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BAKASHOT (Supplications), 1996, for clarinet solo, mixed choir and orchestra

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Commissioned by the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Chor, Hamburg, 1996
Publisher: Ricordi, 1996 | Duration: 33 min.

In principal, music plays a very important role in the Jewish faith. The founder of the Israelite nation, the harp playing King David, is reputedly the author of the biblical Book of Psalms. Most of the poems in the Jewish prayer book are psalms to be sung rather than spoken. Anyone singing these or accompanying them on an instrument can thus feel himself to be a direct follower of David, and can pray for the same solicitude that the biblical king received at that time. By extension, every kind of music-making is a form of communication with God, an artistic and emotional exercise of faith.

An important basic concept in the composition is the city of Jerusalem, the spiritual heart of the three monotheistic religions and a meeting place for Jews from all over the world. Whether visiting or returning home, they bring with them a wealth of diverse experience from the entire Diaspora. In Bakashot Betty Olivero has taken up the main trends from all these foreign influences. The piece draws on the legacy of liturgical and folk music of the Spanish Sephardic area, the Balkans, Morocco and Yemen.

The Hebrew title of the piece means ”supplications” and it refers to the eighteen petitions that the practising Jew directs to God every day. In it he prays for such attributes as wisdom, patience and tolerance, and praises his God as the King of Kings. The work is in eleven sections. Those called Hishtachavai and Hallel are repeated, in accordance with Jewish liturgical practice. The instrumental voice of the clarinet and the sound of the orchestra express the inner emotions, while the choir takes the more visible role of the speaking and singing Congregation.

The first movement, Ashrei is a sequence of psalms headings, such as ”A Psalm of David” or ”A Prayer of David”. These headings, which are the same in many of the psalms and are constantly repeated, are framed by the first words of the first Psalm, ”Blessed is the man who…”-”Ashrei” in Hebrew. Here Betty Olivero uses Sephardic melodies-medieval Spanish folk songs. Hishtachavai means obeisance, something that is required at frequent intervals throughout the prayers to provide a kind of ceremonial rhythm. A sentence is repeated in the middle of the text, ”We bow before the King of all kings”. This refrain is intended as an image of the Jewish ritual but also echoes musical rondo form.

In the third movement, Hallel, (”praise-giving”; cf. ”Hallelujah”), the composer has brought together all the variants of the praise of God that occur in the psalms, which are analogous in form to the psalm headings in the first movement. In the second section of this movement an original melody from the Yemen is introduced.

The fourth movement Hishtachavai (obeisance) is a recapitulation of the 2nd movement. No.5 Nigun is free and imaginative in approach: in Hebrew Nigun means simply ”melody” or song. Here again the clarinet develops Sephardic themes, this time in a mystical, lyrical manner. Next follows no. 6, another Hishtachavai. In No.7 Keri’ot, ”invocations”, the clarinet and orchestra play without the choir. It is the soul crying out, sometimes in passionate despair, sometimes with gentle melancholy. Amida, the title of no.8, signifies ‘standing’ and is a name given to the eighteen-fold prayer, which is spoken standing. It begins with a transposition of the prayer into Yemeni and Moroccan melodies. The composer follows this introduction with an imitation of the form of the Moroccan Jewish liturgy. In the 9th movement the Hallel is repeated as in no.3. Here, thematic parallels are identifiable: the loud exclamation of the choir and the motifs of the clarinet. The 10th movement By the waters of Babylon refers to the particular occasion of the composition, the 3000th anniversary of the founding of Jerusalem. The destruction and fragmentation of Jerusalem, both physical and spiritual, and the resultant homelessness of the Jews, is lamented; at the same time it promises that the city will never be forgotten, even in exile.

In the final movement Bakashot, from which the work derives its name, Betty Olivero uses Sephardic melodies set to the text of Kaddish (dirges for the dead). Despite the centuries-long migrations of the Jews through many continents, this most antique prayer has remained unchanged everywhere. It appears in slight different variants according to the particular occasion on which it is recited: In this piece the composer uses the variant in which, to the praise of God and the usual intercessions, is added an expressed hope for the rebuilding of Jerusalem.










Al Naharot Bavel


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