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Fine felt the musical message behind “Canticles for Jerusalem” so intensely that she created a four-movement instrumental version of this work, “Canticles from the Other Side of the River.” More than a mere transcription for orchestra of the earlier work, the instrumental version is a reinvention, in which percussion imitates sounds of nature, such as birdsong.
Another such example of an instrumental work engaged with Jewish tradition is Fine’s “After the Tradition,” an orchestral work in three movements. The title was inspired by a 1969 book by Robert Alter. The work’s first section, entitled “Kaddish,” was written in memory of the cellist George Finckel, a Bennington colleague for whom she also composed “In Memoriam: George Finckel” for four cellos. The San Francisco Chronicle praised a 1988 performance of “After the Tradition” as a “tribute to Fine’s Jewish roots.”
Fine’s chamber opera, “The Women in the Garden,” placed the American Jewish poet Gertrude Stein ( onstage with quintessentially bossy and tendentious know-it-all declarations, bending the ears of the other, more restrained female characters, including Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf. She also wrote “Songs of Love and War,” which included settings from the “Song of Songs” and by the Polish Jewish poet Jozef Wittlin.
A later chamber opera, the semi-autobiographical “Memoirs of Uliana Rooney,” with a libretto by Sonya Friedman, features musical quotes from Copland, Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill and Alma Mahler. It tells the story of a piano prodigy from a Russian Jewish family who becomes a composer. Sweeping through 20th century political history and subtly raising questions about the role of women composers in modernity, the opera ends with words attributed to Primo Levi: “Time can make us famous, / time can make us fools, / and so the best aim is to live by compassion’s rules.” In fact Levi’s “If This Is a Man,” specifically asks not for compassion from readers, but rather for awareness and moral vigilance. Even if misattributed, Fine’s quote from Levi suggests her deep admiration for the Italian writer, and her lasting involvement with Jewish tradition. Had she not tragically died as a result of a car accident in Bennington, Fine surely would have created even more works along these lines.
Benjamin Ivry writes frequently about the arts for The Forward.