Arts and Culture | Local

UA professor’s new classical album views human experience via a Jewish lens

Daniel Asia

Tucson composer Daniel Asia’s latest CD attempts to contextualize the human experience via a Jewish sacred text, plus the poems of a New York Jewish poet and an Israeli Jewish poet. “To Open in Praise” contains 12 tracks in three sections, written over a 25-year period.

The opening composition, “Psalm 30,” was written for Jack Chomsky, baritone, and first performed by him, Daniel Heifetz, violin, and J. Randal Hawkins, piano, on April 13, 1986.

The following selection, “Breath in a Ram’s Horn,” offers a range of musical moods “from the sublime to the mundane, from the sacred to the profane,” says Asia. It includes texts written by Paul Pines, a New York-based author who has published 14 books of poetry and has lectured for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The third piece, “Amichai Songs,” comprises poems by Yehuda Amichai, who is regarded as one of Israel’s finest poets. His work has been translated into 40 languages.

Asia’s work gets richer with every listen, says Sid Lissner, a founding member of Avitecture, an audiovisual engineering company based in the Washington, D.C. area, who retired to Tucson almost three years ago. Lissner befriended Asia when he relocated and is honored to be a project benefactor. Not only is Asia a well respected modern American composer, there are very few people creating pieces via a Jewish lens, says Lissner.

Lissner describes Asia as a “thinker and an artist” of noteworthy stature.

“He’s a respected professor and he’s notable for writing Jewish music in a classical mode,” says Lissner. “There aren’t too many people doing this, and Dan does it so well — it’s art.”

Asia hails from Seattle, Washington, and began studying music at the Lakeside School. He went on to study at the Yale School of Music, working with composer Jacob Druckman and conductor Arthur Weisberg. He later moved to New York City, where he served as music director at Musical Elements from 1977 to 1995. Currently, Asia is head of the composition department at the University of Arizona’s Fred Fox School of Music.

His body of work includes five symphonies, piano and cello concerti, two song cycles, several single movement works, and multiple chamber ensembles, voice, and solo performers. His latest operas, “The Tin Angel” and “Divine Madness: The Oratorio” also feature librettos penned by Pines.

Throughout his career, Asia has received multiple grants and fellowships including a Meet The Composer/Reader’s Digest Consortium Commission, United Kingdom Fulbright Arts Award Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Support for Asia’s new album was also provided by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. The CD was released by Summit Records on July 7.