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PROGRAM NOTES by the composer

Peaceful Journey for Cello and Piano

In late 1987 I happened to see a PBS show about Soviet Jews emigrating to New York in the 1890s. Rather than focusing only on the promising future of life in the new world and the ethnic warmth of the Lower East Side, this documentary awoke in me an awareness of how much these immigrants left behind - generations of close friends and family, careers and possessions, and a lifetime of associations with the old world. These immigrants were my grandparents and great-grandparents; those who chose to stay behind were lost forever, including their future generations, my unknown cousins.

A composer's response to something this poignant is often to set the experience to music, and that night I began a bittersweet work for cello and piano. Combining sadness with optimism is basic to this music, as it was basic to immigrants giving up everything in hope of a better future. The piece was originally titled Hebrew Elegy, a lyrical poetic plaint without much cellistic flash.

A few months after finishing Hebrew Elegy, I gave a copy (with no program notes) to a cellist-friend, suggesting he might want the premiere. Unbeknownst to me this cellist had AIDS, and he assumed I knew and had composed a "Hebrew Eulogy" for him which he immediately worked into the funeral he'd been planning. He was particularly moved that I understood the bittersweet combination of sadness and optimism in his struggle.

The unexpected and ironic parallel led me to think of a more universal title, and Peaceful Journey became the final name of the work.

last updated February 20, 2020