Music from the early traditions of Jews, Christians and Muslims will be showcased together in the vocal program “Land of the Three Faiths: Voices of Ancient Mediterranean Jews, Christians and Muslims,” at Synod Hall in Oakland on Saturday night, Oct. 6.
The program, which is part of Chatham Baroque’s 2018/2019 concert season, will be performed by the Rose Ensemble, an early music vocal group headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Land of the Three Faiths” explores the musical and cultural exchanges that took place among people of the three Abrahamic religions in medieval Spain. The music includes pieces that are simultaneously sacred, secular, folk and classical, and feature ancient instruments commonly used among those of different cultures.
“This program has been evolving for many years, in programmatic content and relevance to history and to today,” said the Rose Ensemble’s founder and artistic and executive director, Jordán Šrámek.
Included in the program, which features several pieces from the Sephardic tradition, are those that reverberate with the terrors of the period of Spanish Catholic monarchs during which the Inquisition commenced.
“We wanted to include music from the darker side of that horrifying regime,” said Šrámek, as well as music that reflects “the incredible journeys the homeless Jews took across the Mediterranean to what became the Diaspora.”
Over the years, the Rose Ensemble has played “Land of the Three Faiths” at various venues, including churches, synagogues and colleges.
“It is really an important concert because it provides so much context for those who attend,” said Šrámek. “It’s about creating a platform for understanding through the arts.”
Šrámek undertook extensive research to create the content of the program, including much time spent at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
But while Jewish and Christian music of the time period was fairly accessible, it was challenging to find pieces from the Islamic tradition, according to Šrámek.
There is “no Islamic liturgical music, save the chanting of the Qur’an (which, it should be noted, is not technically viewed as ‘music’ in the Islamic tradition, and would nevertheless be inappropriate in this concert setting),” he wrote in the program notes. “But that’s not to say that spiritual-religious music doesn’t exist in Islam, for in Sufism poetry and music serve the faithful the way that the para-liturgical piyyut gave voice to the Jewish mystics, and the myriad vernacular texts that enhance Christian prayer.”
Šrámek is confident that he now has an “equally balanced” program, he said.
Chatham Baroque has been “wanting to bring the Rose Ensemble to Pittsburgh for a very long time,” said Donna Goyak, executive director of Chatham Baroque. “The music itself is special and unique, and the topic is very timely.”
Despite its roots in medieval history, the interfaith aspect of the program nonetheless makes it appropriate for a contemporary audience, concurred Šrámek.
“In the process of the research, we explored the point of it — that in times of tolerance and when people lived relatively peacefully, we should explore the music-making,” he said. “Then we can see not only what did happen, but what could happen.”
The Rose Ensemble will be joined by Cantor Laura Berman of Temple Sinai and the congregation’s Intergenerational Choir on some of the pieces at the Oct. 6 performance.
The Intergenerational Choir, which includes about 20 members ranging from high school students to retirees, is looking forward to the collaboration with the Rose Ensemble, according to Berman.
“This fits in with the work we have been doing in the interfaith community,” she said, which includes participation in an annual interfaith Thanksgiving service and performances at events commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The timing of the concert, at the conclusion of the High Holiday season, is apropos to “celebrating the birthday of the world,” Berman noted.
“This performance will give us the opportunity to raise our voices in a sense of unity, with differentiation and with mutual respect,” she said.
Šrámek will lead a preconcert discussion one half hour before the performance “to provide the audience with some context,” he said.
This will be the Rose Ensemble’s first and final performance in Pittsburgh, as the group — which was founded in 1996 — will dissolve after this season due to funding issues. PJC