Yotam Haber

Notes from the Composer

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yotam Haber (Ada Haber)


Performed by the Ensemble in Canto, Alda Caeillo, voice; Fabio Maestri, conductor

Espresso was the first work I wrote in New York City. It was written in a tiny studio just big enough for an upright piano, a chair, a desk, and an espresso machine—the bare necessities for a composer (Beethoven drank 17 cups a day). This dark, short, concentrated shot of a piece is concerned with the development of a flitting, whirring motive first played by a pair of clarinets and then expanding in both directions, always in instrumental pairs. A climax is reached, and after a brass interruption, a set of colorful, mercurial variations follow. The work ends with a calm coda of weightless whispers—an aftertaste, faintly recalling flavors just experienced.

Death will come and she shall have your eyes 

Performed by Ensemble In Canto; vocals by Alda Caeillo, voice; conducted by Fabio Maestri.

This song-cycle for string orchestra, voice, and archival recordings from the 1950s of cantors from the Tempio Maggiore in Rome (made by the ethnomusicologist Leo Levi, to whom I am indebted) explores the ancient music of the Roman Jewish community in a modern voice, combining biblical texts, modern poetry by Italian and American poets, and the notorious 1555 Papal Bull by Paul IV, Cum Nimis Absurdum, which installed the ghetto of Rome.

This movement, Bereshit (Genesis), is the fourth of five. We begin by hearing a Leo Levi recording of a Roman cantor singing the first few lines of Genesis while the orchestra punctuates the melody with insistent repeated notes—punctuating, underlining, and crystallizing his words. Only as he is coming to a close does the live singer, the mezzo-soprano Alda Caeillo, interject the second stanza of Cesare Pavese’s poem Death will come and she shall have your eyes, sung in a Hebrew translation (made by Levi!) to the same melody used for the traditional Roman cantillation of Genesis.

Here is the text:

For the first half of the movement, Genesis, I, 1-5 (sung in Hebrew):

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

For the second half of the movement, the second stanza from Pavese’s poem, Verrà la morte:

Così li vedi ogni mattina 
quando su te sola ti pieghi
nello specchio. O cara speranza,
quel giorno sapremo anche noi
che sei la vita e sei il nulla

Thus you see this every morning
When you are alone you lean before the mirror.
Oh, precious hope, that day we shall also know
that you are life and you are the nothingness.


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Comments [34]

Bob Gippin from Akron, Ohio

Death was moving, relevant and independently interesting, it would have a very comfortable place in a Reform or maybe even a Conservative Sabbath service, if it was also meant for that.
Espresso was very enjoyable and I'm sure much more was going on in it than I was picking up, since unfortunately I'm not a very sophisticated listener when it comes to modern music.

Jul. 23 2010 03:38 PM
Luca Sessa from Avellino

Espresso ha il senso della contemporaneità e della pienezza, del ciclo con sempre nuove scoperte prima lente e poi in accelerazione, dell'eredità del passato che fossilizzata in noi si riveste di nuova vita col nostro agire. Come la vita stessa, e a differenza di altra musica concepita contemporanea, ha qualche distonia senza che preponderino e non ha vuoti: anche un vuoto è pieno di qualcosa. Bravo, anche per la liricissima Caeillo.

Jul. 19 2010 04:39 PM
Alfred Rucker from San Antonio, TX

Beethoven, I heard, insisted that his be prepared with exactly 57 beans and Bach, a cantata extolling it's virtues?
Espresso is a magical piece from a magical place; a cramped little studio like one might discover in, say, Italy.
Yotam Haber's music is a new-found treasure trove for me...

Jul. 08 2010 11:09 PM
Shawn Crouch from Miami Beach, FL

I just love Espresso. I remember that year in NYC, just coming out of Tanglewood. Espresso is filled with the energy one has when you are in your 20's and in the city for the first time. So many colorful layers!

Jul. 07 2010 02:47 PM
A.J. from Los Angeles

"Death will come..." is one of those pieces that sounds truly original and personal, and has inspiration just dripping off of it. Without presuming too much about Yotam's experience with this piece, it sounds like a work that simply needed to be written. There's an expressive sincerity there that can't be faked, and that has a profound impact on me as a listener. A gorgeous piece of music...

Jul. 06 2010 11:13 PM
Christian Barter

Yotam's music deserves that highest of compliments: that it is strange--authentically and movingly strange; and in the place of this authentic strangeness, we see that nothing that is GOOD can remain foreign to us, that we ourselves are larger than we imagined.

Jul. 05 2010 03:32 PM
Oscar Bianchi from Amsterdam

Both 'Espresso' and 'Death will come and she shall have your eyes' are two wonderful works that embody the versatility and the talent of Yotam. I know this gifted young composer since almost a decade when we met at the Atlantic center for the Arts in Florida for a residency program. I've been admiring his music making since back then as I've been witnessing his unique development into forging new music out a wide array of musical inspirations and a genuine longing for beauty. His fascination for all that sound has intrinsically to offer, stylistically and poetically, (as one can broadly perceive in 'Death will come and she shall have your eyes' from his ability to conjugate and challenge Roman Jewish chants and the most fascinating textures of late 20th century heritage) makes him a fabulous eclectic intellectual and one of the most valuable and versatile composer of his generation.

Jun. 25 2010 07:43 AM
Ethan Wickman

This is evocative and intense music. I have admired Yotam's talent for many years and look forward to hearing more of his work.

Jun. 24 2010 06:11 PM
Carole from Los Angeles

Espresso sent me on a wild, mysterious, dangerous ride, but then glided me onto a gently energized pad. Nice trip. Death Will Come reminded me of Rome itself -- a fabulous juxtaposition of the ancient and the vibrantly new. The choice of a female voice captured that tension perfectly.

Jun. 24 2010 01:44 PM
Angel from N.J. south of the Mullica

Music to close your eyes too and muse.

Jun. 23 2010 07:03 AM
cayl avery from New York, NY

Move over, Illy. Yotam Haber's Espresso has outdone you! And the song cycle took me right back to the ghetto area of Rome and the old synagogue there. A magnificent piece. Congratulations.

Jun. 22 2010 03:54 PM
pamela from Jersey Shore

I want to echo the comments of the others who have commented. Clearly Yotam has got lots of game. Wonderful piece, thoughtful and lyrical.

Jun. 22 2010 02:26 PM
Louis Schwadron from BROOKLYN NYC

"Espresso" has the movement of an unfolding murder mystery on a express train through the mind of a madman. I don't want to get off the train. i want to be thrown off the train. But only when i discover that the murderer is the composer himself.

Jun. 22 2010 01:23 PM
Amy Kirsten from New Haven

What I love about Espresso is it goes someplace unpredictable - delightful!

Jun. 22 2010 09:00 AM
Laura from Roma

Marvellous music by a great artist and wonderful person

Jun. 22 2010 07:08 AM
Valerio Borgianelli Spina from Caserta

I love Yotam Haber's music, it is powerful and crepuscular at the same time.

Jun. 22 2010 04:39 AM
Elizabeth from Minneapolis, MN

What haunting, beautiful music. What a talented, talented man. Both pieces are gorgeous but I preferred Death...though I would love to hear more of each. Best wishes.

Jun. 21 2010 10:40 PM
bianca maria Orlando from brooklyn, Ny

lavazza, qualita' in tazza.... same should be said for Yotam, I LOVE his work!

Jun. 21 2010 03:26 PM
Diane from New York, NY

“one of the best composers of this generation – exceptional work”

Jun. 21 2010 03:24 PM
jen ziegler

the perfect accompaniment to my morning caffeine infusion. wicked. bright. curious and alive.

Jun. 21 2010 01:33 PM
Tara from New York

I love this piece. I am so impressed by Yotam's work!!

Jun. 21 2010 01:03 PM
Virginia Guastella, composer from Rome

The music of Yotam: echoes of the past in the days that we are living, between sound and taste...

Jun. 21 2010 09:08 AM
Lorenza Offeddu from ROME

Espresso is the one that I prefer, it's like a sensorial experience involving in the taste of the black sea!

Jun. 21 2010 04:59 AM
Catherine Campbell from NYC

Uplifting, moving, whirling. I love Espresso!
I greatly admire Yotam's courageous and thought-provoking work. We are thrilled and honored to have him as composer for our documentary film on the Roman Jews [in progress].

Jun. 20 2010 10:16 PM
Erika Simonian from Brooklyn, NY

As one who's been off coffee for a while now, this Expresso is now my fix!

I love the tension of the "Death Will Come..." piece. I highly recommend lying on your back in the dark with your eyes closed when listening to this one. It's quite beautiful.

Jun. 20 2010 09:31 PM
Emily from Cambridge, MA

Yotam Haber's music is complex, moving, and gorgeous, and I have had the pleasure of hearing performances of a number of his works. His use of materials such as Hebrew texts and archival recordings of Roman Jewish cantors lends his music a dream-like Sebaldian quality, one that mixes fact and fiction: glimmers of history resonate with the thoroughly modern soundscapes of his music. Yet these historical, esoteric elements never detract from the immediate beauty of his music; instead, he achieves a marvelous balance between exciting and sometimes virtuosic instrumental and vocal writing and deep, intertextual connections to history, poetry, and the visual arts.

Jun. 20 2010 08:40 PM
Claudia v.Arnim from Cologne/Bonn

Yotam`s work leaves you silent and will forever stay on your mind.
Audiences at the centers of contemporary music, beyond Rome , where it has been premiered, should get a chance to listen to "Death will come"

Jun. 20 2010 06:43 PM
Barbara Ras from San Antonio, TX

Yotam Haber's work has enormous depth--musically, poetically, and metaphysically. It's amazing to me how such intellectually layered work comes across with so much heart and light. Haber's music is challengingly beautiful and a joy to experience,.

Jun. 20 2010 06:29 PM
lisa sanditz


Jun. 20 2010 10:16 AM
annamaria morini

I always thought you are a composer full of talent and ideas!Best whishes for Project 440!

Jun. 20 2010 09:38 AM
Sandra Krystal from Boca Raton, Florida

"Expresso" is extremely moving and ethereal- I love it.

The second piece is quite unique I love the juxtaposition of the cantorial voice and the mezzo-soprano. I look forward to hearing all four movements.
I have heard some of Mr. Haber's compostions in the past and am very impressed with the scope of his music.
Each piece is unique and exciting- a very talented composer indeed.

Jun. 19 2010 10:45 PM
Damon Gupton

This hauntingly beautiful work plumbs the depth of my soul as it pushes, stirs, and lulls me to question my path.

Jun. 19 2010 10:29 PM
Timothy Davis from USA

This piece makes me feel like I am watching a man in a Flemish painting staring at a box of bees.

Jun. 19 2010 03:09 PM
Hélène from France

I have been following Yotam's work for a long time now, and I must say I am amazed by the way his music can be tense, sensitive, bright and have even touches of humor in some of his compositions.
I admire his work and his constant curiosity towards others' traditions and ideas.
His music moves me and also raises questions and ideas in me.

Jun. 19 2010 01:47 PM

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