Coming To America Concerto
2021 / Lisa Swerdlow Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
Lisa Swerdlow's Coming To America Concerto is another brilliant musical creation composed during the long Covid-19 quarantine. During her time spent at home, Lisa started researching her grandparents' immigration to the US from Russia (and what is now Ukraine) in the early 1900's due to the persecution of Jewish people. The three-movement concerto features Lisa on piano (recorded at Piano Haven Studio in Sedona, AZ) with orchestrations by the always amazing Doug Hammer. The piano is front and center throughout the work, but the additional instruments bring even more emotional depth and richness to the music.
The first movement is titled "Home of My Ancestors" and is Russian/klezmer-themed. It tells the story of life in the Jewish ghettos and villages of late 19th and early 20th century Russia. Fear of the Czar's army arriving to desecrate the villagers' homes, traditions and temples eventually became too much and many people left to seek a new homeland they knew little about. Piano and clarinet begin the movement, with strings soon added. There are feelings of heaviness and sadness throughout this movement, but there is also strength and hope for a better future.
"The Crossing" is the second movement and imagines Lisa's grandparents' experience of escaping with only some of their possessions and living in the cramped steerage quarters of a huge ocean liner. Quoting Lisa: "The music captures the journey: feeling seasick, longing for their homeland, the great trepidation of crossing an endless ocean bound for 'America,' which was probably more of a concept to them than an actual place. Their uncertainty is matched only by their determination to start a new life." Sadness and sacrifice pour from every note, but, again, hope drives the music forward.
The third movement is very appropriately titled "The Arrival" and imagines finally being able to see land in the far distance, the long journey finally coming to an end. Again quoting Lisa: "The reality dawns: a new life is awaiting them, in a country where they don’t speak the language, don’t understand its currency, and don’t have any friends or relatives waiting for them. Still, as they sail next to the Statue of Liberty, her raised torch lighting the way, feeling grateful for their new homeland." That mix of emotions comes through the music vividly, ending the concerto with a triumphant flourish.
What an inspiring piece of music this is! It is also a poignant reminder of people's struggles to be free throughout history and the amount of sacrifice they have been willing to endure - to this day - to achieve it. Lisa Swerdlow has created a musical masterpiece with Coming To America Concerto and I give it my highest recommendation. It is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites like Bandcamp and Spotify.
October 1, 2021