Hubby on a Roll!

Self supine on couch, again. Watching Martha: It was “Breakfast Day,” and everyone, even the members of the audience, were in snuggly-looking pajamas. Self was taking mental notes: Martha was in peach pajamas, but self saw a young woman in the audience in lime green pajamas and furry slippers, and self thought the woman looked pretty smashing. The men were wearing “robes” (underneath which were presumably pajamas). The menu for this show was French Toast and bacon and eggs. Oooh, self’s favorite breakfast foods — next to cream of wheat with melted butter and brown sugar, that is !!

Then self’s mind wandered (as it frequently does) to the pile of papers on the dining room table, still waiting to be graded. But, quick as a wink, self nudged herself along to another (more felicitous) thought which was: Should self be daring and watch “The Forbidden Kingdom” in the old Century 12 on East Bayshore which lately has seemed so creepy, what with the cavernous empty cinemas and the occasionally annoying foot-high Spanish subtitles?

And before self could answer this question, a message from hubby popped up in self’s in-box. And self wanted to e-mail back:

Hubby, what are you doing? This is the second day in a row that you’ve been sending non-office related e-mail and I am beginning to have serious doubts about that start-up of yours . . .

But, anyhoo, self opened the e-mail, and it turned out to be the Program Notes for the next concert we are watching: on Saturday, June 14. And, just bear with self here, dear blog readers. She knows that Yiddish Music Theatre is not what one would normally associate with the San Francisco Symphony, but the story is really fascinating, as is the (heretofore unknown) connection with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas :

The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater

In his memoir, Sounds from My Life, composer Joseph Rumshinsky (1879-1956) wrote: “The situation of the composer in the Yiddish theater in general is a sad one. The world can never get to know his better musical creations, because the whole score—in which the ensembles, serious duets, romances, and the better songs are found—seldom, indeed hardly ever, gets to print . . . And the saddest thing is, as soon as the operetta closes and leaves the stage, the full score withers and dies. . . .”

Unfortunately, Rumshinsky was right. Many of the scores have vanished—but not all.

In this performance you will hear the music of shows that played the theater houses of the Lower East Side in New York and other American cities to which the Thomashefsky troupe traveled in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To say these are rescued lost treasures is not an exaggeration. For seven years, The Thomashefsky Project has been searching out, reconstructing, and preserving these disintegrating scores. Extant fragments of musical manuscripts, discovered at various archives, have been pieced together and transcribed into a digitized music program on their way to becoming as true a reflection of the original works as possible. And as the manuscripts contained little or no annotation, it remained for Michael Tilson Thomas to bring them to life—to edit and arrange the material, according to his memory of how his grandmother Bessie Thomashefsky, uncle Harry Thomashefsky, and father Ted Thomas performed the numbers in the living room of his North Hollywood family home in the 1950s.

This quest for the exact flavor of the music as it reverberated through the theater houses of the Lower East Side a century ago has remained a priority for Michael Tilson Thomas. The first time I heard him speak about his grandparents, he pondered on what it may have felt like to be alive at that time and in that place. He quoted from Aaron Copland: “You compose because you want to somehow summarize in some permanent form your most basic feelings about being alive, to set down . . . some sort of permanent statement about the way it feels to live now, today. So that when it’s all gone, people will be able to go to the artwork of the time and get some sense of what it felt like to be alive in this year.” We hope that The Thomashefskys will enable audience members to feel connected to the world of Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, the world of the fledgling American immigrant, where, as MTT has expressed it, “new unimagined questions were waiting around every glittering corner.”

Fascinating, just fascinating.

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