Culture Foundation’s New Commission: A Musical Sarajevo Hagaddah

Culture Foundation’s New Commission: A Musical Sarajevo Hagaddah

The famous illuminated manuscript will become a multimedia musical presentation.

The Sarajevo Haggadah, the famous illuminated manuscript, is the inspiration for the new multimedia art project entitled, “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book,” the Foundation for Jewish Culture has announced.

Originally written and illustrated in fourteenth century Golden Age Spain, the Haggadah has travelled from country to country, and escaped destruction several times, including remaining hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust. The manuscript is named for the city that has been its home for over a century, and is currently on display at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The FJC is dedicated to facilitating art projects that explore the diversity of the Jewish experience, from literature to film. Previous affiliated musical works have included a new score for an old silent Jewish film and a modernization of classical Persian music.

“We were looking for artistic excellence, imagniation and artistic risk taking,” said Andrew Ingall, FJC’s Program Officer for the Arts, in a statement. “Music of the Book,” he said, is “rooted in Jewish tradition, history and spirit,” but still “accessible to audiences of all backgrounds.” The Muslim Public Affairs Council has volunteered to be a partner in this project (the Haggadah was protected during the Second World War by a Muslim librarian).

Despite the manuscript’s overtly Jewish origins, the new work’s creators see it as a multicultural project, using different musical traditions to tell a universal story of resilience.

“I have always been fascinated by the Sarajevo Haggadah; not only because of its amazing and fascinating history, but also because it reminds me a bit of my own life and the ‘exodus’ I had to go through,” explained composer Meima Ključo in an e-mail interview. “I was forced to leave my own country [Bosnia], under the strangest and heaviest circumstances and find a new country.”

The new artistic work will trace the book’s exciting and rich history as it journeyed throughout the world. Bosnian-born, Los Angeles-based accordionist Klijuco (who has performed klezmer with Theodore Bikel) has composed the score for “Music of the Book.” Ključo was inspired to create the piece after reading Geraldine Brooks’ account of the haggadah, “People of the Book.”

Ključo declined to specify her ethnic heritage, explaining that it was irrelevant to her work and that “in Former Yugoslavia religion was seen in a cultural context,” and that she was “raised as a child of the world.”

Animator and artist Ruah Edelstein creates the visual elements for the work, and pianist Seth Knopp and award-winning dramaturg and dramatist Derek Goldman are also on the creative team for this FJP-commissioned work (no one at the FJP could not be reached for comment). The work’s visual elements will be dual in nature: there will be two screens, showing an animated film, and the other will be live shadow theater.

“I am honored and proud” that the project is under the auspices of the FJC’s New Jewish Culture Network, said Ključo. “This specific commission opened so many possibilities for the realization of the project.”

The piece will debut as a work-in-progress at Yellow Barn’s Sandglass Theater in Putney, Vermont on October 24 and 26, 2013. Its official world premiere will be in March 2014, as part of the FJC’s New Jewish Culture Network tour. Throughout the tour, Ključo and her team will also run creative workshops and master classes in addition to performing concerts.

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