Paulus Piece Pays Tribute to Nostra Aetate and Holocaust Victims

The Louisville Master Chorale, now celebrating its fifth season, came to Congregation Adath Jeshurun on Sunday, October 25, to present two major works with strong Jewish connections.

The first was selections from Georg Friedrich Handel’s Israel in Egypt, and the second, Stephen Paulus’ To Be Certain of the Dawn. The Handel piece was a straightforward recounting of the Biblical story of Jewish slavery in Egypt.

The Paulus piece, however, captured the imagination and dominated the performance. The piece was commissioned in 2005 by the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis as a gift to Temple Israel in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Nazi death camps and the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican paper that reversed earlier church teachings and stated that the Jews did not kill Jesus, opening the door for interfaith dialogue.

The idea for the piece began with Fr. Michael O’Connell, the then rector of the Basilica. He recognized that it is important for Christians to own and teach about the Holocaust, and he decided to use the oratorio as the vehicle to teach people that children are key to preventing genocide.

Beginning with the call of the shofar, To Be Certain of the Dawn mixes Hebrew prayer with images of childhood innocence and suggestions of the harsh realities of the Holocaust. The interplay of the full adult chorus, a small children’s chorus and a 24-piece orchestra sharpens the focus more. The performance is augmented with solos, duets and occasional projected images.

Written as a triptych, the work’s three sections are “Renewal,” “Remembrance” and “Visions.” Librettist Michael Dennis Browne, who was there for the performance, wrote in 2008 program notes that “To Be Certain of the Dawn commemorates the Jewish children, almost a million and a half of them, who were murdered during the Shoah” and “intends a message of hope for the children of today’s world.”

The text is a tapestry of images that includes the Shema, the traditional opening of many Hebrew blessings and Hebrew and German recitations of “love your neighbor as yourself” juxtaposed against calls for teshuva (repentance), innocent childhood musings and statements of the restrictions the Nazis imposed on the Jews.

The soloists for this performance were soprano Mary Wilson-Redden, mezzo-soprano Cantor Sharon Hordes, cantor and tenor Cantor David Lipp and baritone Alexander Redden. Members of the Louisville Youth Choir were the children’s chorus.

The composite of all these pieces created a dramatic and moving production. It was a challenging work to pull together, and the Louisville Master Chorale and their colleagues did a remarkable job.

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