Happy Rosh Hashanah!

October 3, 2016 at 10:17 am

Today marks the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, and the beginning of the High Holy Days. This festival comes from a biblical command God gave to Moses:

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts.

Trumpet blasts? Sounds good to me. How about Leonard Bernstein‘s Chichester Psalms? Bernstein only wrote a handful of religious works; you could argue that his Kadish Symphony and Mass are better described as anti-religious. The Chichester Psalms is unique in his repertoire as having a positive spin on religion, even if it isn’t backed by any belief on his part. The piece bears an English name because it was commissioned by Chichester Cathedral. It is often performed in a slightly strange reduced instrumentation – organ, percussion, and harp. Though they are often found in synagogues, the organ here perhaps acts as a symbol for Christianity, while the harp and percussion call to mind the ancient Hebrew psalms. In the first movement (today’s piece) they sing from Psalm 108:

Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.

With the synthesis of Jewish and Christian instruments, the Hebrew text, and an Anglican Cathedral’s name on the piece, makes me want to see this work as a symbol of healing between the two religions.