What has the Pope got to do with the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir’s annual Gala concert which took place almost two weeks ago, and how is any of this connected to the longer-than-usual gap between posts on this blog?
Well, to begin with, the many extra rehearsals (sometimes as many as four a week) which preceded the Grand Gala, left me with little time – and even less energy – for sitting down at the computer and writing a blog.
Secondly, the concert was originally scheduled for the evening of Sunday, May 25th. However, it turned out that that very evening, Pope Francis was due to arrive in Jerusalem on the Israeli leg of his Middle East tour. Bitter experience with Papal (and other VIP) visits has taught us (as citizens of Jerusalem) that the closure of roads for security reasons was likely to make it impossible for many people to get to the Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts, where the concert was due to take place in the Henry Crown Auditorium. The concert date was therefore switched to the evening of May 28th – Yom Yerushalayim (the anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification in 1967, as a result of the Six Day War).
Unlike our usual annual Gala Concert, this time, instead of performing one large work, we were to perform popular choruses from Italian operas, such as “Aida”, “Nabucco”, “La Forza del Destino”, and “Cavalleria Rusticana”, as well as liturgical and secular pieces by Italian composers.
Moreover, all five choirs making up the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir would be individually showcased, each choir performing on its own or in conjunction with one of the other choirs, as well as putting the massed forces of the full Oratorio Choir through their paces.
The Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, as is fitting for the choir which is billed as “the representative body of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir” had to work the hardest since, in addition to performing on our own, and as part of the full choir, we were supporting all but one of the other component choirs. Thus, we joined the Bel Canto Choir for the Orlando di Lasso madrigal “Matona Mia Cara” and the Antonio Lotti motet “Crucifixus” – the former, under the baton of Bel Canto conductor Noa Burstein, the latter under the baton of our own conductor, Ofer Dal Lal.
We also performed the Kyrie section from Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle” together with the Oratorio Singers, under the baton of Na’ama Nazerathy-Gordon, who later conducted the full choir in the Vivaldi “Magnificat”.
The women from the Chamber Choir then joined Flora Vinokurov’s Cantabile Women’s Choir for a Neapolitan song, “La Mammoletta”, and for the charming “O Pastorelle Addio”, from the opera “Andrea Chenier”, by Giordano.
All this involved taking part, not only in our own rehearsals and in the rehearsals of the full choir, but also the rehearsals of the other choirs whom we were supporting.
On our own, we performed the heart-breaking final chorus – “Plorate, filii Israel” – from Carissimi’s oratorio, “Jephte”, which tells the story of Jephthah’s daughter:
We followed that up with an unscheduled addition to the programme, in honour of Yom Yerushalayim – English Renaissance composer Richard Nicolson’s arrangement of verses from Psalm 122: “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces.”
This work, which we first performed several years ago under our previous conductor, Ronen Borshevsky, has become one of our signature pieces over the last couple of years, especially on our recent tour in Germany, Switzerland and France earlier this year. We shall be performing it also at the Chamber Choir’s own end-of-the-season concert in Tel Aviv next week (to which end, we have three rehearsals this week…)
Psalm 122 has long been a particular favourite of mine, since June 1967. Almost every English translation renders verse 3 thus: “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together“. But what does this mean – “a city that is compact together”?
The original Hebrew says: ירושלים הבנויה כעיר שחוברה-לה יחדיו (Yerushalayim habnuya k’ir shechubra la yachdav).
The Hebrew verb לחבר (lechaber) means “to join, to unite”. Throughout the centuries, none of the translators (not even of the poetic and beautiful King James version, a classic of the English language) could understand why the Psalmist, writing fifteen centuries before the birth of Muhammed and almost sixteen centuries before the Arab conquest of Jerusalem, should describe the Israelite capital as “a city that is joined together”. They therefore mistranslated the word as “compact together”. It was only after the reunification of the city on June 7th 1967, nineteen years after it had been brutally torn apart by the apartheid wall erected by the illegal Jordanian occupiers of its eastern half, that the prophetic nature of the psalm became clear. Jerusalem was, indeed, a city which had been united together.
Nicolson’s arrangement, however, is of verses 6 and 7 – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem …Peace be within thy walls…” Accordingly – and to get back to the Papal connection, in view of Pope Francis’s joint “pray-in” with outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen in the Vatican the day before yesterday (June 8th) – I will leave you with the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir’s rendition of this beautiful piece of Renaissance polyphony.