About the work

Berakhot:  A Midrash Cantata is a work of Jewish music consisting of 26 musical pieces, each a midrashic interpretation of a particular prayer or text on the theme of berakha (blessing).  A CD recording has been released by Multicultural Media / Rootstock Recordings.

Feature interviews with Bruce Chalmer, including clips from the cantata, can be heard here.

The forms of the pieces include original poetry set to music, musical settings of liturgical texts in Hebrew, English, or both, and musical compositions without words.  The music is scored for voices (SATB) and a variety of early and modern instruments (varying among the pieces), and includes medieval- and renaissance-like polyphony, klezmer, blues, doo-wop, barbershop quartet, a touch of reggae, and many other styles.  The entire work can be performed by as few as six musicians, depending on which combinations of vocal and instrumental abilities are available, or by vocal soloists, choir and instrumentalists.  Several of the liturgical pieces are set for a cappella voice, suitable for performance in synagogue services that do not use instrumental accompaniment (here are contents and instrumentations.)

A major part of the work is the program notes and commentary booklet (here’s a PDF version), which includes a page for each piece laid out in Talmudic fashion, with the text of the piece in the middle, and the composer’s commentary around it.  This commentary is in turn surrounded by visual midrash in the form of art by internationally known artist Diane Sophrin.

First performances of the work in Montpelier and Burlington, Vermont were by the Fyre and Lightning Consort together with guest tenor Roger Grow.  The work has been recorded by the Fyre and Lightning Consort, and has been released on CD by Rootstock Recordings, available from the Multicultural Media’s World Music Store.

To arrange for a performance, or for permission to perform the work, contact Bruce Chalmer.