Length: c. 15 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, alto flute, timpani, percussion (bass drum, chimes, cymbals, suspended cymbals, glockenspiel, high and low gongs, snare drums, tam-tam, tom-toms, triangles, vibraphone, whip, woodblocks, and xylophone), harp, strings, and solo flute
Leonard Bernstein came of age during a period that shaped modern Jewish identity: the Holocaust and the founding of Israel, and his artistic consciousness was shaped by the ongoing mixture of joy and struggle. The 1981 Halil commemorates Yadin Tannenbaum, a young flautist killed in 1973 while fighting in the Yom Kippur war. A nocturne for flute, percussion, and strings, it is dedicated “to the spirit of Yadin and to His Fallen Brothers.”
The composer’s own description relates his harmonic approach to the central message of the piece: “It is like much of my music in its struggle between tonal and non-tonal forces. In this case, I sense that struggle as involving wars and the threat of wars, the overwhelming desire to live, and the consolation of art, love, and the hope for peace. It is a kind of night-music which, from its opening 12-tone row to its ambiguously diatonic final cadence, is an on-going conflict of nocturnal images: wish-dreams, nightmares, repose, sleeplessness, night-terrors, and sleep itself, Death’s twin brother.”
From the start, the flute’s pure voice rises from the denser textures, clearly evoking the voice of the fallen soldier. Both tonal and timbral processes emulate a continuously shifting of perspective – clearly between the “threat of war” and the “consolation of art,” but more universally between a sense of security and one of threat, and, most poignantly, between what was lost and what might have been. “I never knew Yadin Tannenbaum, but I know his spirit,” said the 62-year-old composer about the 19-year-old flautist. In the end, this nocturne restlessly inhabits the space between the twilight of one artist, and the barely-glimpsed dawn of another.
Susan Key is a musicologist who contributes frequently to Los Angeles Philharmonic program books.