler’s meditation on Kristallnacht; ...The German diction is clean throughout; the consonant placement is particularly impressive. The singers navigate disjunct lines with ease, and the soprano soloist weaves deftly through the spiky texture. A setting of Psalm 121 in Hebrew is more lyrical, and the choir adjust accordingly with a smoother sense of line...Adler’s Psalm 111 uses several chant melodies, moving into bitonality that gives way to an improvisatory section that evokes extemporaneous praise. The choir handles this joyful chaos beautifully, embracing the uncertainties and offering a robust performance. The final movement is the only one that brings the choir and the violinists together in a kind of hopeful hymn that promises peace and hope. Like the rest of the piece, this movement is complex, musically, but Pugsley leads the musicians in a coherent, convincing performance.
Other works on the album include Adler’s “Choral Trilogy,” a triptych of which the final movement is given an especially buoyant reading. Adler’s lush setting of Psalm 23 includes both Hebrew and English texts and was a gift to his sister. The choir’s performance is flowing and cohesive, with carefully shaped phrases. A shimmering setting of “Amazing Grace” that is simultaneously Copland-esque and yet quintessentially Adler closes the album, sung gently and with deep humanity. The choir is consistently balanced, and the voices blend seamlessly, for the most part. Intonation is virtually always impeccable, no small feat in this complex music, and the choral sound is full and confident. Moreover, the choir is agile and responsive, allowing Pugsley to craft intensely musical performances that are full of subtle shading and pliable phrasing. This is a fine sample of Adler’s choral music, and the performances are enthusiastic and polished.”
James V. Maiello, FANFARE