Composer Conversations: Hevreh Ensemble and A PATH OF LIGHT
May 29, 2019
Hevreh is a Hebrew word meaning “Circle of Friends,” a word that could not be more fitting for this NYC-based group. Hevreh Ensemble has come together from many places; together with their audiences and listeners, they have truly become a circle of friends. The members of the group trained at the Juilliard and Manhattan Schools of Music, SUNY Stonybrook, Brooklyn College, and the Jerusalem Conservatory in Israel—institutions that inspired their passions for music education and engagement with their audiences. Hevreh Ensemble members have been fortunate throughout their careers, friendships, and travels to have the opportunity to explore many different areas of music, including jazz, composition, conducting, and many musical traditions from around the world. Comprised of performers Judith Dansker, Laurie Friedman, Adam Morrison, and Jeff Adler, Hevreh has been bringing their unique and spiritually uplifting sound to audiences around the globe since 2004.
Recently, PARMA had the great pleasure of speaking with Hevreh members Judith Dankser and Jeff Adler and exploring how the ensemble came to be, some of their favorite concert tour memories, and their hopes for Hevreh’s latest album, Ansonica Records’ A PATH OF LIGHT. Listen in on the conversation:
In addition to their interview, enjoy Hevreh’s take on some of the questions from PARMA’s “Inside Story” series:
What was your most unusual performance?
During our careers we have had many different experiences performing, from the sublime and profound to the surreal to the challenging. These three performances stand out among them!
Adam: One of the more unusual and most cherished performances that I took part in happened in the early 1990’s. I was asked to put together a group of musicians from Israel to play at an event honoring the Dalai Lama and Elie Wiesel. I organized a quartet of close friends from Israel and we played alone and together with a Tibetan musician who played flute and didgeridoo. To be in the presence of either of the two honorees would have been special, but to see them standing next to each other was a very powerful experience, and reminded me once again why I spend my life as a musician.
Jeff: A number of years ago, I was performing Béla Bartók’s Contrasts for clarinet, violin, and piano. The performance took place at Bargemusic, a floating concert venue located on the East River in NYC. The Bartók is an extremely difficult composition yet the performance was going very well. Suddenly, in the middle of the stark second movement, a deafening helicopter hovered above us. It was so loud that we had to stop the performance. The helicopter remained over us for 45 minutes. It turns out that there was a person threatening to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. The police talked the person down and we resumed playing, but needless to say the performance suffered greatly!
Judith: During a tour to the Netherlands in 2014, we presented a concert for the Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam. We had to navigate our minivan filled with our instruments and keyboard through the narrow and maze-like streets of Amsterdam. Unforeseen to us was a marathon runner’s race with many of the streets and main thoroughfares blocked off. After driving around for two hours and making little progress, we finally begged a Dutch policeman to let us through a blockade. He seemed very affable and nonthreatening and even showed us how to pronounce the street we were trying to get to, but no dice! We decided to abandon the minivan, left the keyboard and prayed that the venue’s piano was in tune. We took off on foot carrying the rest of our equipment and of course it started to rain. To move quickly enough, Laurie had to remove her high heels and walk barefoot on the uneven cobblestone streets! We arrived at the synagogue breathless, very damp, and almost late for the concert. But, the piano was in excellent shape, the audience was lovely and appreciative, the performance was very rewarding, and best of all, when we returned the keyboard was still in the car!
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
Judith: I knew from an early age that I would always play music. At the age of 7, either playing the piano or my recorder, a feeling of happiness and a sense of purpose would wash over me and I remember thinking to myself, “how can I possibly do anything else!” When it was time to practice piano, I would line treats up and down the keyboard to reward my practice and this will lead seamlessly to the question, What is your guilty pleasure?
To put it simply, any and everything related to food! Be it cookbooks (I am delighted that there is a store in Manhattan called Kitchen Arts & Letters that sells only cookbooks) to finding new and interesting restaurants (I enjoy writing about food and include articles on Hevreh Ensemble’s blog https://www.hevrehensemble.com/news/2019/4/3/empanadas-and-ps-1-moma), to cooking for crowds or just for 2, and the biggest trouble of all, cookware stores! My favorite cookware store is called Rooster Brothers located in Ellsworth ME near Mt. Desert Island. My husband once mistakenly left me alone in the store for an hour and when he came back my arms were full, my eyes were glittering, and I needed to be talked down!
What was your favorite moment on the album?
Jeff: This is an easy questions to answer! The Tabla cadenza in APath of Light played by the virtuoso Naren Budhkar just blows me away every time I listen to it.
Judith: After the frenetic energy that concludes APath of Light, I love the transition into A ThousandQuestions. It starts with the beautiful deep sonorous sound of the bass clarinet and creates a profound sense of what is to follow.
Adam: A favorite moment for me is on the piece Wudeligv, one of Jeff’s compositions that I particularly love. There is a short piano solo in the middle, which is almost Mozart-like in texture. It is like a last bit of sunlight before the inevitable sunset.
Laurie: With all of the concentration, determination and practice needed to perform well, it is extremely difficult to define my favorite moment. Reviewing the difficulty involved with every piece, Epilogue provided the closure I needed to enjoy the process.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Laurie: Observing and listening to the diversity of world cultures enables one to be a life-long learner, bringing a certain empathy to the creative mind. I have two creative passions: being a musical performer and being a wood sculptor. When I journey across the Manhattan Bridge on the NYC subway: the rhythmic clanging of the tracks, the reverence of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the ever-changing skyline of Manhattan inspires and reminds me of the grit and instability of creativity.
Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?
Jeff: The overall message of the album is one of hope. We live in dangerous times as expressed by Speed of Dark and Epilogue. However, if we choose, there is a Path of Light that we can all follow.