The Sacred Bridge: Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe,
Boston Camerata, J. Cohen
Cohen is slightly more cautious these days about drawing connections between music from different religious traditions, since the book from which the concert's title is drawn -- Eric Werner's The Sacred Bridge -- refers to one of the great musicological canards, the putative origins of Gregorian chant in Jewish synagogue music. Cohen still underscored the similarity of the tonus peregrinus and a Jewish psalm recitation formula, by having them sung side by side to the words of Psalm 113 (114). The tones are obviously very similar, not only to one another to but to lots of tunes in that mode: the similarity does not in itself imply any historical influence. In fact, because the older written sources are the Christian ones, one could just as easily argue that the Jewish tone was taken from a Christian model. Music from the Muslim tradition added an extra layer of complexity, as in the three evocations of the dawn, from the Piyyut "Shahar Abaqeshkha," the cantigas of Alfonso el Sabio, and from the Koran -- all sung monophonically, with no accompaniment, a soundscape meant to evoke the tapestry of traditions in medieval Spain.
Joan Reinthaler, Boston Camerata adds Muslim dimension (Washington Post, December 6)
Jeffrey Gantz, ‘Sacred Bridge’ a meeting of ensembles - and faiths (Boston Globe, December 6)
David Weininger, Joel Cohen, Boston Camerata celebrate diverse traditions (Boston Globe, December 2)
Cohen admitted, in somewhat rambling commentary, that the connections implied by the program were difficult to prove definitively. In particular, the selection of folk songs, most of which were not written down until very recently, is problematic, but no less beautiful for being historically tenuous. The percussion players of the Sharq Ensemble, Ziya Tabassian and Boujemaa Razgui, enlivened so many of the pieces with endlessly varied beats and sounds. The only thing one wished could have been omitted was Cohen's lengthy, and somewhat free, reading of an account of a poet's life, written by Yitzhak Gorni in the 13th century, with a little oud improvisation to accompany it. The couple laughs it got were not worth the leaden effect it had on the overall line of the program. A single encore, another Moroccan folk song, was offered "as a Christmas present," with its syncopated refrain serving as a sort of Arabic "fa la la la la" to wind us home.
The next concerts on the Friends of Music series at Dumbarton Oaks will feature the piano duo of Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia, in music of Bach, Stravinsky, and Mendelssohn (January 22 and 23).