Hamburg Live FC084


Hamburg Live FC084
Live performances of orchestral compositions by Jeff Hamburg

This CD presents three live recordings of compositions by Jeff Hamburg. Spectacular, compelling, poignant, sometimes slightly daunting and, above all, Hamburg. Having, over the years, created a very personal musical style, Jeff Hamburg felt it imperative to present within the CD a booklet containing not the usual biography and dry subject matter analysing the musical works, but rather his own story, which explains how he became the characteristic and highly individual and original composer he is today. In an interview held specifically for this purpose, he spoke freely and passionately about what inspires him, about how his family background and musical upbringing are reflected in his work and why he may be considered the Shakespeare of classical music!

Klezmer Symphony (1998)
1. Doloroso 4'23
2. Leggiero 4'48
3. Espressivo 5'07
4. Klezmania 7'37

Netherlands Chamber Orchestra conducted by Ed Spanjaard

Ruach-Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra (2003)
5. Lento 7'39
6. Kaddish for Peter (in memoriam Peter Schat) 5'30
7. Tempo Giusto 5'31

North Netherlands Orchestra conducted by Michel Tabachnick, Henk Swinnen-oboe

David - Five Psalms (1999)
8. Psalm 66: Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands 4'56
9. Psalm 33: Praise the Lord with harp; sing unto Him a new song 5'23
10. Psalm 68: Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered 5'17
11. Psalm 29: Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength 6'17
12 Psalm 150: Praise ye the Lord... Praise Him with the sound of teh trumpet, with the psaltry and harp 5'09

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Porcelijn


“In 1994, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra commissioned me to write a piece for them. Conductor David Porcelijn specifically asked for a piece for string orchestra. I wrote Schuylkill for them and they gave a very convincing performance. A couple of years later Porcelijn asked me to write a new piece to complement it: a piece for symphonic wind instruments. I was thrilled with this commission, since I played the french horn in wind ensembles in high school and at university in America, and I looked forward to using that experience. The first thing I did, however, was listen to music with that kind of instrumentation and came across Messiaen´s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum. Upon listening to that piece, I realised I wanted to write a Jewish pendant to Messiaen’s work. I started exploring the idea of King David and the psalms and the thought of composing a piece titled David for conductor David Porcelijn struck me as a happy, inspiring and rather funny, coincidence.

In 1995 the Amsterdam Sinfonietta performed my work Zey ... for soprano and orchestra (1994) at the Concertgebouw. It’s succes led to a recording that was released in the same year. A couple of years later the orchestra had the opportunity to work with Shura Lipovsky, a singer of Jewish folk music, and guitarist Jeff Warschauer, a klezmer musician. The orchestra had been invited to participate in a Klezmer music festival and asked me if I would write a klezmer-like piece for them for that occassion. At the time I became more and more interested in my Jewish background, and I found it an interesting challenge to see if I could combine classical music with Klezmer. It took some thinking, however, as, unlike with jazz, finding, let alone integrating specific Klezmer elements into classical music is not very usual. At some point, I found a historical recording of Klezmer music recorded between 1904 and 1910 and realised that around that time my family still lived in Eastern Europe and might have listened to this kind of music. Later, when I did more research about where my family lived, I realised, the music actually came from the same area in the Ukraine. Discovering my roots in this way led me to compose the Klezmer Symphony, or one could also say that composing ‘Klezmania’ led to discovering my roots.

Klezmania is the last movement of the Klezmer Symphony. It’s klezmer music in a pressure cooker, completely over the top and obsessive. This movement can be performed as an independant composition.

Ruach means spirit or wind or breath and hails from Genesis 1:2: 'And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters'. The word struck me as a perfect title for an Oboe Concerto: a wind instrument needs breath to bring forth it’s beautiful sound. I had already worked with oboe player Henk Swinnen when we recorded my Three Jewish Songs, which I composed in 2002. When Swinnen, together with Marcel Mandos, artistic director of the North Netherlands Orchestra and an oboe player himself, aked me to write an Oboe Concerto I did not have to think twice. I had already written a Saxophone Concerto (1988) and a Flute Concerto (2000), but the oboe is perhaps my favourite wind instrument with it’s plaintif sound, so full of expression, so close to the human voice.”

The second movement Kaddish for Peter is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend, the composer Peter Schat.


“Incorporating Jewish musical idiom into my compositions started with the discovery of my own background and it’s place in the world. There is a development in my music, starting with pieces I wrote while still at the conservatory. These pieces often featured Jewish textual themes, like texts about the Kabbalah, and I tried to explain them as best I could. It was not so much a musical inspiration, but more a textual one. In America, I grew up in a Jewish environment. The majority of my friends were Jewish, all the neighbours were Jewish and most of the children would go to Hebrew school together: Judaism was for me self-evident at that time. When I arrived in Europe as a 22-year old music student, I became a European Jew, which meant that I was very lonely, since Jews had become such a minority and I eventually realised that I had to make an effort in order to retain my Judaism. That displacement and that change of context caused and increased my interest in my Jewish background and in my family history. I started exploring what my Judaism meant to me and going from scholarly writings to using more personal texts like Jewish stories and poetry in either Hebrew or Yiddish, going back to languages that seemed to me closer to the spirit of the things I was writing about. Also, I was learning more about Jewish liturgical music with its very rich history and reflections on Western cultural music. For example, all church modes are based on Jewish liturgical modes.”

Klezmer influence

“Once upon a time, in a radio programme, I played some Jewish liturgical music. In that programme I proposed listening to another famous Jewish liturgical composer next. Without mentioning what it was, I played a choir from Gershwin´s Porgy and Bess and it took a minute or two to realise: this is not synagogue music. People say it sounds like black jazz music, but, to a large extent, there is also Eastern European music and synagogue music there. Gershwin's background resounds in each note. I often reflect upon the relationship and the similarity between jazz and Klezmer music. There is no real historical way of finding a relationship between the two, except that maybe they are both close to the more folk way of singing, especially with the lower thirds and the lower sevenths. The deepest rooted aspect of being Jewish is that text and singing are one. The creation of melodies and cantillation is all based on trying to make a text very clear. In the old days, when there was only an oral tradition, it was also a way to remember texts. Later, the written word became really important in Jewish thought. A melody is a reflection of a text and that, for me, is a very essential part of my way of composing.”


“The pieces on this CD are all bigger structures with separate movements, as I tend towards classical models. That is just the way I am. When writing the oboe concerto for instance, I had a classical concerto form in mind. Having been taught by someone like Louis Andriessen, who was very constructionist, I was more or less conditioned into always making a plan of what a piece was going to look like. Usually, the experience of doing that gives you the intuition to be able to make those large arcs without actually having to structure it. It is technique and experience and craftsmanship. I no longer need the constructivism to plan out a piece. I have an idea of what I want, like a melody, a type of harmony or an atmosphere I want to create in a movement, and start from there. In David, for example, this is very clear: the quotes of the psalms used all have to do with music, they are musically powerful images. There is a vision and the music is created around that.”


“As a composer, I find it enormously important first and foremost to communicate with my audience on a human level, to connect with them and certainly not play down to them. In orchestral programming, especially in The Netherlands, venues and organizers often take the easy way out, thinking: they are expecting Beethoven, let´s give them Beethoven. But this does not work. An audience is more sophisticated than people think. I write complicated, but still accessible music because I want to communicate on every level. I see Shakespeare as my example: a Shakespeare play is about blood, violence and love, it´s in a way like a soap opera. That is what attracts the audience. But a Shakespeare play can also be appreciated on many other levels, such as: the quality of the language, the depth of human insight, the intricacy of the plot. And that is also what I am trying to do in my music: give people a way to get into what I am trying to say.”

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