According to Neil Levin of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music / The Jewish Theological Seminary, Ernest Bloch’s 1934 Sacred Service (Avodat Hakodesh) “remains the watershed (by many assessments peerless) artistic engagement with the Hebrew liturgy on the level of his best and most highly acclaimed concert works. It was conceived as a transcendent, even inclusive humanistic work of universal spiritual experience, at the same time attempting to serve the more particularistic function of specifically Jewish worship—almost as if to find a resolution between two apparent contradictions. Bloch intended his service to speak to Jews engrossed in the act of prayer and, on another spiritual-artistic plane, to general audiences of any faith or religious orientation (or none)—much in the way the communicative power of a Roman Catholic Mass setting by one of the great masters does not depend solely on the Roman Catholic or even other Christian affiliation of its audience. Avodat Hakodesh is thus a work as much for serious concert experience, which implies, ideally, some sense of communion, as it is for the liberal synagogue. In that sense it may be considered part of the Western sacred classical choral-orchestral canon.” Singing the central cantorial solo will be the brilliant young American baritone, Zachary Nelson.
To mark the Bernstein Centennial, Voices of Ascension is pleased to present the Chichester Psalms, featuring countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen. Commissioned in 1965 by the Cathedral at Chichester, England, for its annual choral festival, American composer Leonard Bernstein described his Chichester Psalms as “popular in feeling,” with “sweetness along with more violent moments.” Bernstein wrote a poem about the composition, written during his sabbatical from the NY Philharmonic in 1965.
"For hours on end I brooded and mused
On materiae musicae, used and abused;
On aspects of unconventionality,
Over the death in our time of tonality...
Pieces for nattering, clucking sopranos
With squadrons of vibraphones, fleets of pianos
Played with the forearms, the fists and the palms --
And then I came up with the Chichester Psalms.
These psalms are a simple and modest affair,
Tonal and tuneful and somewhat square....
But there it stands the result of my pondering,
Two long months of avant-garde wandering --
My youngest child, old-fashioned and sweet.
And he stands on his own two tonal feet."
(Leonard Bernstein, The New York Times, October 24, 1965)
Despite its brevity, the work possesses considerable scope, journeying through extroverted joy, prayer, anxiety, the warring of nations, and, with the last phrases of music, peace. And, while it is a setting of sacred Hebrew psalms, the Bernstein of West Side Story is unmistakably present.
Zachary Nelson, a native of Annapolis, Maryland, has been praised for his rich and powerful baritone, as well as his ability to embody dramatic and comic characters on the operatic stage. The 2016-2017 season brings debuts at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Donner in Das Rheingold and Enrico Ashton (cover) in Lucia di Lammermoor, Escamillo in Carmen with Den Norske Opera, and a fourth season with the Santa Fe Opera as Enrico Ashton in Lucia di Lammermoor.
A graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, PA, Mr. Nelson performed many roles including: Belcore in L'Elisir D'Amore, Renato in Un Ballo in Maschera, the title role in Falstaff, Michele in Il Tabarro, Sancho Panza in Don Quichotte, Mandryka in Arabella, Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande, and Masetto in Don Giovanni. Mr. Nelson is also a graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Awards Mr. Neslon has garnered are: The George London Award from the 2012 George London Foundation, 1st prize prize from the 2012 Opera Index Competition, The 2012 Liederkranz Foundation Competition (General Opera Division), and the 2012 Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation. Also, 2nd prize from the 2011 Gerda Lissner Competition, the 2011 Giulio Gari Foundation, and the 2011 Loren Zachary Competition.
ARYEH NUSSBAUM COHEN, COUNTERTENOR
23-year-old American countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen is one of opera’s most promising rising stars. In his breakout 2016-2017 season, he was awarded the Grand Prize of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and was the recipient of a Sara Tucker Study Grant from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, First Prize winner of the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition, and winner of the Irvin Scherzer Award from the George London Foundation. Performances of the season included the world premiere of Kenneth Fuchs’ Poems of Life with the Virginia Symphony, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, which he records with the London Symphony Orchestra for commercial release in 2018, and concerts with Chicago’s Newberry Consort. Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen participated in the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera in 2016, and, in the summer of 2017, he joined Wolf Trap Opera as a Studio Artist for a production of Philip Glass and Robert Moran’s The Juniper Tree.
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen becomes the first countertenor in the history of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, when he joins the company for the 2017-18 season; his performances include the roles of Nireno in Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Second Maid in Strauss’ Elektra both under the baton of Music Director Patrick Summers. He joins the American Bach Soloists for Handel’s Messiah in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, and he gives programs of Bach and Handel with Ars Lyrica Houston.