Kohelet: A Cantata in Five Movements
Kohelet ("The Teacher," in Hebrew) is an epic cantata in five movements composed for performance by mixed choir (SATB), bass-baritone and soprano soloists, and orchestra, consisting of 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, timpani, percussion (3 players), 2 harps, and strings. A reduction for 2 trumpets, 2 horns, bass trombone, timpani, percussion (1 player), harp, and organ is also available.
The original full scoring lends itself well to the reduced ensemble too. By including some of the original instruments, the reduction is conveyed with little loss of variety and color. I think some of the hidden details may even be more apparent.
The Third Movement of Kohelet, Shir Hashirim ("Song of Songs"), is also available separately for recital performance by baritone and soprano soloists with piano accompaniment.
I started work on Kohelet early in 2018. By spring, I had sketched out the first and third movements. At a private salon concert in late April in Warrenton, Virginia, I presented the third movement love duet with my friends Kerry Wilkerson and Metropolitan Opera soprano Danielle Talamantes, for whose voices I penned the bass-baritone and soprano solo parts, respectively.
It was kismet! Among the guests was choral conductor Thomas Colohan, artistic director of the Washington Master Chorale in Washington, DC. Tom and I instantly became friends. It turns out we were both connected to Santa Clara University, my alma mater in Northern California where for eight years Tom served on the music faculty as director of choral activities. While at Santa Clara, Tom also served as artistic director of the Santa Clara Chorale.
Our friendship became an artistic collaboration when Tom suggested the Washington Master Chorale and Santa Clara Chorale, led by choral conductor Scot Hanna-Weir, mount the first two performances of Kohelet. Delighted Kohelet had a home, I went straight back to work. I completed the cantata November 2019.
Combining Biblical Hebrew verse with lush, modal melodies, energetic meters and colorful harmonic textures, Kohelet offers an ecumenical blend of Judaic antiphonal singing and Christian choral tradition. The Hebrew text was adapted from Ecclesiastes and transliterated by my wife Lauren, a Hebrew speaker and linguist by training (and lawyer, by profession). One of twenty-four books of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, it is also one of the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament of most Christian denominations.
Ecclesiastes is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, Kohelet, which means “one who gathers others together” or, more commonly, “teacher.” The bass-baritone soloist sings the part of the Kohelet—King Solomon according to tradition—while the soprano soloist sings the part of his expectant bride in the third movement love duet adapted from Song of Songs.
For me, Kohelet is an examination of the age-old question about the meaning of life. Its wise sayings are embedded in the popular consciousness: Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun. For everything there is a season, and The race is not to the swift.
Some say it is hard to tell whether Kohelet is life-affirming or pessimistic. One thing is for sure, the narrator says it is more important to live wisely and enjoy the simple pleasures of life within a morally grounded framework than to wantonly pursue wealth, fame or power. “Chasing after the wind,” he calls it. He admonishes us to look at joy as a state of inner being so that we remain steady in the face of life’s challenges. Sage advice for our time, I would say.
I. Hakol Havel (All is Vanity)
II. La'kol Zman (For Everything a Season)
III. Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs)
IV. Divrei Chachamim (Wisdom of the Sages)
V. Sof Davar (The Last Word)
YEAR OF COMPOSITION
American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)
SATB, B. Baritone, Soprano & Orchestra
SATB, B. Baritone, Soprano & Reduced Ensemble (organ, harp, percussion, brass)
PURCHASE SCORES & PARTS
US: Contact Henry Dehlinger Music Publishing