Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Composer Sets Jehanne Dubrow's Poems to Music

Song cycle of From the Fever-World
to Premiere May 13 in Illinois

HIGHLAND PARK, IL—Poet and professor Jehanne Dubrow, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College, will hear her words set to music when Polish composer Johanna Bruzdowicz’s song cycle From the Fever-World premiers Sunday afternoon, May 13.  Presented by the Pilgrim Chamber Players, the performance will take place in the Highland Park Community House, Highland Park, Ill., and will feature six musicians — a string quartet, a pianist, and a mezzo-soprano.  

The new chamber music piece is the composer’s adaptation of six poems from Dubrow’s book of the same name, From the Fever-World, a series of fragments written in the voice of an imaginary Yiddish poet named Ida Lewin. Dubrow was inspired to create Ida, along with her fictional Polish town circa the 1930s, while doing research as a Sosland Foundation Fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies in D.C. Reading community memory books from disappeared Jewish towns in Eastern Europe, she began to invent the kind of Yiddish poet she would hope to come across as a historian and translator.

A reviewer in the online journal Blackbird praised the poetry of From the Fever-World as “a remarkable and moving work of the imagination,” in which Dubrow offers “a fully formed and often harsh world of ritual, dailiness, loss and sheer terror.”   

Dubrow spent an international childhood as the daughter of diplomats with postings throughout Europe. She knew Bruzdowicz from her family’s time in Poland and sent the composer a copy of From the Fever-World when it was first published in 2007. “It seemed like a collection that Johanna might like,” says Dubrow, explaining the origins of the artistic partnership. “The collection is inherently theatrical,” she adds, “it reads like a series of dramatic monologues.”  When Bruzdowicz determined they were inherently musical as well, Dubrow recommended which poems could stand on their own when transformed into song. 

A native of Warsaw, Bruzdowicz started composing at age 12. She has since composed four operas and an opera-musical (Tides and Waves), plus music for ballet, symphonies, chamber groups, television, plays and films. An advocate for new music, she includes electroacoustic and electronic music in her considerable repertoire. She also is an accomplished writer with music criticism, screenplays and television scripts to her credit.
Dubrow will hear Bruzdowicz’s interpretation of her poetry for the first time during rehearsals the Friday morning before the premier. It’s something she looks forward to with great anticipation. She hopes the musical version of the From the Fever-World will subsequently be performed not only in the countries where the composer holds dual citizenship, Poland and France, but also back in the United States. “ I would love to bring the song cycle to the East Coast to colleges and religious spaces,” she says.

The From the Fever World premier is part of a concert titled “Across Musical Borders,” which also includes a Schulhoff piano-cello duo and a string quartet by Ravel. Dubrow and Bruzdowicz will address the audience before mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, violinists Michele Lekas and
 Renée-Paule Gauthier, violist Doyle Armbrust, cellist
 Mark Lekas and pianist Sung Hoon Mo take to the stage to officially introduce From the Fever-World into the greater world of classical music. For more information, visit  


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