The Bridge Ensemble premieres Psalm.
For the 2016-2017 season, I am honored to serve as the composer-in-residence for The Bridge Ensemble, an extraordinary vocal ensemble specializing in new music and pre-Baroque music. This past Saturday and Sunday, The Bridge Ensemble premiered my setting of Paul Celan's Psalm. The programs, presented at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Harrisburg, PA and the Maryland Boychoir Center for the Arts in Baltimore also included Orlando di Lassus' Lagrime di San Pietro and James MacMillan's Strathclyde Motets.
Born as Paul Antschel to a Jewish family in Czernowitz, Romania (now a part of Ukraine), Paul Celan became one of the major German-language poets of the post-World War II era. Much of Celan's writings are autobiographical, reflecting the personal anguish and turmoil inflicted upon Celan and his family during the years of Nazi occupation. Celan's Psalm, translated from German into English by Michael Hamberger, is less a reflection of his experiences during the war and more of a realization of the effects of those events on one's relationship with God. On the surface, Celan's Psalm is anti-creator—"No one moulds us...no one conjures our dust...Praised be your name, no one." Celan even represents God as a villainous "thorn" ravaging the heaven-gazing stamen of our rose. Celan's words, however, do not attempt to negate the existence of an almighty from an atheist perspective. Celan instead reflects an understandable bitterness towards a God who seemingly abandoned so many during a time when they pleaded for His mercy. Celan's Psalm, therefore, is not anti-creator, but a powerful insight into the struggles of individual faith when juxtaposed against a reality of persistent vitriol.
- Posted: October 17, 2016
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