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

young children.

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

folk music).

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.