Psalms for Leo (2014)

For Children's Choir, SATB and Orchestra   15 minutes

It was David Hill’s idea to celebrate the memory of Leopold de Rothschild by commissioning a setting of psalms, in Hebrew, for adult choir, children’s choir and orchestra. Using the original Ancient Hebrew texts would acknowledge Leo’s Jewish heritage, while the psalms themselves are also a significant part of Christian tradition.

I was excited about working in an unfamiliar language, with new sounds and rhythms very different to the King James translations with which I am more familiar. As I started to look for psalms whose character and imagery might draw on all the colours of the orchestra, I was also interested in the sounds of the words themselves. I was quickly attracted to the exuberance of Psalm 148, a call to praise ranging over all the earth and out into the planets, full of dramatic and spectacular imagery. Hearing the psalm in Hebrew, it seemed to me that the rhythms and stresses of the words invited some kind of dance.

A passage from Psalm 27 suggested a contrasting state of ecstatic contemplation and serenity. Finally, a short section of Psalm 19 offered a fascinating paradox: everything is declaring, uttering and revealing, yet nothing is spoken or heard. It made me try to imagine a stillness that is full of life.

I would like to thank Andrew Blankfield for his invaluable help with the pronunciation of Ancient Hebrew.

Text: Psalm 148, Psalm 27, Psalm 19

Commissioned by The Bach Choir in memory of Leopold de Rothschild (1927-2012), a singing member of the Choir for 50 years and Chairman for 23 years

First performance: 10th June 2014, The Bach Choir, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and The Young Singers, a choir formed by The Bach Choir in partnership with the Tri-borough Music Hub, conducted by David Hill, Royal Festival Hall, London.