‘Music of Faith’ to Feature Jewish Themes

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Jeremy Rothman, The Philadelphia Orchestra’s vice president of artistic planning, has been involved with Jewish music since his Bar Mitzvah at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park.

Rothman, who has been with the Orchestra since September 2008, is planning the “Music of Faith” concert, scheduled for Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. and 2 p.m. Jan. 25 at Verizon Hall. He admits he might be more familiar with one piece than the other on the two-piece program.

The concert will feature Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish,” based on the mourner’s prayer recited in synagogues, and Catholic composer Gioachino Rossini’s rendition of “Stabat Mater,” based on the traditional hymn of the same name.

“I certainly am more familiar with Jewish music better than I do Catholic liturgy,” Rothman said. “We are really looking forward to this concert, and feel the audiences will really enjoy two pieces performed on the same program that are rarely performed themselves.”

Jeremy Rothman (Photo by Jessica Griffin

Rothman, an Abington native who worked with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for more than eight years before returning to Philadelphia, is responsible for developing the Orchestra’s various programs.

He works closely with both Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and President and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky in arranging the Orchestra’s schedule.

“My role is to work with both Yannick and Matias to bring the best of our orchestra to our audience,” Rothman said. “With ‘Music of Faith,’ we feel we have a timely message that echoes a need for spiritual harmony. This is a program that includes voices. Yannick values voices and wanted to do a program that featured them. We feel we have it with these two pieces.”

Both selections are rather long. Bernstein’s runs about 35 minutes, while Rossini’s is 45-50 minutes. The orchestra has featured Bernstein in his birth centenary, and it was decided Rossini’s piece is a perfect complement.

“[This is] a program which is very much in the vein of what I think personally about spirituality — the work of a Catholic composer, Rossini’s ‘Stabat Mater,’ and a Jewish composer, Leonard Bernstein, his Third Symphony, ‘Kaddish,’” Nézet-Séguin said.

“These are two very different choral works, from different faiths, but combined together they offer a message of welcoming and living all together through music. The large vocal forces and Bernstein’s inimitable writing create a powerful impact on listeners. … No less moving is Rossini’s ‘Stabat Mater,’ rarely performed in Philadelphia. Rossini had retired from writing operas when he composed this setting of a traditional Catholic hymn. With its deeply felt music, it’s a worthy pairing for the ‘Kaddish.’”

Bernstein wrote “Kaddish” in 1963 as a tribute to President John F. Kennedy following his assassination in Dallas. It is written for a large orchestra, but never mentions the word death. It is performed with a narrator, a full choir, a boys’ choir and a soprano soloist.

It has three movements:

Invocation–Kaddish 1, in which the narrator — Charlotte Blake Alston for this concert — states she wants to pray the Kaddish. A choir soon joins in and sings the Aramaic words. The narrator then repeats the final words of the prayer and questions why the father would allow such disorder in mankind’s lives with the power to change it.

Din Torah–Kaddish 2, a poignant part of the symphony, with the narrator featuring a confrontation with the father, who never replies. It ends with the narrator singing a lullaby to the father to rock him to sleep.

Scherzo–Kaddish 3–Finale. Fugue-Tutti — The father has fallen asleep and the narrator paints a dream, which includes the Burning Bush, the father and mankind, with a boys’ choir singing the opening words of the Kaddish in Hebrew, come to a new accommodation, but still need to work together.

The “Stabat Mater” is a 13th-century Christian hymn to Mary, describing her suffering as Jesus’ mother during his crucifixion. It has 20 verses. Rossini’s “Stabat Mater,” finished in 1841, is divided into 10 movements.

Soloists for “Music of Faith” include soprano Nadine Sierra, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, tenor John Osborn and bass Krzysztof Baczyk.

Both the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir, under the direction of Joe Miller, and Philadelphia Boys’ Choir, under the direction of Jeff Smith, will perform.

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