A Conversation With Composer Merima Ključo on 'The Sarajevo Haggadah'

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by Mike Telin

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Performing Arts Series continues on Wednesday, October 28 at 7:30 with Merima Ključo’s “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book,” a multimedia work for accordion, piano and video tracing the story of a precious Jewish prayer book’s journey from medieval Spain to 20th-century Bosnia — where it was hidden and rescued during World War II — to its restoration by the National Museum in Sarajevo after the 1992-1995 war.

In her composer’s note for YellowBarn, where the project was developed, Ključo said “I am fascinated by the Sarajevo Haggadah not only because of its amazing and fascinating history, but also because it reminds me of my own life and the ‘Exodus’ I had to experience. I was forced to leave my own country, under the strangest and heaviest circumstances. During its journey, the Haggadah suffered transformations which make it even more special by giving it a richer history that reflects its passage through different cultures.”

The performance will feature Merima Ključo on the accordion and guest pianist Seth Knopp. Video for the presentation is the creation of Bart Woodstrup. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks, who wrote about the Haggadah in her historical novel People of the Book, will introduce the program.

Because of her busy touring schedule, Merima Ključo was not available for a telephone interview, but she graciously agreed to answer questions by e-mail.

Mike Telin: The story of The Sarajevo Haggadah is fascinating: I understand that you were familiar with the story, but had you envisioned creating a piece based on it prior to reading Geraldine Brook’s historical novel?

Merima Ključo: I have always been fascinated by the Sarajevo Haggadah, with its story and amazing history. After reading Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book I got inspired by this amazing book and became obsessed with the idea of the project that would musically and visually follow the Haggadah’s journey from Spain to Sarajevo. (Just to make sure that there is no confusion, my “Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book” is not based on People of the Book but is inspired by it.

MT: How much correspondence did you have with the author prior to or during the creation of the project?

MK: Geraldine Brooks was invited to introduce the Sarajevo Haggadah and my composition at the premiere of my piece at the Jewish Music Festival in Boston. That was the first time we met. We both were inspired by this amazing Haggadah — she wrote a book about it, and I wrote the musical composition. We felt connected immediately even though we never met before. I couldn't imagine making a better connection.

MT: How much historical musical research did you do?

MK: It is a wonderful, never-ending search that could take a lifetime. My love for Jewish music dates from my days as a 14-year old student in Sarajevo. One day I was walking through the streets when, passing by the music shop, I heard a beautiful melody. The sound was somehow very familiar to me, but still different from anything I had heard before. I couldn't resist going into the shop to ask what it was. ‘Sephardic music’, they told me. Read the article on ClevelandClassical.com

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