The photos from Ukraine fill her with great concern. And bring back painful memories. “My parents are Shoah survivors from eastern Poland, near present-day Ternopil. I was there,” says Ella Milch-Sheriff over the phone. The Haifa-born Israeli composer set the traumatic family story of her father, who had to witness the gruesome death of his three-year-old son and his first wife and then never he talked about it, in the chamber opera “The Silence of Baruch”, which premiered in Braunschweig in 2010. It was an attempt to take the unspeakable suffering out of the flow of time and translate it into its language: music.
Today, Ella Milch-Sheriff is one of the most frequently performed contemporary composers, attracting audiences from around the world. This is not a matter of course, because contemporary works are often perceived as too cerebral, too bulky. Her music, on the other hand, is more intuitive than intellectual and shows the full range of human emotions. Loss and deep sadness are also woven as motifs in her new clarinet quartet, which will premiere on April 6, the penultimate day of “intonations.” The piece, commissioned by Elena Bashkirova and the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, was supposed to be performed in the glass courtyard of the Jewish Museum from 2020. But then Corona came, and the world stopped. Since then, the premiere has been postponed four times and the 2021 festival in Jerusalem has also been cancelled.
Ella Milch-Sheriff now looks forward to finally hearing her work live in Berlin. He composed it for three strings and clarinet, which for her “has something very special.” “It is a well-known jazz instrument and is used in traditional Jewish klezmer music.” Because it has three different registers, it can sometimes be somber, sometimes clear and strong. It combines three instruments in one and opens up many creative possibilities for composers. “That’s why I love her”, enthuses the composer.
This versatility already comes into play in the prologue of the clarinet quartet. Yiddish folklore meets Western and Middle Eastern sounds. Ella Milch-Sheriff, who enjoyed a Western musical upbringing, draws on unlimited resources. After all, Israel is a melting pot of cultures and influences. Exciting interaction also runs through the following three moves. It starts with a hunt. But what? For what? That remains unclear. And yet, after two years of the pandemic, this shortness of breath takes on an almost allegorical meaning. Particularly poignant is the second movement, dedicated to her late husband and composer Noam Sheriff and inspired by a rare melody from Kaddish, a Jewish funeral prayer.
At the end it becomes lively and jazzy. Life is fragile, sometimes painful, but it goes on, is the message. Ella Milch-Sheriff doesn’t stop either. She is already working on a new opera commissioned by Omer Meir Wellber. The Israeli director will be musical director of the Vienna Volksoper from September. It’s still early to reveal details Just this: “The script is phenomenal”