Commissioned in 1965 by the Cathedral at Chichester, England, for its annual choral festival, American composer Leonard Bernstein described his Chichester Psalms as “popular in feeling,” with “sweetness along with more violent moments.” Despite its brevity, the work possesses considerable scope, journeying through extroverted joy, prayer, anxiety, the warring of nations, and, with the last phrases of music, peace. And, while it is a setting of sacred Hebrew psalms, the Bernstein of West Side Story is unmistakably present.
Ernest Bloch’s 1934 Sacred Service (“Avodath Hakodesh”) constitutes a milestone in the history of liturgical music: Sacred Service is the only composition on a large scale written for Jewish worship by a major composer. Built upon the text for the Sabbath Morning Service, its inspiration emerges from the human spirit, and as was Bloch’s hope, it transcends and embraces all humanity. Singing the central cantorial solo will be the brilliant young American baritone, Zachary Nelson.