Music professor talks composition

Shulamit Ran, the second woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, spoke in this year’s Ryerson lecture.

By Ellen Dunn

Music professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran spoke about her composing process Tuesday in this year’s Ryerson lecture, held in Max Palevsky Theater

Ran’s lecture focused on the composition of her new symphony, to be premiered at a festival on sacred music in Nuremberg, Germany next month. The symphony includes instrumentals, as well as sung and spoken speech drawing from “multiple [texts], languages, even translations in the same piece,” said Ran, who in 1990 won a Pulizer Prize in music, the second woman to do so.

Her inspiration for the symphony was a poem by Dan Pagis, “Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway Car.” The poem reimagines the biblical Eve and her son Abel being deported to concentration camps, on a railcar looking for her other son Cain.

Ran’s composition uses the poem’s words as lyrics and the tight 28-syllable structure as the basis of eight harmonies.

“The music keeps revolving around itself,” she said, adding how it echoes the numberless deportations of the Holocaust.

Ran’s subject matter was informed by her own life. She grew up in Tel Aviv as part of the first post-Holocaust generation, and many of her Jewish-German relatives died during the Holocaust.

The Nora and Edward Ryerson lectures are biannual talks given by a professor nominated by his or her fellow faculty. Committee chair Milton Harris said the lectures inspire a cross-disciplinary curiosity. The ideal lecturer speaks “to people working in areas quite removed from that of the speaker,” he said.