Antigone: The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose MovementLorelei Ensemble & James Kallembach

, composer


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.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 36:43
01Prologue: Ecce quomodo moritur
Prologue: Ecce quomodo moritur

I. Two Sisters

02Chorus: During the time of the great war
Chorus: During the time of the great war

II. The Arrest of Antigone

06Trio/Creon: Then, Creon, knowing that the people
Trio/Creon: Then, Creon, knowing that the people

III. The Death of Antigone

12Chorus/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,

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

Lorelei Ensemble

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

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.



The Art Music Lounge

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


Midwest Record

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

Related Albums