Singing the praises of choral works old and new

By Roderic Dunnett, June 13, 2008

It was working in Jerusalem with the Ankor Children’s Choir which prompted Gregory Rose to compose Sha’alu Shlom Yerushalayim, his new 23-minute choral work for upper voices and harp, which receives its world premiere in London next week.

The choir — attached to the Jerusalem Rubin Conservatory of Music and Dance and run by Dafna Ben-Yohanan — is made up of children aged roughly 8 to 16. They have appeared with most Israeli orchestras as well as with major orchestras abroad.

“Dafna is an inspiring conductor, and really motivates the children, and as a result she gets fabulous results,” says Rose, who is currently professor of conducting at Trinity College of Music in Greenwich in London. “We met at the Hereford International Summer School, where I taught conducting, and she invited me to Israel to conduct and work with children. They were marvellously alert and responsive, and extremely rewarding to work with.”

Sha’alu Shlom Yerushalayim, which will be performed alongside Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms by harpist Vicky Lester and soprano and alto members of the Jupiter Singers under Rose’s direction, consists of strikingly beautiful and energetic settings, in the original Hebrew, of half-a-dozen or more psalms.

“The opening mood is quite gloomy,” he explains, “but the mood gradually turns more happy and optimistic. The message is partly political: I hope it will communicate an affirmative message: the idea that the generation now growing up in Israel may find peace in a better future.”

Meanwhile, also in London, the Zemel Choir is presenting its second Celebrate with Song mini-festival, which aims, by means of workshops and performance, to introduce audiences and participants (of any denomination) to mixed-voice Jewish choral music.

Choir director and conductor Benjamin Wolf says the festival is unique. “Lots of people don’t really know how much Jewish choral music there is available. Our workshops are open to both intermediate and more experienced singers, and span 10 centuries of Jewish music, from early Hebrew plainsong to Baroque cantatas.”

Sha’alu Shlom Yerushalayim is performed at St James’s Piccadilly, London W1 on Wednesday June 18 at 7.30pm. Tel: 020 7381 0441. Celebrate the Song continues at St John’s, Smith Square, London SW1, with a choral performance on Sunday June 15 at 7.30pm. Tel: 020 8236 0317 for details, 020 7222 1061 for tickets.

Last updated: 2:03pm, June 17 2008