> Aaron Rabushka - portait by Jennifer Paull- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Portrait: Aaron Rabushka

Born St. Louis, MO, USA, July 1, 1958

(credit Jane Schlansker)

Aaron Rabushka at a restaurant near Budapest with a postcard of a painting by the Hungarian artist, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853-1919).in his pocket.

Music from Six Continents

Vienna Modern Masters VMM 3050, 2000 Series

VMM 3052, 2001 Series

"I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream". -Vincent van Gogh, artist


Aaron Rabushka is a very good composer. There is something about his music that evokes a counterpoint of simultaneous dimensions: a mixture of time and place settings as much as an interlacing of skilful orchestration and craftsmanship.

The first of his composition I heard, was his Concerto Vocale: Salmo 126. (1993). It is recorded in the Vienna Modern Masters VMM 3050 Music from Six Continents, 2000 Series. To say that this music touched me deeply would be an understatement. Not since John McCabe’s Notturni ed Alba, have I been as personally moved by an orchestral Song Cycle. The scoring is narrower than the McCabe – no Japanese wind chimes in sight. However, the percussion Rabushka employs in his economic, yet most effective scoring is just as moving.

The entire piece has a ghost of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings in the clarity of its orchestration, contrasting density and transparency. A flute and violin rise above the strings as soloists, underlining the sense of the words. These are superbly interpreted in Aramaic, by Barbara Pietrzak, a really outstanding soprano. Her timbre and finesse, her ‘effortless’ pronunciation and skill are combined with beautiful phrasing: the hallmarks of a really exceptional singer.

The Concerto Vocale is based upon Psalm 126, which, in Rabushka’s own words is "a dreaming and powerful poem that looks to past and future happiness from a not-so-happy present." The Aramaic is included in the CD booklet together with the Contemporary English translation of the Psalm.

For me, an unconditional supporter of the Psalter translated by Miles Coverdale (1536), I miss the beautiful Old English. I fully realise that this is not the common tongue of the man in the street today, but then neither is Aramaic. Of course, the meaning is the same, but the intensity of the poetry is not.

The text set by the composer being Aramaic, I shall simply indulge myself by illustrating it in the translation of my personal choice, and not that of the recording company!

"When the Lord turned again the captivity of Sion: then were we like unto them that dream."

The soprano introduces the first words of the text and the flute takes over in a long, beautiful quasi recitativo above the strings. One is carried away on an evocative flight to the Land of Dreams.

In Rabushka’s own words;

"This work presents a rhapsodic soundscape that springs from the often dreamy expressions of Psalm 126. The soprano's text is based upon the Targum Onekelos, one of the Arameic translations of the Old Testament. The title, Concerto Vocale refers to the interactive play of solo voice with instruments, and among the instruments themselves. It derives from the vocal concertos of the Baroque Era in which the interactions of individual voices and instruments expressed and expanded the meaning of the text. The orchestra for this work grew around the sounds I began to hear in connection with this Psalm. It’s structure evolved intuitively, guided by the text. The instruments respond to the soprano’s declamations, with flute and violin being predominantly featured as soloists."

The soprano completes the first verse, and the flute further explores its opening ‘recitative’ above wood blocks, piano (directly plucked strings), and string pizzicati in a dialogue with the solo violin. This is simply beautiful. The flute and the violin are like birds encircling the Faithful.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter: and our tongue with joy...Yea, the Lord hath done great things for us already: whereof we rejoice.

Rabushka does rejoice! This might be a most surprising juxtaposition, but a polka, a general letting down of the hair (or head dress), and having a good time, is what happens next, bringing dreams to an earthly reality.

"Turn our captivity, O Lord: as the rivers in the south"

An Old Testament hoedown leads us to a kaleidoscope of orchestral turmoil which underlines and overtakes the soprano’s words as the waters gush lavishly.

"They that sow tears in tears: shall reap in joy".

Her soaring melodies remind me of the opening soprano statement "Fluxit Labor Diei" of McCabe’s Notturni ed Alba, yet again. There continue to be echoes in my memory as Rabushka’s melody rises and is born aloft by beautiful, skilful orchestration and undiminished interest throughout. It is a tremendously moving, inspired piece.

Apollinaire (1880-1918) is said to have coined the word "surrealist" to describe the works of Marc Chagall (1887-1985). The artists is known for his fanciful painting in which a potpourri of objects, animals, characters from the artist’s past life, from his dreams, and from his everyday life are evoked.

Robushka has hosted a radio programme for many years, and founded the weekly "Spectrum of Jewish Music" in 1985. His Religion’s history and his dreams and heritage, people his compositions. The past and the present, the East and the West intertwine simultaneously in a blend of time and place settings, etching their own rainbow. One is captivated by this rich, imaginative tapestry.

A second recording on the same label in their 2001 series VMM 3052, again with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under Toshiyuki Shimanda, is of Aaron Rabushka’s Trombone Concerto. (2000). This was written for the very talented soloist, Jiri Vyndra.

Once more, Rabushka starts with an opening cadenza, just as he did in Concerto Vocale. In the latter, the solo flute unveils an ambience of dreams, following an introductory vocal statement. Here, the trombone also sets off boldly, alone along its path, to be joined by the violins and an increasing tension. This ebbs and flows until an inner dance bubbles to the surface, and carries the trombone and the orchestra along together in lush, harmonic progressions.

Coming as I do from the North of England, I cannot hear brass instruments without feeling a native tug at the Brass Band tradition buried (very) deeply inside my DNA. Anthony Burgess (1917-1993), himself from Manchester, captured this flavour exactly in his novel The Pianoplayers Should any film maker turn this book into cinema, as was the case with Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, nobody need look further than the first movement of Rabushka’s Trombone Concerto for the perfect accompaniment. The book is set in Provence and Manchester. That’s exactly how the colours of this concerto strike me. From Chagall ‘s Vence in the South of France, to the Pier Theatres in places like Blackpool in the North of England, the hues and nuances from the pen of the author appear in parallel form with that of the composer. Pierrot and Columbine are not far away, neither is turmoil, nor humour. Never is Robushka one to miss a hoedown, a knees-up, or a bal du samedi soir.

The original theme returns, but first the trombone leads us in a colourful procession through a Camille Saint-Saëns-èsque farmyard where we briefly catch sight of the Hens and the Cockerels.

The second movement is a beautiful, slow Waltz that is majestic and never over-sweet. The orchestra restates the theme to an obligato from the soloist. It concludes with a sprinkling of sherbet quartertones, a lovely touch: a tear glinting in the corner of Pierrot’s eye?

The last movement, Allegro vivo, is a colourful dance, a marked contrast to the previous, slow Andantino. The dappled lighting of "Moulin de la Galette" in Montmatre, by Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), makes me think of a happy throng enjoying life and living. Clever contrasts and writing bring light and shade. Did Chagall or Renoir plant a Circus Tent in the Champ de Mars by the Eiffel Tower? Are we in Paris in the Belle Epoque? Perhaps this is one of the Circuses painted by Edgar Dégas (1834-1917)? The musical picture is evocative of the style, mood, and easels of the period.

Somehow a ghost of William Walton walks through Façade and into Rabushka’s Circus Ring for a brief moment. Another hoedown finds its way into our happy, colourful gathering, and the concerto ends triumphantly!

It’s a delight, be the Tower Blackpool or Eiffel.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) and Charles Ives (1874-1954) have ghosts of Military Bands and New England fiddlers walking through their picture frames. Havergal Brian (1876-[amazingly] 1972), that atrociously neglected, British composer of such epic gems as the Gothic Symphony, wove his multi-layers everywhere. These three composers were born within a mere sixteen years of each other, a coincidence I note, en passant.

Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that Aaron Rabushka is a member of the Havergal Brian Society. Rabushka’s pleasing palette from Hebrew Hoedowns, to winsome Waltzes via refined construction and spirituality, make his the canvasses of yet another maverick.

Rabushka tells me that he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, just in time to miss the Renoir exhibit. People in Fort Worth shouldn’t worry. They should just listen to his music instead.

Whichever instrument you play, or wish to hear, I encourage you to visit Aaron Robushka’s home page and look up his compositions. You can contact the composer directly;

Aaron J. Rabushka





© Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland 9.5.02
Amoris International






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