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Mixed Company is written by Saint Paul Sunday staff, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the show and the classical music they love. We welcome your online comments.

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May 31, 2006

Always On Their Toes

I suspect that there is never a dull moment in the St. Lawrence String Quartet. They perform challenging new repertoire alongside the most difficult classical repertoire, each musician plays with impressive athleticism, and the quartet is practically biting at the bit to do interesting collaborations with other artists (listen to their previous program with clarinetist Todd Palmer and composer Osvaldo Golijov as they perform his searing Yiddishbbuk).

The red phone

Off mic, the quartet jokingly shared with us that some of their raw ambition might be a result of professional fear. A couple of years ago, the quartet was recording some music at a Bavarian radio station. Just before they were about to start playing, an engineer brought into the studio a bright red phone (just like the Bat phone!) and set it on the floor in the middle of the group. "What is this for?" asked the quartet. "Well," the engineer explained, "when we hear you make a wrong note or go out of tune, we will call you from the control room and ask you to start again." No pressure. During a break in our recording session, our engineer placed an identical red phone in the studio as a joke, prompting me to snap this picture. No pressure indeed.

Posted by Suzanne Schaffer at May 31, 2006 9:05 AM



Eli Eli, played on St Paul Sunday Morning by the St Lawrence String Quartet, is indeed a beautiful and moving piece. But it was NOT composed by Jonathan Berger, as was announced. At most, it was arranged by Jonathan Berger, which is quite different than "composed". Eli Eli ("My God, My God" in Hebrew) is a well-known Hebrew song, nowadays frequently used in the Jewish prayer book, but originally composed to lyrics by Hanna Senesh, a Jewish Hungarian poet who emigrated to Israel (then Palestine) in the 1930's, when she was a teenager. During WW2 Senesh enlisted in the British Army and volunteered for a commando mission. She parachuted into Yugoslavia and made her way into her native Hungary, by then under Nazi occupation. Her goal was to save Hungarian Jews from being sent to the extermination camps; but it was not to be. She was captured, severely tortured, never betrayed her comrades, and executed. She was only 23 years old. Eli Eli (more properly titled "Walking in Caesarea") was a poem reflecting her impressions about a walk on the beach, in Israel, near the ancient ruins of Caesarea. Freely transated, the poem says:
My god, may it never end, the sand and the sea, the rustling of the water, the glitter of the sky, the prayer of man." Indeed, a fitting tribute to Daniel Pearl; but credit should be given (and taken) where credit is due. Unfortunately I do not know the name of the composer of this beautiful melody.

By Aric Agmon at June 4, 2006 11:51 AM


Many thanks for your kind comments and for giving us more background on the beautiful "Eli Eli". Thanks too for the translation, which helps explain its inspiration. We'll do a little research of our own here and adjust as needed.

By Vaughn Ormseth at June 5, 2006 9:42 AM


Addendum to my previous comment:
The composer of Halikha LeKeisaria ("Walking to Caesarea"), the song commonly known by its initial words as "Eli Eli", was David Zehavi, an Israeli composer (1910-1975). In a letter to Hanna's mother, Katherine Sesesh (or Szenes, in the Hungarian spelling), composer David Zehavi attested that the melody “matured in me and came out in a single stroke of passion… not a single note corrected, nor changed.”

I would like to end this comment with a free translation of another of Hanna Senesh's poems, written a few days before her capture by the Nazis:
Blessed is the match that was burnt and kindled the flames
Blessed are the flames that secretly burned in the hearts
Blessed are the hearts who knew how to stop honorably.

By Aric Agmon at June 5, 2006 10:12 AM