Sunday, February 15, 2015

Daniel Schnyder's opera "Abraham" is performed at the Redeemer Church, Jerusalem

Daniel Schnyder
Daniel Schnyder’s opera “Abraham” was performed at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City on February 14th 2015. A production of the Düsseldorf Festival in co-production with the Kreuzkirche (Bonn) and the Johannes City Church (Düsseldorf), under the musical direction of Karin Freist-Wissing, the two-act opera was premiered in Düsseldorf in November 2014. There it was staged in costume, whereas it was presented in concert form at the Jerusalem Redeemer Church.

Born in 1961 in Zurich, Daniel Schnyder, now residing in New York, is both a renowned saxophonist and prolific composer. His wide range of activities includes performing, combining composition and improvisation, arranging and composing works for jazz artists, holding master classes and working as a consultant for major festivals, promoters and ensembles in an effort to bring the worlds of classical music, jazz and ethnic music together in innovative ways. His oeuvre includes opera, chamber music, concertos, orchestral music and works including ethnic material from many cultures. In 2014, Daniel Schnyder “recomposed” ‘Alceste”, Händel’s lost opera in a scoring that includes vibes and saxophone.

Performing “Abraham” was the joint church choir of 106 singers and the Düsseldorf Festival Orchestra together with the Edward Said Orchestra (32 players). Other instruments used were the oud and ney, electric piano and saxophones. Vocal soloists were Andreas Petermeier, Rena Kleifeld, Theresa Nelles, Georgios Iatrou and Raphael Pauss. Based on much research into texts and the biblical story of Abraham and Sara, Hagar and Ishmael itself, Schnyder also wrote the libretto to “Abraham”, most of which is in German, with a few sections of English text here and there. Surtitles projected onto the front wall of the church provided the text in English, below which were some video graphics reflecting the mood of each development of the story.

Daniel Schnyder’s musical style is one of many elements, those often emerging one after the other, juxtaposed, mixed or isolated: tonal music, atonal, polytonal, jazz, oriental and Klezmer music. For him, the orchestra is a many-layered tool of color and energy; his orchestration is forthright and gregarious. At times, the orchestra was too loud for the singers in the acoustic of the Redeemer Church, but the singers held their own well. In addition to its wealth of timbres, Schnyder’s music pulsates with captivating, jazzy rhythms for much of the work. His choral writing is expressive and coloristic; he enlists lush harmonies, pastel tonings, gorgeous clusters and sometimes speech to give his choir an expressiive quality, mostly singing together with the orchestra and, at times, in haunting a cappella sounds. In this work, the choir takes on the role of the chorus of a Greek tragedy, commenting on emotions and new developments in the storyline, offering counsel and strengthening belief.

Conductor Freist-Wissing and the orchestra and choir displayed fine, hand-in-glove collaboration, producing impressive results. All the soloists exhibited vocal and theatrical excellence – bass Andreas Petermeier’s superb timbre (as rich in the upper register as in the lower) and understated confidence were pleasing, as was his portrayal of the complex figure of Abraham; alto Rena Kleifeld, as Sara, initially warm and matriarchal, gradually becoming angry and jealous, was convincing, her voice well-rounded, engaging and powerful. Soprano Theresa Nelles, her voice agile and bright, gave a convincing and dramatically full picture of Sara’s young, beautiful slave Hagar, superbly conveying her dilemma at Sara wanting her to have a child with Abraham, her sensuousness and then her ensuing horror and vehemence at being banished to the desert from Abraham’s household. Giorgios Iatrou and Raphael Pauss, as Ishmael and Isaac, dealt well with the two more minor solo roles. A number of instrumental solos were threaded into the canvas of the work; especially poignant were those played on the ney (an end-blown flute prominent in middle-eastern music). Daniel Schnyder’s own exhilarating, dazzling saxophone solos were exciting, his playing concluding “Abraham (Ibrahim) Spiritual Opera at the Dawn”, an opera carrying his message that people of the three monotheistic religions should reconcile and live together in peace.The opera was performed at the Bethlehem Convention Palace the following evining.

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