Kohelet: A Cantata in Five Movements
My wife Lauren was my muse for Kohelet, an extended choral work with bass-baritone and soprano soloists sung in Hebrew. Not only did she give me enthusiastic encouragement, she transliterated the Biblical Hebrew text. Kohelet is lovingly dedicated to her.
I started the project in early 2018. By spring, I had sketched out the first and third movements. At a salon concert in late April, I presented the third movement, a love duet, with bass-baritone Kerry Wilkerson and Metropolitan Opera soprano Danielle Talamantes, for whose voices I penned the solo parts.
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're 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. 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 a chamber setting for brass, percussion, harp and organ in early 2019, followed by an orchestral expansion in the fall of 2019. The world premiere takes place on May 8, 2020 at Mission Santa Clara de Asís with Tom conducting the Santa Clara Chorale and Santa Clara University Concert Choirs. The east coast premiere will take place in October 2020 in Washington, D.C. with Scot conducting the Washington Master Chorale.
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 that Lauren transliterated was adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes. 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 “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 the Song of Songs.
For me, Kohelet is an examination of the age-old question about the meaning of life. “Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known,” said American novelist Thomas Wolfe, “and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound." 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’s hard to tell whether Kohelet is life-affirming or pessimistic. One thing is for sure, the Kohelet says it’s 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’d say.
Kohelet expresses a modern, yet tonal, American aesthetic that synthesizes classical and vernacular elements. I rendered its themes and leitmotifs from a diverse musical palette to reflect the text and emotions it elicits. These rich musical fragments come together into a meaningful aural experience, at once dramatic and meditative.
YEAR OF COMPOSITION
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)
Full Score (SATB, Bass-Baritone and Soprano Soloists & Orchestra)
Chamber Score (SATB, Bass-Baritone and Soprano Soloists, Brass, Percussion, Harp & Organ)
Vocal Score (SATB, Bass-Baritone and Soprano Soloists & Piano)
Set of Parts (Orchestra Version)
Set of Parts (Chamber Version)
American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)
PURCHASE SCORES & PARTS
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