Instrumentation: Flute and Chamber Orchestra 1111/111/str; Flute and Piano
Commission: NEA Composer Fellowship
The Prism Chamber Orchestra, Robert Black, conductor, Renee Siebert, flute
Merkin Hall, New York, NY
Renee and Cynthia Siebert
National Flute Association Convention, Kansas City, MO
Timothy Weiss conducting the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble with flute soloist Mehrdad Gholami in version with added percussion part.
“Ruah” is a Hebrew word that translates as air, wind, or breath. In Cabalistic mysticism it also refers to the part of the soul that mediates between the body and the spirit. Both the colloquial and spiritual meanings are at work here. The images of breath and air inform the timbral stretching of the flute’s sound, with the flutist using the voice and its breath flow in conjunction with played tones. The image of the wind is captured particularly in the swirling lines of the first movement, marked “Soaring,” and in the third, titled “Impassioned.” The second movement, “Tender,” emerges from a dynamic stillness, with far-flung registral limits, and large internal spaces. Its three-part organization mirrors the larger-scale three movement plan of the entire work. The final movement is a more furious spin through space, and reflects a more tightly wound, assertive character than the first two movements. However, it also refers to the preceding movements. The spiritual reference is embodied in the role of the flute as it variously springs forth from and mediates between the instruments of the ensemble.
Ruah was composed for and is dedicated to Reneé Siebert, who premiered and the recorded it with the Prism Chamber Orchestra in March, 1987. Its composition was made possible in part by an NEA Composer Fellowship and by a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. The second movement was choreographed by Kate Johnson of the Paul Taylor Dance Company and presented at New York’s City Center in May, 1989. The flute and piano version, also composed at the VCCA, was premiered by Reneé and Cynthia Siebert at the 1994 National Flute Association meeting in Kansas City, Mo.–JS
“…it was the performance of flutist Sara Stern, playing Ruah, a flute concerto by Virginia composer Judith Shatin, that held the audience spellbound.
From the first movement, “Soaring,” which portrayed all manner of things in flight from the tiniest creatures to the most majestic angels, through the pensive second movement and on to the work’s final movement, “Impassioned,” flutist and orchestra breathed as one being. Conductor Cal Stewart Kellogg’s solid musicianship held in one hand complete control of his orchestra, and in the other full understanding of this remarkable opus.
The work is all about air. “Ruah” is a Hebrew word meaning “breath.” With flawless technique, Stern executed wide, leaping intervals, interspersed flutterings, and haunting, silver-threaded melodies. Did the work inspire the perfomer to such heights? Or did the performer bring physicality to mystic beauty? The answer is: both.”
–Mount Vernon Gazette
“Judith Shatin…shows a rich and disciplined imagination in her … Ruah (“Air, Wind or Breath”) for flute and orchestra. In Hebrew, as in many other languages, the word for “breath” is also the word for “spirit” (which is the Latin word for “breath), and Ruah is, in fact, a multifaceted essy on the human spirit, its windlike freedom of movement and volatile changes of mood, summarized in the titles of the three movements: “Soaring,“ “Serene,” and “Impassioned.” It is beautifully performed and recorded…by flutist Renee Siebert, for whom it was composed, with Robert Black conducting the Prism Orchestra.”
–The Washington Post
“Judith Shatin’s music for flute and chamber orchestra [Ruah, second movement] has a worn, expressionistic edge–it strikes plaintive chords that dissipate like smoke.”
–The Village Voice