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Bucks County Choral Society to perform symphonic setting of Jewish sabbath service


The Bucks County Choral Society will perform Ernest Bloch’s “Avodath Hakodesh” (Sacred Service) as the final program of its season series, “Inspirations,” presenting concert settings of liturgical texts from major religious traditions.

This symphonic setting of the Jewish Sabbath service will feature soloist Cantor Benjamin Warschawski, who is recognized worldwide in both operatic and cantorial realms.

The Choral Society will be joined by Nashirah, the Jewish Chorale of Greater Philadelphia, under the direction of Dr. Julia Zavadsky for two performances, Sunday, May 19 at 5 p.m. at Temple Rodeph Shalom, 615 Broad St., Philadelphia. and Sunday, June 2 at 4 p.m., at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 235 E. State St., in Doylestown.

The choirs will also present the premiere of Cantor Natasha Hirschhorn’s “Blessing of Peace” and BCCS Artistic Director Thomas Lloyd’s recent setting of Psalm 46, “River of Gladness.”

Ernest Bloch’s “Sacred Service” is a rare concert setting of the Jewish liturgy and was, as Leonard Bernstein noted, “conceived as a transcendent, even inclusive humanistic work of universal spiritual experience.”

Commissioned to write a setting of the Sabbath morning liturgy, Bloch instead created a Jewish “oratorio;” with a grandiose and universal message, going beyond the liturgical function on which it is based. The hope is “to bring to the souls, minds and hearts of the people a little more confidence and make them a little more kind and indulgent than they were and bring them peace,” according to the program notes of Joshua Jacobson.

Natasha Hirschhorn says that her “Blessing of Peace” was written as the events of Oct. 7 unfolded. Hirschhorn was drawn to a text by Jewish writer and Hebrew scholar Marcia Falk. The music begins as a personal prayer unfolding into a communal plea to be “drenched in longing for peace.” Intertwined with Falk’s text is the ancient traditional Hebrew prayer for peace, “Oseh Shalom.”

The composition evolves into a meditative vision of what peace could feel like, from which emerges a lone prophetic voice calling for peaceful co-existence. Hirschhorn notes, and all who make music agree, “If one cannot even dare to dream of a better world through music and harmony, there is no hope left.”

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