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Vashti, or the Whole Megillah (1996)

A Purim shpiel for mezzo-soprano, clarinet and piano. Commissioned by the Gold Coast Chamber Music Festival. Premiere 12 January 1997, Delray Beach Florida with D’Anna Fortunato, Paul Green and William Wolfram. Published by MMB. 35’.

Comment: This was written for the bat mitzvah of my daughter Jamie .It can be performed as a concert work, or staged.

Review: “Subtitled ‘a Purim Shpiel’ the work is a retelling of the biblical story behind the Jewish holiday. Ahasuerus, the dim-witted king of Persia, falls under the counsel of the evil Haman, who nearly convinces him to destroy the Jewish people. But Schiff, who also fashioned the witty libretto, throws in a few delightful twists. For starters, he makes the king’s first wife, Vashti, a leading figure, turning the tale into a feminist drama of sorts. Then he puts all the characters into the voice of a single singer/narrator, accompanied by an ‘orchestra’ of clarinet and piano. And finally, he flavors the highly theatrical score with lots of charming popular elements, including jazzy syncopations, klezmer-like melodies and a Bernsteinesque Broadway hustle-bustle. The result is a charmer of a work, one that resonates both as true opera—there are definable areas and stretches of recitative—and a truly unusual concert piece. Schiff’s clever craftsmanship is evident throughout: witness the brilliant clarinet cadenza at the end. But this is that rare contemporary score that hides its cleverness to reveal a real musicality. Charles Passy, The Palm Beach Post, 13 January 1997.