The Memory Game
Composer: Joel Hoffman
Composer Bio: Born in Canada in 1953, Joel Hoffman received degrees from the University of Wales and the Juilliard School. He is part of a distinguished musical family that includes brothers Gary and Toby, cellist and conductor, and Deborah, harpist. Honors include a major prize from the American Academy-Institute of Arts and Letters, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bearns Prize of Columbia University, a BMI Award, ASCAP awards since 1977, and three American Music Center grants. Currently, Hoffman is Professor of Composition at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. During the 1993-94 season, he served as composer-in-residence with the National Chamber Orchestra of Washington, DC and in 1991-92, he held the position of New Music Advisor for the Buffalo Philharmonic. He has been a resident composer at the Rockefeller, Camargo and Hindemith Foundations, the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. Hoffman is also an active pianist, having appeared as soloist with, among others, the Chicago Symphony, the Belgian Radio and T.V. Orchestra, the Costa Rica National Symphony and the Florida Orchestra. Hoffman's works draw from such diverse sources as Eastern European folk musics and bebop, and are pervaded by a sense of lyricism and rhythmic vitality. They have been performed by many ensembles such as the Chicago Symphony Brass, the BBC Orchestra of Wales, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Quartet, the Shanghai Quartet, and the Golub-Kaplan-Carr Trio. "Self-Portrait with Gebirtig", for cello and orchestra, has been performed in New York, Paris, Tel Aviv, San Jose (Costa Rica), Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Santa Barbara, Kronberg (Germany), and has been recorded by the Berlin Radio Symphony, the Kiev Chamber Orchestra as well as by the Slovenian Radio Symphony in Lubliana. Hoffman’s recent opera, "The Memory Game", received its first performances in May of 2003. A new work, “Brave Old Mordechai” was recently taken on tour in Holland by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and Brave Old World in November, 2003. His music has been frequently heard at summer festivals such as Portogruaro, Korsholm, Evian, St. Nazaire, Newport, Chamber Music Northwest and the Seattle Chamber Music Festival. Organizations that have commissioned Hoffman’s music include the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, the Fromm Foundation, the Cincinnati Symphony, the National Chamber Orchestra and the American Harp Society. All of Joel Hoffman's music is published, either by his own publishing house Onibatan Music or by RAI Trade, E.C. Schirmer, G. Schirmer and Lyra Music. There are recordings on the CRI, Koch, Stradivarius, Centaur, EMA and Deutsche Welle labels. A disc devoted to Hoffman’s chamber music is available on the Gasparo label.
Librettist: Henk Romijn Meijer
Librettist Bio: Henk Romijn Meijer (b. 1929, The Netherlands) is known as a great stylist and satirist. He has published novels, stories, essays and reviews and has worked for various magazines and newspapers. His best-known novel, Mijn naam is Garrigue (My Name is Garrigue, 1983) has been reprinted several times, as has the novella, Leuk dat je nog even langs bent geweest (Glad You Could Drop By, 1993).
Other Artistic Personnel: Sandra Bernard, Director; Johannes Müller-Stosch, Conductor
Original Cast: Mordechai- Luke Grooms, Bluma- Tana Field, Lola- Kathryn Hart, Julius- Joshua Jeremiah, Shifra- Brocha Evans, Basha- Nora Graham-Smith, Molly- Maria d'Amato, Tadeusz- Dennis Bender, Singer- Laurel Cameron
Premiere Date: May 30, 2003
Producing Company: College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati
Description: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” says Stephen Dedalus in the second chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses to the narrow-minded, anti-Semitic schoolmaster Mr. Deasy. Thus in The Memory Game the Yiddish poet/composer/singer/carpenter Mordechai Gebirtig, his wife Bluma and his three daughters—Shifra, Basha and Lola—try to awake from their history, their nightmare. Their attempt is symbolized by the ‘memory game’ they decide to play—a self-inflicted and risky effort to relive the life from which they have been brutally torn away. Finding the words for the final terror of their earthly existence may dissolve the nightmare and thus liberate them from a past they have not been able to come to terms with. Then life may become bearable again. But can they play this game? As they come closer to the end, the ‘game’, i.e. the telling of nothing but the truth, becomes increasingly difficult and Bluma wants to give up. The quarrel that follows is decided by Basha’s urgent cry: ‘we must play the game’. Bluma gives in and Mordechai resumes his recollections of the ‘nightmare’. Lola wonders: ‘Can we bear the truth?’ The truth is that Mordechai was shot dead by a German soldier who did not approve of the smile on his face. End of the game, a dead end in the most literal sense of the word. And history tells us that if it had not happened then, it would have happened a little later. Mordechai’s wife and daughters were deported shortly afterwards. As every player in The Memory Game is dead from the outset, there can be no winner. The hope for ‘liberation’ from the horrors of the past is ‘hope against hope’. Mordechai Gebirtig and his family have not succeeded in awaking from the nightmare of history: in that sense their lives cannot be redeemed. What remains is Mordechai’s heritage: his numerous simple, touching, beautiful songs that may ‘liberate’ us in their rejection of all violence. -Henk Romijn Meijer
Comments: "The Memory Game" is a work that brings the tragedy of war to us on a personal level--what happens to the fabric of a family as war inevitably approaches. Ironically, the main character Mordechai Gebirtig sees everything that will happen but chooses to remain with his family and people knowing that it will result in death and certain destruction of their world--Krakow, Poland of the early 1940s.
Total Acts: 3
Musical Style: modal, tonal and atonal mixture; influence of klezmer style
Contact: Onibatan Music, c/o Joel Hoffman
Address: College-Conservatory of Music
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, OH 45221
E-mail Address:
Phone: 513-556-9504
330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001
Tel: 212.796.8620 • Fax: 212.796.8621

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