MERRILLVILLE - The Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra will perform Paul
Schoenfield's "Four Parables for Piano and Orchestra" Thursday at its concert
at the Star Theater.
"Parables is an American Jazz piece," says Schoenfield, 47, a contemporary
composer born in the U.S., but who now lives in Israel with his wife and two
His work in general has been described as a mix of Broadway composer George
Gershwin, American jazz and blues, with strains of klezmer (European Jewish
While eschewing labels, Schoenfield says "I have never tried to imitate
Gershwin, but he was more of a folk musician than a classical composer. I think
that's the similarity. I don't know enough about him to speak accurately. I
think I'm much more of an international folk composer. In general much folk
music is very complex - there's a lot going on. American Dixie is a good
example. You have a group of players and everybody is doing their own thing -
my music sounds more like that - in general - though I notate everything."
Conductor Robert Vodnoy, Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra artistic
director says he fell in love with "Four Parables" when he first hear it
performed by James Tocco on a recording sent to him by an agency.
Tocco, who has performed "Parables" with the Minnesota Orchestra and the
Grant Park Symphony (on the specially designed 500,00th Steinway grand piano)
will perform the piece with the Northwest Indiana Symphony.
"What I particularly loved [about Parables] was the blending of these
diverse styles. As you are listening to the piece, you have something that
reminds you of Gershwin, then it sounds like a Klezmer band and Bartok," said
The piece includes four movements which each tell a different story, based
on true events from Schoenfield's life. The opening movement is titled,
"Rambling Till the Butcher Cuts Us Down," and is a response to a debate
regarding the release of a senile, quadriplegic murderer from prison.
"Senility's Ride," is the story of a man who was slowly becoming senile and
would recollect his former vigor and reflect on his current health.
The third movement, "The Elegy" tells the tale of a young man who died
needlessly because religious fanatics convinced him he didn't need a doctor.
The final movement, "Dog Heaven" - was inspired by Schoenfield's encounter with
two children whose mother had punished them by getting rid of their dog. It's
upbeat and funny, but "It's not slapstick," Schoenfield said regarding the use
of humor in his composition. "I think it brings forth good feelings in people -
it's not tragic - I think that's a better description."
Schoenfield, raised as a physicians son in Detroit, has composed 16 works -
and says only a few of them have a klezmer sound. Schoenfield said because
those pieces have been played a lot, that's probably why people associate him
with that style primarily.
"I didn't hear klezmer music until I was an adult. All my childhood
associations are with the European classical tradition," said Schoenfield, who
has taught at the Universities of Akron, Minnesota and Toledo and a 1984
recipient of the National Endowment for the arts, as well as other awards and
His other works include "Cafe Music," Elegy, Rag and Boogie; Slovakian
Children's Songs and Three Country Fiddle Pieces.
Currently, he is composing an Irish jig, a commissioned piece, to honor a
couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
Vodnoy, who also conducts the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra, by
chance, will introduce Schoenfield there, too.
"Right around the time I made the decision to do the 'Four Parables' I was
making arrangements to bring flautest Carol Wencenc to the Southwest Michigan
Symphony. Carol suggested this flute concerto by Paul Schoenfield, which she
commissioned in 1989. It's quite an interesting piece. It's for flute, klezmer
band, strings and male soloist," Vodnoy said.
The elements in this piece are definitely associated with Eastern European
marches and Jewish folk songs.
"I found myself this year, having a Schoenfield year. Doing two works by
him. It's a great treat. He's a wonderful composer. It's not often you get to
explore more than one work from a relatively new composer," Vodnoy said.