The setting is Poland during the early years of the Second World War. A young woman and her parents hide as Jews are being rounded up into ghettoes and shipped off to concentration camps. The young woman gives birth to a child. Her parents die but the young woman and child escape and find refuge with a family that hides them in a farmhouse basement. The young woman and her child are sustained in hiding by singing a lullaby that the woman remembers from her own childhood.
This is the story of A Little Miracle, a dramatic cantata by the composer David Stock. For the original libretto by Bess Weldon, Stock used a lullaby-like melody as a theme to tie together different parts of the sung narrative.
A newly available short video documentary about the piece features emotional commentary from mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Shammash and conductor Gerard Schwarz. The piece reminded Shammash of her own grandmother, who was born in Eastern Europe before the war and who used to sing her Yiddish lullabies when she was a child. Schwarz was a close associate of Stock’s who championed his music and brought his work to the attention of the Milken Archive’s editorial board.
David Stock's A Little Miracle
David Stock was born on June 3, 1939 and died, far too young, in 2015. Stock may not have gained the widespread attention of some of his contemporaries, but his work embodied the notion of thinking globally while acting locally. He broadened his own community’s musical horizons and—through his compositions, teaching, and founding of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (PNME)—helped spread his hometown’s wings out into the world.
Through the PNME, Stock brought in top artists like Ornette Coleman and the Kronos Quartet, and premiered more than 300 works by the likes of Ellen Taffe Zwillich, Steven Stucky, and David Lang. Mentee and associate Randall Woolf described him as “one of the most knowledgeable musicians I have ever known, truly a mind without borders or prejudice, hungry for every new style, name, and concept in the world of music.” The Jewish experience was among the rich array of sources from which Stock drew inspiration.
In addition to A Little Miracle, the Milken Archive has recorded three of the Stock’s other works. Yizkor, is a somber, elegiac piece for orchestra that references the formal Jewish memorial service. Tekiah and Y’rusha stand in sharp contrast to the darker and more serious Holocaust-related pieces and show Stock’s sense of humor and adventure.
Tekiah is a three-movement concerto for trumpet and chamber orchestra that obliquely references the blowing of the shofar (ritual ram’s horn). Stock was a trumpet player himself and designed the piece to be technically challenging. It is a richly textured, ever changing piece of virtuosic display—yet one that is also engaging both emotionally and intellectually. Y’rusha is playful and humorous. Its title translates to “heritage,” and Stock has filled it with references to klezmer music, vaudeville songs, and liturgical melodies.
In addition to his significant body of work (six symphonies, ten string quartets, a dozen concerti, chamber music and work for dance, theater, TV and film), a good portion of Stock’s legacy lies in the work he did to support music and musicians within his own community, and in the Jewish community at large: his three children all grew up to become professional cantors.
Learn more about David Stock and his works through the links below:
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