A Single Voice
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A number of Ezra Laderman’s chamber works bear the title A Single Voice—including one for solo cello, one for flute and string quartet (1991), and the one recorded for the Milken Archive and presented here, for oboe and string quartet, which dates from 1967. Laderman has explained that he uses the title much in the same way that Luciano Berio uses the title Sequenza—for multiple works or occasions, as titles of pieces in a series, each featuring different solo instruments.
In his extensive output of chamber works, Laderman has often addressed such concerto-like combinations as flute, oboe, and string quartet—as found, for example, in his Double Helix (1968); Cadence (1978), for two flutes and strings; and the MBL Suite (1988), for two flutes with string quartet. Similarly, he has examined concertante forms in his Double String Quartet (“Octet”) as well as in his Concerto for Double Orchestra. In A Single Voice, he pits the oboe against the expressionist textures of the strings, which reflect his turn at that time to atonal procedures of the Second Viennese School. This work was composed under unique and highly charged circumstances that gave it its Jewish identity (and its title) as it was being written. He had begun it as a chamber work for oboe and string quartet when the Six Day War between Israel and her surrounding Arab states erupted in June 1967. “There was an enormous impact upon me,” Laderman later recalled:
I thought I could not finish the piece because of emotion and pent-up anxiety….The impact was so immediate and so extraordinary on me that I could not continue to compose without responding to the events taking place there [in Israel and the surrounding territories]. In order to make this piece move forward, the oboe is “transformed” into a shofar. Toward the end of the piece, a distinct change of attitude is audible and evident; the oboe gestures are now [the traditional and ancient] shofar calls.
The most immediate association of the shofar today is with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, when it is sounded to signify several themes of the holy day—one of which concerns the Jewish people’s ultimate return to its land. In antiquity, the shofar was sounded on other occasions and for other purposes as well, among which were military ones. And upon Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, its retrieval of the eastern part of its capital, Jerusalem, from Jordan, and its repossession of the remains of the retaining Western Wall of the ancient Temple, the shofar was sounded prominently. Its reverberations in the oboe in this work, therefore, have multiple and multilayered connotations.
The title A Single Voice has its echoes in the Hebrew phrase b’kol eḥad (with one, unified voice), often used with reference to Jewish unity, imagined or actual.
This work is dedicated to oboist Leonard Arner, who performed it with the Spoleto String Quartet (with Pinchas Zukerman as the first violinist) at the Spoleto Festival in Italy in July 1967—roughly a month after the Six Day War. Subsequent performances have included one at the Counter-Harmonies Conference in New York in 1989—a joint gathering of dozens of Israeli and American composers at which Laderman introduced it with prefatory comments—and another by the Colorado Quartet in 1991.