This Night

for choir and solo cello

Michael Zev Gordon

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for choir and solo cello

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Composer Michael Zev Gordon
Year of Composition 2007
Duration -

Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-mzg1tn1


The title of my work comes from its Hebrew refrain, which translates as ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’. These words form a crucial part of the Jewish celebration of Passover. Asked traditionally by the youngest present, the question elicits the telling of the Exodus story. And – in fragmentary form – this is what my piece does too, ending with a line from psalm 126, as the sorrow of Jewish exile leads to a homecoming of joy. In the setting of King’s College Chapel – and on Good Friday – Christian resonances are inevitably present too for those who seek them: the Last Supper was a Passover supper, the Passover sacrificial lamb is a central image of Christ, the passage from bondage to freedom will become reinterpreted as part of Christian tradition. And such a cultural/religious mixture may be seen to be played out in part through a kind of musical pluralism – brief quotations of the music the youngest sings (in a Reform Judaism Passover) alongside chorale-like passages, traces of Jewish cantillation in the ornamental high cello writing giving way to textures quite at home in the English choral tradition.

Yet as important to me is the aesthetic result. In particular I was at pains to find a balance between the ‘framing’ refrain and the increasingly emoting story, how textual and musical repetition is opposed to the flow of the narrative. The relations of solo cello to choir are central to the form too. At first the cello is separated, a high and remote cantorial voice. But as its music turns into the ‘cry in Egypt’, so it becomes integrated into the story. When the closing psalm fragment comes, the music finally settles into one long freely layered pulsating harmony, resolving in part the tensions that have come before. But – music being at once autonomous and of the world – this knotting of many voices also represents, for me, a dissolving of human passion into something beyond it; and a dissolving, perhaps, of cultural/religious difference.

This Night was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge. Its first performance, broadcast on BBC Radio 3, was on 6th April 2007, Good Friday. It was given by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Cleobury, with cellist Anton Lukoszievice.

This Night was the winning work in the choral category of the 2008 British Composer Awards.

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