Mixed Chorus, Horn, and Organ
Text: Liturgical (Hebrew)
Duration: ca. 14.5 minutes
Publisher: C. F. Peters Corporation, Edition Peters 67947
Ochila laEil was written in response to a commission from JoAnn Rice and the Florilegium Chamber Choir, an ensemble of dedicated musicians with whom it has been my honor to be associated since 1990, first as a singer and, later, also as a composer. It was with a considerable amount of trepidation and humility that I embarked on my first attempt at setting the magnificently complex and beautiful Hebrew language to music. The text JoAnn found for me is taken from one of the Rosh Hashanah services, in which the cantor, in a unique moment of turning inward, asks for permission to pray on behalf of the congregation, requesting fitness of speech. I am most grateful to JoAnn for her confidence in my ability to set this text, and for her help in understanding its pronunciation, accentuation and place in the liturgy. I am also indebted to the fine singers in this choir for their encouragement of this commission and their excellent and very hard work on the piece, and to Walter Hilse, musician extraordinaire, for his help with practical matters of organ registration.
My musical setting is fairly straightforward. The piece begins with an extensive instrumental prelude, based on a static harmony that permeates the entire work. At the words “asher bik’hal am ashira uzo” (“that here amidst his flock I might sing the praises of his power”), the tempo becomes fast and the character of the music more martial. At “umeiadonai maanei lashon” (“but the gift of expression comes from God”), an abrupt return to the general mood and character of the opening is effected. The final choral section, to the well-known text “yih’yu l’ratson,” begins in unison over a stark syncopated bass in the organ pedals and a legato horn line, and ends with warm polytonal harmonies in the choir, which cushion a final, ethereal solo line for a soprano and alto in octaves. A meditative postlude for the horn and organ, much briefer than the work’s prelude, brings the piece to its close. I can only hope that I have been granted sufficient fitness of musical speech for this task.