Lorelei Ensemble, a critically acclaimed choir of women's voices, releases an EP of James Kallembach's Antigone. Merging Sophocles original dramatic framework with texts from the Nazi opposition group White Rose in Munich in the 1940s, Kallembach expresses the timeless nature of resistance.
|01||Prologue: Ecce quomodo moritur|
Prologue: Ecce quomodo moritur
I. Two Sisters
|02||Chorus: During the time of the great war|
Chorus: During the time of the great war
II. The Arrest of Antigone
|06||Trio/Creon: Then, Creon, knowing that the people|
Trio/Creon: Then, Creon, knowing that the people
III. The Death of Antigone
|12||Chorus/Antigone: Farewell my friends, my countrymen|
Chorus/Antigone: Farewell my friends, my countrymen
Following their mission to present bold and inventive programs that champion the extraordinary flexibility and virtuosity of the human voice, Lorelei Ensemble and its founder and artistic director Beth Willer present their newest release, the world premiere recording of Antigone by James Kallembach. In this 35 minute composition for female chorus and cello quartet, Kallembach has created a work of dramatic scope that both engages in history but which also challenges the listener to consider their place in contemporary society.
The inspiration for Antigone is the writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. Scholl and her brother Hans were core members of the White Rose, a nonviolent resistance group during WWII that wrote and distributed anti-Nazi pamphlets. Scholl, her brother, and many of the other White Rose members were arrested and sentenced to death in 1943. Scholl’s courage and resolve during her trial was well documented and she is one of the most revered figures in the German anti-Nazi resistance movement.
Kallembach uses Sophocles’s Antigone as a framework for the writings of Sophie Scholl which he draws from her personal letters as well as from White Rose pamphlets. Kallembach writes that as he worked on the libretto, “Scholl’s writing seemed to meld directly into the words of Antigone,” and he used the anti-Nazi White Rose pamphlets as a form of Greek chorus to deliver the Antigone narrative in short, suggestive vignettes. By combining these two sources, one an ancient Greek drama and the other from relatively recent history, Kallembach brings these two works into dialogue with one another and issues a challenge to the contemporary listener. Both Sophie Scholl and the characters in Sophocles’s Antigone are wrestling with the same questions: what does it mean to live justly in an unjust society? How should we act when faced with undeniably unjust decrees by those in power?Read More
In this performance, Lorelei, under the direction of Beth Willer, shows their signature musical flexibility and virtuosity. Kallembach is a skilled and experienced composer for the voice and throughout Antigone, he demonstrates his command of the history of choral writing. The musical points of reference range from a Gregorian chant inspired setting of the second White Rose Pamphlet in the movement “The State is never an end,” to the almost pop inspired power chords of the following movement, “Farewell my friends.” Lorelei and Beth Willer answer the demands of each of these styles and deliver a performance that is both emotionally direct and musically nuanced. By using the unique instrumentation of a cello quartet, Kallembach is able to explore formal ideas of registration and texture. Both the choir of female voices and the cello quartet are capable of great blend and homogeneity of texture, but are separated by register and timbre. The cello quartet functions at times almost as if it were a Greek chorus commenting on the musical action of Antigone.
Antigone manages to both be an exploration of mythology and history as well as a work that is thoroughly grounded in the present. The questions that Sophie Scholl and Antigone wrestled with are still with us. This piece forces us, as listeners, to think about our own role in society and about what it means to live justly.
– Caleb van der Swaagh
Recorded August 6-7, 2021 at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts
Producer: Jesse Lewis
Recording Engineer: Kyle Pyke
Mixing Engineers: Kyle Pyke, Jesse Lewis
Mastering Engineers: Christopher Moretti, Shauna Barravecchio
Label Manager: Dan Lippel
Design: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
James Kallembach’s Antigone: The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Movement was commissioned by Lorelei Ensemble and Carson Cooman, and premiered by Lorelei Ensemble on June 10, 2017 at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel
Heralded for its “full-bodied and radiant sound” (The New York Times), Lorelei Ensemble is internationally recognized for its bold, inventive programs championing the extraordinary flexibility and virtuosity of the human voice. Led by founder and artistic director Beth Willer, Lorelei has established an inspiring mission, curating culturally-relevant and artistically audacious programs that challenge artists’ and audiences’ expectations.
Lorelei Ensemble collaborates with leading composers to commission new works that expand and deepen the repertoire of sounds, timbres, words, and stories that women use to reflect and challenge our world. This new repertoire for women’s and treble voices allows unparalleled music making that is born from the unique position of power and cultural influence that women hold. Collaborating composers include David Lang, Julia Wolfe, George Benjamin, Kati Agócs, Lisa Bielawa, Kareem Roustom, Jessica Meyer, and more.
Lorelei Ensemble maintains a robust national touring schedule, including recent collaborations with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and performances at Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Boston's Symphony Hall.
On the New Focus, Sono Luminus, Cantaloupe, and BMOP Sound labels, Lorelei has recorded the music of Kati Agócs, Peter Gilbert, James Kallembach, William Billings, Guillaume Du Fay, Alfred Schnittke, and many others. Recent releases include David Lang’s love fail (Cantaloupe 2020) and Impermanence (Sono Luminus 2018).
James Kallembach’s works have been commissioned and performed by Brooklyn Art Song Society, Chorus pro Musica Boston, Lorelei Ensemble, Lydian Quartet, San Francisco Symphony, and Seraphic Fire, among others. He has received honors from ASCAP, ACDA, American Composers’ Forum, Pacific Chorale, ALEA III in Boston, and VocalEssence. He has written extensively for the voice, producing a large catalogue of song cycles and oratorios for voices and instruments. His St. John Passion, Four Romantic Songs, Most Sacred Body, and Antigone have been commercially recorded. The Boston Musical Intelligencer praised him as “a colorful and imaginative orchestrator, word painter, and provider of singable lyrical lines” who could “wring emotion from a dictionary.”
Like his compositions, his work as a conductor creates a persistent dialogue between the present and past. He has conducted a substantial catalogue of traditional repertoire, yet he is also a tireless advocate of new choral works, having conducted the premiere of works by William Bolcom, James MacMillan, Shulamit Ran, Sven-David Sandström, and Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. His interpretation of new music has been heralded as “rich and polished” (Chicago Classical Review). His “stylish” and “intimate” performance of Bach’s Mass in B-Minor was the work of “a first-rate choral conductor and choral scholar,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Kallembach is Director of Chapel Music and Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago, where he conducts choirs and teaches. He lives near Chicago with his wife, soprano Elisabeth Marshall, and son, Otto.
James Kallembach’s Antigone relocates Sophocles’ seminal Athenian tragedy to the landscape of Nazi Germany. His libretto draws inspiration from the tragic poetry found in Sophie Scholl’s diary. Scholl, a member of the non-violent student White Rose Movement was arrested and later guillotined – along with her brother Hans – by the Nazis in 1943.
Kallembach’s Antigone unfolds in the impassioned struggle of the title character, a woman determined to fight for the truth amid tyranny. The struggle features Antigone and Ismene locking proverbial horns with their dictatorial uncle Creon. Kallembach’s narrative seamlessly weaves the characters’ lives in and out of Athens into the warp and weft of Nazi Germany. Members of the Lorelei Ensemble create a shimmering luminosity as they delicately vocalize the sisters and the powerful voice of Creon. In particular, Christina English, Sarah Brailey and Rebecca Myers Hoke sing with enormous sensitivity, superbly characterizing everyone from the sensitive Ismene to the powerful Creon and the tragic Antigone who is none other than Scholl.
The Ensemble delivers this outstanding libretto, directed by the sensitive yet firm hand of Beth Willer. In particular the encounters between Scholl and Lisa Remppis, with words from the former’s diary entries, have a pared-down style, particularly effective in the vignettes from late March, 1942. The reading of Scholl’s pamphlets is expertly melded into the disturbing backdrop created by moaning cellos. Something elegant and different emerges after each hearing of this disc.
— Raul de Gama, 10.06.2022
James Kallembach occupies original New Music space with his Antigone: The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Movement (New Focus Recordings FCR 33), featuring a chamber chorus of some eight female vocalists as a choral totality and then also with soloist parts, and so too with the chamber instrumental poeticisms of a cello quartet, all brought forth as a whole for this work by the Lorelei Ensemble directed by Beth Willer. They are a fine, detailed and accomplished set of performers who have a distinct feel for this music and give us spirited and exacting readings.
The work has an exploratory, declamatory tonal feel to it with close harmonies in the vocals punctuated by instrumental timbral poignancies by way of the cello quartet. It was commissioned by the Lorelei Ensemble and Carson Cooman, premiering in 2017. It gains a kind of structural backbone via the Greek play Antigone, but then focuses too on considering the writing of Sofie Scholl, a key member of the White Rose Movement--an underground resistance opposing the Nazis in the Germany of WWII, and based at the University of Munich. The work is in multiple movements, with lyrics in part culled from the anti-Nazi pamphlets distributed by the White Rose participants and then further text-song melding--Scholl's expressive texts fusing with the classicism of Antigone. It appreciates it goes without saying the courage of Ms. Scholl, who was executed by the Nazis in Germany, 1943. And at the same time it explores the lyric, poetic expressivity of her writings as a whole.
It winds introspectively, contemplatively through the vignettes from Antigone and the contrasting vocal treatment of Ms. Scholl's texts.
It is alternately tender, somber, classically retrospective and reflective gaining a timeless quality which nevertheless has a judicious contemporary feel to it and a movement away from any vestiges of Romanticism, yet nonetheless as the press sheet notes he flourishes as he seeks to consider that past within the present, particularly processual as a vivid dialog--and in so doing has an almost Classicist facticity. And that for me works well since the subject matter comes to terms with a heroic refusal that can become all the more poignant when looking upon it in insightful yet Apollonian terms.
All of that comes to bear on your listening experience, leaving you perhaps with a sort of even-handed heroics that underscores a kind of quiet resistance of the morally virtuous in time, looking back while laying out nicely, with a careful and intensive performance suchness, a thereness that rightly insists on its need to express itself.
I recommend this one for its powerful relevance to time and history as we live it. It is beautiful yet terse music, completely self-sufficient as a contemporary insistence, and leaving in the end a deep impression of alternate aesthetic reality, heroic and nonplussed moral uprightness.
If you are reading this in June 2022, the album is out on the 17th. You can preorder on Bandcamp.
— Grego Applegate Edwards, 6.20.2022
The subtitle of James Kallembach's choral suite Antigone, "The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Movement," heralds a world of inquiry combining ancient myth with 20th-century mythologizing. To this challenge the composer applies an artistic sensibility that mixes primitive colors into a palette of sometimes operatic melody and harmony.
In Sophocles' Antigone the title character defies authority by burying her dead brother, who had opposed their uncle Creon's seizure of the throne. Kallembach perceived a parallel between Antigone's execution and that of World War II resistance hero Sophie Scholl. With her brother Hans, Scholl worked with the White Rose Movement against the Nazi regime from within. When caught she refused to name her co-conspirators, and was executed in 1942.
(The Scholls and the White Rose movement have been the subject of numerous books; a picture book about Sophie comes out this summer, in fact. She was memorably depicted in the 2005 film Sophie Scholl: Die letzten Tage (The Final Days).)
Commissioned by the Lorelei Ensemble, Kallembach scored passages from Sophocles and from Scholl's writings to create Antigone, his suite for women's voices and cello quartet. The ensemble premiered it in 2017 and New Focus Recordings has just released a stellar studio recording of this starkly relevant music.
Through 14 tracks occupying a mere 36-plus minutes, the composer sets excerpts from both sources, building a stark, theatrical narrative. With a modernist harmonic sense, but reflecting ancient liturgical music too, the piece feels timeless. Touching and at times sublime, it coaxes its twin stories into a mournful bloom. I recommend listening to it cold first, then re-listening while following along with the text.
— Jon Sobel, 7.25.2022
James Kallembach, a name new to me, is an American composer who is also a Senior Lecturer in Music and director of Choral Activities at the University of Chicago’s Music Department. This rather brief but deeply moving and remarkably appealing work was based on both Sophocles’ play on Antigone and the writings of Sophie Scholl, a leader of the Munich-based White Rose anti-Nazi resistance movement of the 1940s. Both Sophie and her brother Hans were arrested and executed at the guillotine in 1943.
According to the notes, Kallembach wove Sophie Scholl’s writings into the text of the Sophocles play to create a unified work. As he puts it, “The clash between what we hold to be undeniably just and the decrees of those in power was important two thousand years ago in the public spectacle of Greek drama, it was important during WWII, it is important now and it always will be.” I agree with him and stand by that sentiment, whether the tyrants are Donald Trump or Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin or Emmanuel Macron. Those who repress people’s freedoms are to be fought against regardless of political ideology.
Antigone is simply scored for a women’s vocal octet and cello quartet. The piece is divided into a Prologue, three scenes and an Epilogue. The text is primarily Sophocles, but includes fragments from the White Rose writings of Scholl, which are clearly marked in the accompanying booklet. The Epilogue is all Sophie Scholl. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the music is both tonal and melodic but not of the drippy, maudlin school that has so infected many modern-day composers. After a wordless vocal introduction, we hear one of the cellos enter in a different key, which then leads the voices into that domain. The singers all have extraordinarily beautiful voices and completely garbled diction; without the text in the booklet, you wouldn’t have a clue what they were singing (and you certainly wouldn’t suspect the English language) except for the name of Creon. That comes through loud and clear. The cello quartet plays a somewhat repetitive rhythmic pattern behind the voices, but the music is not minimalism since it does change and develop. During the first vocal solo, I also recognized the words “My dear sister,” but nothing else.
The music is modal to a certain extent, using open harmonies, fourths and fifths. Although relatively simple, it has shape and form and is surprisingly lovely and relaxed music considering the serious nature of the text. There is also a sort of continuous development that evolves as each track appears, creating a whole structure rather than a series of episodes. In the fourth track, “Who could be sure,” one of the cellos plays pizzicato in a manner similar to that of a jazz bass but without a real jazz feeling. The ensuing vocal ensemble interweaves the voices in contrasting melodic lines, creating a hypnotic effect. Following this is a purely instrumental passage in which the four cellos also play against one another. The music develops slowly enough that even a lay listener can catch all of what is going on. In track 6, “Then Creon, knowing that the people were uneasy in time of war,” Kallembach uses bitonal harmonies, just enough to give a little edge to the music.
Despite its brevity—only 36 minutes (the album is being marketed as an “EP”)—this is a surprisingly rich and well-written piece. It exhibits a feeling of sadness without belaboring the point and, if one reads the libretto as it plays, you will find that it mirrors the text fairly well. In track 7, “O numberless wonders,” Kallembach has the cellos echo the vocal line. All of this is subtle but not the least boring.
The music, and atmosphere, become more tense in the section “Then, suddenly, a sentry approached, leading Antigone in chains,” followed by a deeply-felt lament in the solo section “But lo, now what dark sign?” In fact, the music from this point on is faster and somewhat edgier than before, and although there is not any real jazz feeling in the music, there is a certain blues feeling that I detected despite the use of non-blues form.
Antigone is proof positive that there is still some interesting and moving music to be written in a tonal idiom. True, it’s not a large-scale masterpiece like an opera or a symphony, but its relatively simple approach works extremely well in getting the message of the Sophocles play and some of Sophie Scholl’s writings across. I cannot recommend this quiet little gem highly enough.
— Lynn René Bayley, 6.20.2022
A specially commissioned work by and for this modern choral group that has nothing to do with the ancient Greeks. Focused on the works and words of the anti Nazi White Rose resistance movement, this deep and timely work takes a lot of focus to get the most out of. Committed to making new works for the ages, they deliver on their promise here pretty mightily.
— Chris Spector, 6.01.2022
It took me a while to appreciate the concept and structure of this new choral work. Having done so I can see how well crafted it is. The blending of the ancient Greek drama – Sophocles’ Antigone with the words of Sophie Scholl, writing as a nonviolent resistance campaigner in Germany during the 2nd World War in new choral settings by James Kallembach is very effective. The voices blend very well and the whole presentation is superb. I intend now to spend more time with text and recording as well as perhaps doing a little historical research in order to gain a greater understanding of the source material and the timeless message they contain.
— Stephen Page, 7.08.2022
Only Antigone gets billed in the title of this cantata by James Kallembach for female chorus (Lorelei is an eight-voice group, ideal for reasons explored below), cello quartet, and soloists. The work does tell Antigone's story, from Sophocles and from Greek mythology, in three parts, titled "Two Sisters" (Antigone and Ismene), "The Arrest of Antigone," and "The Death of Antigone," plus a choral Latin prologue. However, each of the three parts carries an epilogue from the writings of German student Sophie Scholl, who was guillotined with her brother in 1943 for anti-Nazi activities. Kallembach writes that Scholl's writings "seemed to meld directly into the words of Antigone," and indeed, he has compiled an exceptionally effective libretto. The topic of Scholl was arrived at jointly by Kallembach and Lorelei conductor Beth Willer, but the Antigone scenes were added by Kallembach himself, and he delivers on what he promises in juxtaposing these two diverse figures who questioned authority, with fatal results. Part of it is that he chose a fine translation for the Antigone sources (it is not specified other than to say it is in the public domain), modifying it slightly for dramatic effect. More important, though, is Kallembach's overall conception. The speeches of King Creon and Antigone's sister Ismene are set as solos, but those of Antigone and of Scholl, as well as the basic narrative, are sung by the chorus, sometimes reduced to a trio. The effect is to make the stories into something of a Greek drama, heightened by tonal, antique harmonies that give the music a tragic, sober quality. Although the work is just half an hour long, it feels dramatically complete, and it is to be hoped that this recording will prompt further performances, perhaps in university settings. The sound from the acoustically fine Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts, is superb.
— James Manheim , 8.12.2022
James Kallembach's Antigone, a commission from the Lorelei Ensemble and its artistic director, Beth Willer, bears the subtitle “The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Movement.” The White Rose was a World War II-era, student-led resistance group that dared to stand up to Nazism. Scholl and her brother Hans, core members of the group, were arrested and executed. In Kallembach’s piece, Sophie’s writings and White Rose pamphlets are given mythic weight through their juxtaposition with excerpts from Sophocles’s Antigone. Kallembach’s two female martyrs—one ancient and mythical, the other contemporary and real—illuminate and resonate with each other across the ages.
From the text alone, this is Antigone’s story: we hear her name, as well as those of her sister Ismene and her uncle Creon, as the chorus sings her narrative. We know about Sophie Scholl and the White Rose only from reading the liner notes and the bracketed attributions in the libretto. The texts from the various sources, however, flow together with startling seamlessness, as if they were part of the same enduring narrative of resisting tyranny in the name of justice.
Kallembach’s Antigone—scored for the unusual combination of women’s chorus and cello quartet—is in fourteen movements, many of them about two minutes or less in length. The opening prologue begins with pretty, a cappella choral singing on “ooh,” and it manages to sound mournful despite the bright G-major tonality. About a minute in, we hear fraught, dissonant interjections from the individual cellos. The chorus sings the Latin text “Ecce quomodo moritur” (Behold how the righteous one dies), now accompanied by the full cello quartet, with grinding harmonies that imply menace and foreboding. The coexistence of triadic, meditative choral textures with startling discordant outbursts creates a distinctive and fitting juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern, a technique the composer uses effectively throughout.
Kallembach deploys his forces with variety. A short movement for Ismene is sung by a mezzo (Christina English, rich and mellifluous) with solo cello accompaniment. Antigone, voiced by the full chorus, responds in the next movement with words from both Sophie’s diary and Sophocles. It’s poignant and mournful, until a fortissimo section at the end drives home her heightened emotion. The fifth movement, an excerpt from the Fourth White Rose Pamphlet, is motet-like, contrapuntal and colorfully harmonized as it delivers its somber message (“Everywhere and at all times evil is lurking in the dark / Waiting for the moment when people are weak”).
We first hear from Creon, as rendered with clarity and authority by soprano Sarah Brailey, in the sixth movement, after a bracing introduction sung by a trio of voices. Creon’s calm, soothing melodic line disguises the authoritarian message contained in the subtext. Brailey summons more overt menace in her later confrontation with Antigone, whose response (once again provided by the full chorus, plus the blazing cello quartet) is gratifyingly defiant.
The Epilogue, titled “Sophie’s Dream,” is from her diary and describes a vivid and moving encounter with her brother. It begins as a duet, which deftly implies the presence of both the dream Sophie and the real Sophie. Soon, the narrative is taken over by the full chorus with dense, brightly colored harmony.
The work has a total running time of just thirty-seven minutes, but it doesn’t feel slight at all. The members of the Lorelei Ensemble provide unusually good pitch and diction under Willer’s decisive leadership. Antigone has a refreshingly unique concept, demonstrating that its antiauthoritarian message is relevant for both ancient and modern times—and, alas, probably well into the future.
— Joshua Rosenblum, 11.01.2022
The latest project from Beth Willer’s intrepid Lorelei Ensemble is a fascinating piece by composer and choral conductor James Kallembach. “Antigone” (New Focus Recordings) melds writings by Sophie Scholl — a member of the White Rose, a nonviolent anti-Nazi movement in World War II Germany — with texts from Sophocles’s “Antigone” to create a meditation on individual duty and civil disobedience. For this hybrid libretto, Kallembach creates an arresting musical texture of women’s voices and cello quartet; the result is music of poignancy and deep power. “Erit in pace memoria eius,” the chorus sings at its serene conclusion: “Their memory shall be in peace.”
— David Weininger, 12.28.2022