CD Reviews


[Niederloh; Hauck; Northwest Boychoir, Crnko, Music of Remembrance, Miller.]

Much attention has been devoted recently to music composed by Jewish prisoners in the Czech ghetto/concentration camp of Terezín, many of whom enjoyed significant careers before their imprisonment. This recording provides a glimpse into a different subset of creative hostages — a group of fourteen-year-old boys segregated into a barrack at Terezín called Home One. These boys wrote poetry and essays and published them in a clandestine magazine called Vedem ("in the lead.") Almost all of these young scribes perished, but one, Sidney Taussig, buried 800 pages of his peers' writings and lived to retrieve them after the war. Mina Miller, founder and artistic director of Seattle-based Music of Remembrance, commissioned composer Lori Laitman and librettist David Mason to craft an oratorio based on the boys' writings. Vedem was given its world premiere in Seattle in May 2010, with four of the six surviving Home One boys, including Taussig, on hand to hear it.

The opening, "Hear My Story Now," grabs the listener immediately with a forceful instrumental wrench and a clear, impassioned plea to be heard, sung with piercing robustness by tenor Ross Hauck. The piece develops into a contrapuntal cri de coeur, incorporating the pure and precise Northwest Boychoir, as well as a mezzo and treble soloists. Throughout the work, the trebles provide a crucial reminder of just how young and alone these children were. Laitman uses the young voices judiciously, contrasting them with the mature ones, which hint at the future the young poets never had. As frankly moving and beautiful as Laitman's music is, none of this is easy to listen to — which, of course, is part of the point. In the haunting title movement, the choir sings cluster chords over a piano ostinato as ominous as a fearful heartbeat. "Thoughts," with its repeated refrain, "Mummy, come hold me," is one of the more distressing selections. One of the stranger, but utterly relatable, moments is "Love in the Floodgates," a flirtatious tune set in macabre counterpoint to Dvorˇák's "Humoresque," a juxtaposition inspired by one survivor's inability to get that tune out of his head as he endured a death march to Buchenwald. "A Model Ghetto" is a creepy piece of self-referential propaganda advertising "the happy Jews" who "performed an opera." It ends with the boys exhorting the visiting Red Cross dignitaries not to leave before they learn the awful truth about life in the camp.

Laitman's text setting is straightforward and artful, allowing phrases that evoke memories of a happier life to land with neither irony nor an obvious attempt at emotional manipulation. Her flexible instrumentation, for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, is by turns insistent, warm and oddly hopeful, with filigrees of solo violin in traditionally Hebraic intervals. Surprisingly, the minimal orchestration provides enough support for all the forces, and the texture mirrors that of the voices, alternating between collective experience and private musings. Mezzo Angela Niederloh sings with passion and rich tone both in Vedem and in Fathers, a song cycle based on poems by Anne Ranasinghe and David Vogel. It is yet another fine example of Laitman's gracious vocal writing and particular sensitivity to the complicated emotions that any reflection on the Holocaust is bound to conjure.

Joanne Sydney Lessner, Opera News online, June 2012

The fate of children in the Holocaust forms the basis of the harrowing Vedem (2010). Around 15,000 children passed through Terezín (rechristened Theriesenstadt) during the war years. The work’s title, Vedem, refers to a Czech word meaning “in the lead.” Thanks to the actions of Sidney Taussig (a Terezín survivor), 800 pages of these poems survive. The libretto that surrounds and contains some of these poems is by David Mason, who previously collaborated with Laitman on her opera, The Scarlet Letter. The solo items can be performed independently as a song cycle, which seems a remarkably ecological use of her material. Scoring is tightly controlled: Laitman uses a clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (at times, Messiaen’s Quatuor pour le fin du temps seems to be invoked). Laitman’s music itself is imbued with a humanitarian warmth that seems to complement her leitmotivic structure by underpinning the words with a musical consistency… The impression of innocence is painfully visceral. One almost does not notice Laitman’s skill as a word setter, or her structural mastery that enables the work to speak as deeply as it does… A most touching experience, and one that further confirms Laitman’s status as one of the most talented and intriguing of living composers.

Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine, November/December 2011

[Music of Remembrance] commissioned Lori Laitman, one of the most gifted vocal music composers before the public today, to compose an oratorio which would memorialize the magazine and the boys who created it. David Mason, a past collaborator with Laitman, constructed a libretto combining the story of the boys with six of the poems which were written for their magazine. The result is profoundly moving masterpiece of heartbreak and hope, and the finest work yet to emerge from Laitman’s prolific pen… One of the most important things that must be said about this work is that it is by no means relentlessly bleak and sorrowful. Laitman’s score is a skillful mixture of darkness and light, death and life, as is Mason’s beautifully crafted libretto…Who would have guessed that a group of imprisoned boys from more than sixty years ago would have something so compelling to say to us about the importance of the arts in our lives? The words themselves are powerful enough, but when wed to Laitman’s eloquent music they penetrate our being even more deeply and permanently… Soloists Ross Hauck and Angela Niederloh sing powerfully and expressively, with careful enunciation of these beautiful texts they are privileged to sing. The Northwest Boychoir delivers a gorgeous, heartfelt performance and is especially impressive in how they manage Laitman’s delicately balanced and complex harmonies… Brief mention must be made of the other Laitman work on this disk, Fathers, which she composed back in 2002 and revised in 2010. This song cycle is no afterthought; it is an exquisitely crafted masterwork in its own right.

Gregory Berg, The Journal of Singing, March/April 2012

Within These Spaces

One hundred years hence, when critics look back at the art songs of our era, there will be many fine composers to laud and applaud, but few will deserve higher praise than Lori Laitman. …With nearly 200 songs already to her credit, there seems to be not the slightest diminishment in the expressive impact of her writing or the bracing originality of her ideas. To paraphrase a comment once made about the prolific Camille Saint-Saëns, Laitman seems to create great songs as easily and naturally as a tree produces apples, and one might add that hers are especially delicious and distinctive…One of the most striking features of this collection — and indeed Laitman’s entire oeuvre — is the endless variation and variety, coupled with an overarching sense of coherence and consistency. Laitman has her own distinctive voice as a composer, but what makes it such a seductive voice is its limitless range of inflections, which stems from the even more limitless possibilities to be found in the world of words and ideas to which she is so devoted. A basic sort of excellence which one always finds in Laitman’s songs is an unerring ability to write songs that can be sung (a simple-sounding proposition, but one that defeats many modern art song composers) and to set texts in such a way that they can be understood by listeners. That Laitman achieves consistent success in this regard without writing cautiously is a shining testament to her impressive and still-improving skills as a composer. Finally, Laitman crafts her accompaniments with just as much care and sensitivity, and with a consistent understanding of what will work to perfectly complete the picture. …These are superb songs sung superbly, and a composer as gifted as Lori Laitman deserves nothing less than that.

Gregory Berg, The Journal of Singing, January/February 2010.

Lori Laitman’s songs demand conscientious listening, and the time invested in doing so yields rich rewards…I agree with The Journal of Singing that ‘it is difficult to think of anyone before the public today who equals her exceptional gifts for embracing a poetic text and giving it new and deeper life through music.’ This is music of depth and richness that connects with the soul.

Robert Moore, American Record Guide, September/October 2009

[Lori Laitman’s ] songs represent outpourings of great beauty….Laitman tackles each poem’s subject mater with unfailing sympathy…yet she can react with tremendous humor, too.

Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine, September/October 2009

Lori Laitman opens windows onto small but deeply intimate emotional experiences…Whether it is Laitman’s blend of rich American, sometimes populist tonality, out of which her deeply personal, angular vocal writing rises, or her descents into jauntier, more popular modes, she shows an affinity for identifying with the words she sets and a keen ear for poetry that will work effectively.

Laurence Vittes, Gramophone Magazine, September 2009

Becoming a Redwood: Songs of Lori Laiman

It’s inevitable that any American art-song composer will at some point be compared with Ned Rorem, as is done in this disc’s booklet notes. It’s a testament to the quality, melodic richness and subtlety of Lori Laitman’s songs that for once the comparison is not inapt…“Becoming a Redwood,” is an extraordinarily impressive achievement…[This] disc increasing evidence of a major talent; Lori Laitman’s beautiful, sensitively crafted songs deserve to be performed widely, and much better known.

Lawrence A. Johnson, Gramophone Magazine, March 2007.

Here is yet another collection that confirms the greatness of song composer Lori Laitman. It is difficult to think of anyone before the public today who equals her exceptional gifts for embracing a poetic text and giving it new and deeper life through music. She has an unerring way of enhancing a text’s beauty and meaning while not obscuring the text through artifice or excess. One also has to admire how deeply personal her songs are, and that depth of self-expression is surely one of the chief reasons why singers are drawn to her work and find her songs so gratifying to perform… Throughout this disk, one can not help but be impressed at how well Laitman manages to set poignant texts of heartbreak and loss, and then in the very next song will write just as effectively in a more light-hearted vein.

Gregory Berg, The Journal of Singing, May/June 2007

According to The Journal of Singing as quoted in the liner notes, Lori Laitman (b.1955) is “one of the finest art song composers on the scene today, who deservedly stands shoulder to shoulder with Ned Rorem for her uncommon sensitivity to text, her loving attention to the human voice, and her extraordinary palette of musical colors and gestures”. I must agree. After listening to this several times, I have discovered to my great pleasure what a fine composer she is….Many of the texts of Laitman’s songs are very recent poems, and she selects wonderful texts that have depth and richness…The composer’s notes about each work are illuminating…This is music worth knowing, and these artists are exceptionally adept at helping us hear just how good it is.

Robert A. Moore, American Record Guide, March, 2007

Dreaming: The Songs of Lori Laitman

This is…a stunning collection of widely varied songs by one of the finest art song composers on the scene today. Lori Laitman deservedly stands shoulder to shoulder with Ned Rorem for her uncommon sensitivity to text, her loving attention to the human voice and its capabilities, and her extraordinary palette of musical colors and gestures.

Gregory Berg, The Journal of Singing, Jan/Feb 2004

Now here’s a composer displaying a rare gift for comedy…Men with Small Heads, a little cycle for baritone and piano, is hilarious and the prize is the duet Dreaming, about singers wishing for good reviews…Definitely music and a composer worth watching.

John Story, Gramophone Magazine, October 2004

[of Holocaust 1944 from Dreaming]

Holocaust 1944 is a powerful song cycle both for the performers and the audience. Each part is very exposed and technically challenging. The subject matter, confronting genocide on a personal level, is so intense one would need to take great care in programming the work. The work has an impact reminiscent of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder or Strauss’ Four Last Songs, yet due to the starkness and transparency of the instrumentation, this work is somehow more intimate.

Hans Sturm, Bass World, October 2004

Mystery: The Songs of Lori Laitman

Composer Lori Laitman knows how to let the voice soar and explore, and recitalists looking to update their concert repertory would do well to pick up this disc for ideas. Laitman lets the texts inform her music, spinning lyrical neo-romantic vocal lines over shifting post-modern sonorities… It's a treat to hear contemporary art songs that showcase the voice as flatteringly as these, and which retain individuality and surprise without sacrificing accessibility.

Joanne Sydney Lessner, Opera News online, March 2001

In a sure sign that the art song is far from dead, composers like Lori Laitman are devoting themselves to the genre with some attractive results. Laitman is particularly adept at suiting rhythm to text, and devising accompaniments that carry their weight.

Heidi Waleson, Schwann Inside Jazz and Classical Magazine, Dec 2000

For a Look Or a Touch

It is rare when a piece of music can be called a masterpiece. The plausibility of using such a term creates skepticism and begs for proof. If not proof, the designation yearns for a full explanation, at least. Such a work must display the highest level of compositional skill and excellence without pretense or artificiality of techniques in its creation. It should impart a vivid depiction of its aesthetic intent and cause the listener to be forever changed for having experienced it. Further, the consequence of its performance should be a demand that it be repeated frequently, since its absence would diminish the lives of all potential listeners.

The American song composer, Lori Laitman, has been lauded by reviewers as one of the most extraordinary song composers working today, likening her to Ned Rorem. She has an innate ability to capture the essence of textual meaning, a keen perception of vocal nuance, and a lavish intellectual and musical vocabulary that she uses with a facile ease. It was with all of these extraordinary skills that she created a magnificent song cycle called The Seed of Dream….Each of the five songs is uniquely crafted to embody the textual expression with descriptive melodies, harmonic underpinnings, and sympathetic timbres that identify even the subtlest, changeable emotions…Laitman knows how to get the very best from the baritone voice, giving it opportunities to use a full range of dynamics and allowing it to have heights of drama, lyric lines, as well as delicacy of articulation and interpretation…The use of the cello as a conversationalist with the voice and piano is brilliant and provides intense emotion and extraordinarily refined color changes throughout the piece…This cycle is indeed a masterpiece that should not be missed!

Dr. Sharon Mabry, The Journal of Singing, September/October 2007

The Holocaust dominates another song series on this disc, The Seed of Dream, based on Yiddish poems written in Nazi-occupied Lithuania by Abraham Sutzkever. Composer Lori Laitman has set them with warmth and variety for baritone, cello and piano…it is hard to resist the harsh irony of “A Load of Shoes,” Laitman’s fast, klezmer-tinted waltz to the poet’s observation of piles of ownerless shoes “transported from Vilna to Berlin.”

William Braun, Opera News, October 2008


The program also includes six poems, by child prisoners murdered in the Holocaust, set to music by the America composer Lori Laitman (b.1955), who is known for her art songs. These are scored for soprano and clarinet and are performed beautifully here by soprano Maureen McKay and clarinetist Laura DeLuca. The poems show that the children were well aware of their surroundings and perhaps their fate; and the songs have a haunting quality that stays with the listener.

Kurt Moses, American Record Guide, May/June 2007


with mezzo-soprano Patricia Green

Singer Patricia Green possesses a gleaming, vibrant voice which is radiant in every register and at every dynamic level…Her loveliest singing…emerges from her performance of the song cycle Mystery by Lori Laitman….and these enchanting songs deserve nothing less.

Gregory Berg, The Journal of Singing, May/June 2010

The teaming of composer Lori Laitman and poet Sara Teasdale in Mystery results in five songs of generous lyricism and propulsive ardour.

Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone Magazine, April 2009.

The Shining Place

With soprano Janeanne Houston

Even more effective are the two songs by Lori Laitman, who sets two Sara Teasdale texts with the discerning sensitivity that we have come to expect from her. She has a truly exceptional gift for conveying the profoundest meaning of her texts, yet also taking care that the texts by perfectly understood.

Gregory Berg, The Journal of Singing, November/December 2006

American Song Recital

With soprano Lauren Wagner

Phonogram magazine wrote of Ms. Laitman's The Metropolitan Tower, "the CD is worth owning for this song alone: magnificent!"

Phonogram Magazine, 1994.

Come to Me in Dreams

Cleveland Opera

The Nazis destroyed millions of lives, but they couldn't contain the thoughts and words of many who refused to lose hope. Cleveland Opera's final program of the season…brings some of those words to affecting and disturbing life…[The] company is presenting the double bill of Lori Laitman's "Come to Me in Dreams" (in its world premiere) and Grigori Frid's "The Diary of Anne Frank" (in its Ohio premiere).

Both works have striking features, especially "Come to Me in Dreams," a selection of Laitman songs tied together by David Bamberger, Cleveland Opera's retiring general director. Bamberger's scenario depicts the struggle of a Holocaust survivor to come to terms with the loss of his wife and a daughter.

The texts for the 15 songs in "Come to Me in Dreams" are derived from various sources, including children who died in the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt (Terezin). Laitman's settings are exuberant, poignant and harrowing realizations, written with a musical poet's ear for expressive warmth, nuance and color.

Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 2004

Performance Reviews

Susanna Phillips in Recital

I Never Saw Another Butterfly – with clarinetist Todd Levy, January 25, 2012

Soprano Susanna Phillips’ voice — as big, beautiful and amazingly versatile as it is — was not the main thing at the Chamber Music Milwaukee concert Wednesday evening.

The main thing was interaction of that voice with Todd Levy’s clarinet, Ted Soluri’s bassoon, Gregory Flint’s horn and Brian Zeger’s piano. She reacted not only to their tempos, but to their phrasing and the shading of their timbres. She sang like a chamber musician, and the wind players took on the expressive qualities of a fine and sensitive singer.

Phillips and Levy tuned in to each other as if by telepathy in Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio, from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, in an arrangement of R. Strauss’ Morgen that added clarinet (by way of encore), and especially in Lori Laitman’s I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a cycle of six songs on English translations of poems by inmates of Nazi concentration camps.

The Laitman cycle, for clarinet and voice only, is no less monstrously difficult and no less poignant for being understated. The voice and the clarinet play many different roles. Sometimes, the voice carries the line and the clarinet winds around it — sometimes, it’s vice versa. Bitter ironies lie in the weirdly cheery, vaguely klezmer clarinet parts when paired with the grim texts of Man Proposes, God Disposes and Yes, That’s the Way Things Are. The clarinet has mostly soft pedal tones, without vibrato, against an active voice part loaded with tritones — which Phillips hit with deadly accuracy — in the final song. Nothing about this music or these mood-perfect performances strained for effect. On the contrary, that last number came off as the haunting evidence of entropy overtaking the abandoned home of a victim of genocide.

Tom Strini, Third Coast Digest


The Act, January 14, 2011

[I] saw [Urbanarias’] production of seven pocket operas presented in just over one hour of performance time and walked out of the Arlington, Virginia, Artisphere giddy with delight. To the Dresser's ear, the most interesting music came from Lori Laitman (The Act) and Jake Heggie (Again). Laitman's music takes more risks with tonality…Standing head and shoulders above the set of short works both for its music and text, The Act, which concerns a knife-throwing act by a husband and wife, offers lines like "love is made of danger not romance." Meghan McCall in her sensuous feathered headdress and violet gloves was fascinating to watch and hear.

Karren Alenier, aka The Dresser, Scene4 Magazine

Elizabeth Futral

Sunflowers, with pianist William Billingham, November 16, 2010, Samford University, Birmingham, AL

Contemporary songs by Lori Laitman — airy, breezy settings of Mary Oliver poems — were thoughtful journeys into sunflowers, dreams and sunlight.

Michael Huebner, The Birmingham News

Andrew Garland in Recital

Men With Small Heads, with pianist Donna Loewy, November 21, 2009, Weill Recital Hall

Andrew Garland brought his expressive baritone coupled with the occasional streak of theatricality to make this exceptionally rewarding evening at Weill Recital Hall come to life, with pianist Donna Loewy his discreet collaborator.

 Lori Laitman's Men with Small Heads had many in the audience laughing. The title song refers to a small child gazing up at adults, whose heads appear to be disproportionately tiny. "Refrigerator, 1957" contains an unopened jar of maraschino cherries, brimming with fascination to someone weaned on bland food, and "A Small Tin Parrot Pin" uses internal rhyme and wordplay to smirking effect, coupled with Laitman's light, brisk vocal writing. But the final song might have been the funniest: "Snake Lake," in which the singer uses an overly sibilant "s" in every word that that has one.

Bruce Hodges, Seen and Heard International Concert Review

On November 21 at Weill Recital Hall, baritone Andrew Garland did something refreshing: he presented New York premieres by six living American composers, all but one of whom were in attendance. Garland and his pianist, the accomplished, nimble-fingered Donna Loewy, are carving out a place for themselves in this arena… Garland, who has a lean, fine-grained, vibrant baritone, presents himself with a tautly focused concentration that can sometimes become stagy, but his natural twinkle and comic timing were on display during Lori Laitman's delightful Men with Small Heads. Garland thoroughly owned these quirky settings of child's-eye-view poems by Thomas Lux, and as he began to sing less, he communicated more. Whether as the perspective-challenged six-year-old of the title song, a youth lusting after a jar of maraschino cherries, the proud owner of a tin parrot pin whose charm is lost on others or a deliciously sibilant snake warning swimmers out of his lair, Garland was utterly engaging. Laitman's sense of humor enhances her considerable skill as a text-painter, and this set was easily the highpoint of the concert.

Joanne Sydney Lessner, Opera News, February 2009

Randall Scarlata in Recital

Men with Small Heads, with pianist Cameron Stowe; premiere of Long Pond Revisited, with cellist Marcy Rosen, Kennedy Center Terrace Theatre, January 16, 2002

On Thursday night, baritone Randall Scarlata joined forces with the adept and responsive pianist Cameron Stowe for a program of works by Schubert, Brahms, Poulenc, Marc Blitzstein and the contemporary American composers Lori Laitman and David Baker… He brought aching maturity to Brahms and daffy, childlike bewilderment to Laitman's "Men With Small Heads" and "Refrigerator, 1957" (to texts by Thomas Lux that throw off loopy verbal sparks like so many Roman candles)...The world premiere of Laitman's "Long Pond Revisited" was a melancholy pleasure. In this setting of five elegiac poems by C.G.R. Shepard, Scarlata was joined by the cellist Marcy Rosen. The words are declaimed in a direct and straightforward manner, while the cello follows the voice like an abstracted soul, reacting inwardly to the outward expressions of nostalgia and sorrow. The ending was nothing less than a masterstroke: After the last words had finished, the cello twitched on for a moment and then faded to an empty, nerveless open chord, and it was over. I was reminded of one of those deathbed scenes in the movies where the life line on the hospital monitor suddenly goes flat. Incredibly, in an instant the loved one is gone, the poetry is lost and the world is gray.

Tim Page, The Washington Post, January 18, 2003

Lauren Wagner in Recital

The Strong House and To A Loose Woman, with pianist Frederick Weldy, May 5, 1993, Weill Recital Hall

Ms. Wagner has put together a program of considerable beauty and consistency and made a case for the richness of the American song repertory....Of the most recent pieces, Lori Laitman’s “Strong House” and “To A Loose Woman” ...were especially effective.

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times


from poet Dana Gioia

About The Apple Orchard (from Carol Kimball's article "Bright Is The Ring of Words" in The Journal of Singing, September/October 2009):

I have had a great many songs composed based on my poems. Usually the song — good, bad, or wonderful — becomes something quite different from my poem. That is only natural. The composer's vision transforms the text in some decisive way. With "The Apple Orchard" something extraordinary happened. Lori Laitman's setting is so perfect that it seems to have emerged naturally from the words as if the music had always been hidden in the lines. Every nuance of her settings seems absolutely inevitable. I can't imagine another possible setting of the poem. And the song is so suave, so beautiful — somehow both understated and dramatic. I loved it from the first moment I heard it. And oddly I have never heard a performance which didn't work. A collaboration this perfect is a very rare thing.

from poet David Mason

from The Scarlet Libretto (Red Hen Press, 2012)

These days art songs may in some circles be a little known form of music. Related to the lieder tradition in Europe, they involve setting the text of a poem— or, as Laitman has said of her own work, “My goal is to create dramatic music to express and magnify the meaning of the poem.” They are a musical expression of what we find in the words, but like a film adaptation of a novel they also become wholly new works in their own right. Gregory Berg notes, “Laitman clearly loves words and treats them with such reverent care even as she works so tirelessly to enhance them as only music can.”

Over the years, Lori has set poems by canonical writers from Emily Dickinson to Richard Wilbur, as well as many lesser-known poets. She has made hauntingly beautiful song cycles and brief bursts of comedy. Poets love her settings because she is so attentive to the words. Singers love them because they stand out as performances and are clearly intended to be sung—“a simple-sounding proposition,” Berg adds, “but one that defeats many modern art song composers.” Many of her settings come across as mini-operas or dramatic scenes; they evolve tonally and emotionally even in a relatively brief time. Because this composer respects words and thinks both musically and dramatically, she is perfectly suited for opera.

from Dr. Adelaide Whitaker

Dr. Whitaker has commissioned many of my works.

I have commissioned Lori Laitman to compose a number of songs and shall continue to do this. The results are invariably wonderful.

As a singer and a researcher, my longtime exploration of the art song repertoire has led me to focus on the United States, where creative efforts in all the arts are vigorous and exciting. Lori Laitman is clearly one of the most brilliant composers of the American genre. Summarily, her work embodies a continuation of the great art song tradition. The songs express the values of our time and all time. And... they are beautiful.

Technically, Ms. Laitman's songs utilize contemporary musical language that frees the expressive qualities of the poetry and the music: varying barline lengths, free color associations and an accompaniment that is a full partner in a complex, integrated web. Singers are thrilled to have songs which provide both joy and a challenge to prepare. And audiences still want an aesthetic experience at a concert!

Thank you, Lori, for a superb job.