Work at YIVO Inspires Finalist for a Pulitzer


Alex Weiser, a composer who feels he has one foot in the Jewish world and the other in the world of classical music, was named a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his song cycle “and all the days were purple.”

The director of public programs at YIVO, Weiser tells The Jewish Week in an email, “This project was a way for me to take the incredible poetry I was discovering in Yiddish, and marry this Jewish intellectual tradition with the world of contemporary classical music, which I studied and am very much also a part of.”

Weiser, who studied composition at Yale and NYU, was inspired by the work of poets including Edward Hirsch, Anna Margolin and Abraham Sutzkever as well as William Carlos Williams. He sets the poems to music “by trying to express their ideas and emotions and bring their words to life within my own musical language” — like Sutzkever’s description of a delicate, ripe plum that translates into music that is lyrical, halting and tender.

The Pulitzer went to Anthony Davis for his operatic work “The Central Park Five.”

Weiser is now working on a piece for the Buglisi Dance Theater and an orchestral version of  “and all the days were purple” to be premiered at the POLIN museum in Poland.

And he also hopes to write an opera about the story behind the “Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language” with Ben Kaplan, to follow up on their opera about Theodor Herzl, “State of the Jews.”