‘the writings’ EU premiere

October 13, 2021

On October 13 the Nederlands Kamerkoor premieres the writings at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam. They perform the work in 5 additional Dutch cities through October 24 — click here for more details.

the writings — co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Paul Hillier and Theatre of Voices — combines some old and some new works into an hour-long piece:

·· again (after ecclesiastes)
·· if I am silent
·· for love is strong
·· where you go
·· solitary

You can click here to see the full score.

In 2005 I wrote a piece based on a few lines from the Book of Ecclesiastes. That work is called again (after ecclesiastes) — and both the writing of it and the thinking about it were very powerful experiences for me. One of the most powerful was the recognition that this Old Testament book has a liturgical function, that it is read publicly in many Jewish congregations in conjunction with the fall harvest holiday Sukkot. Somehow it seemed very poignant to me that Judaism might link together such a dark and philosophical text with a joyous religious festival celebrating abundance. I asked my rabbi about it and he encouraged me to look at the other Old Testament writings that have been incorporated into the Jewish liturgical year. So I did.

The Hebrew Bible is divided into three parts – The Five Books of Moses, The Prophets, and The Writings — and of course all of these texts play a role in Jewish worship. Over the centuries, however, five books in particular from The Writings became associated with particular holidays, and it is possible to chart the course of a year following them: Ecclesiastes, Esther, the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations. It seems to me that the point of connecting each book to its holiday is that these books are very human, very personal. Much of religion is mysterious and unknowable, but these books are all about people and their emotional lives — life and death, courage, love, companionship, regret. Incredibly, some of these books don’t mention God or religion, or spirituality at all; rather, they underline what is human in us, and what is universal. One way to think of these five writings together is as a catalog of human emotions, repeating endlessly, year after year.

I thought that if I took some of the language that seemed most universal in each of these writings and set it to music I might be able to make my own emotional catalog, and that I would be able to use the music to get to the humanity that is at the core of these very human texts.

the writings begins and ends with the movement again (after ecclesiastes). The score instructs the performers to sing it differently the second time it is sung. The cycle, like the year, may repeat, but never exactly.