COM­POSER CRE­AT­ING RE­LI­GIOUS

Theac­claimed­com­poserison­aque­st­tounite­jews,chris­tiansand­mus­lim

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page -

IT ALL be­gan, ap­pro­pri­ately enough, with Abra­ham. That is the ti­tle of Rox­anna Panufnik’s vi­o­lin con­certo, which she wrote for Daniel Hope to play in 2005, draw­ing to­gether the var­i­ous mu­si­cal flavours of Ju­daism, Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam. It was then that Panufnik, one of Bri­tain’s best-loved con­tem­po­rary com­posers, be­gan to ex­plore in earnest an idea that has of­ten resur­faced in her sub­se­quent com­po­si­tions: the way that mu­sic can help to smooth a path be­tween dif­fer­ent faiths.

On May 13 her lat­est choral work, Love En­dureth, is to be pre­miered at West­min­ster Cathe­dral. It is a set­ting of Psalm 136, in which she has in­cor­po­rated el­e­ments of Sephardic chant and He­brew text.

It might seem ex­tra­or­di­nary to take Jewish mu­si­cal ideas into a Ro­man Catholic cathe­dral. But Panufnik is the daugh­ter of a Jewish mother and a Pol­ish Catholic fa­ther, the com­poser Sir An­drzej Panufnik; the co­ex­is­tence of re­li­gions and cul­tures is an es­sen­tial part of her iden­tity.

How has she rec­on­ciled these two sides of her­self? “I don’t think there’s any need for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” she says, “be­cause there’s so much com­mon ground be­tween the monothe­is­tic faiths. Ob­vi­ously there are some fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences in the way we prac­tise. But I think that too much time and en­ergy is spent on the dif­fer­ences and not enough on the things that we all share. That’s what I want to do mu­si­cally — to high­light those univer­sal el­e­ments.”

Abra­ham was in­spired di­rectly by 9/11. “I was five months preg­nant with my first child and I sud­denly be­gan to panic about what kind of a world I was bring­ing a baby into,” she says.

“I knew I couldn’t change the world by try­ing to ex­press my feel­ings in mu­sic, but it started me on a quest to build mu­si­cal bridges be­tween faiths. Our var­i­ous faiths may take dif­fer­ent paths, but they all go in the same di­rec­tion, to­wards the same one God.”

L a t e r t h e Wor l d Or­ches­tra for Peace asked her to re­work Abra­ham as a con­cert over­ture; and this, much to her joy, was per­formed in Jerusalem un­der the ba­ton of Valery Gergiev in 2008. “It was an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence,” she re­calls. “We stood on the Mount of Olives and heard the real sounds that had in­spired the work’s open­ing — the min­gling of the Mus­lim call to prayer with the ring­ing of church bells.”

Her new piece, Love En­dureth, has been com­mis­sioned by Amer­i­can mu­sic char­ity Soli Deo Glo­ria Inc (not to be con­fused with John Eliot Gar­diner’s record la­bel of sim­i­lar name) as part of a psalm se­ries de­voted to pro­mot­ing mu­sic in the bib­li­cal tra­di­tion. The orig­i­nal brief re­ferred to “old He­brew psalms”, which, Panufnik says, gave her the idea to em­bed an­cient Jewish el­e­ments into the piece. Draw­ing on the ad­vice of Dr Alexan­der Knapp, an ex­pert on Jewish mu­sic, as well as can­tor Ja­clyn Ch­er­nett and mu­si­col­o­gist Vic­tor Tunkel, she se­lected ex­tracts of Sephardic chant from both Psalm 136 and 135, and in­tro­duced into the text a He­brew ver­sion of one of the re­sponses.

The piece also forms a vi­tal part of an­other project, this time Panufnik’s own: she is plan­ning an al­bum, called Love Abide, of 12 short choral works themed around con­cepts of spir­i­tual love, with a strong multi- faith el­e­ment. It is to be recorded for Warner Clas­sics and dis­trib­uted world­wide. Mak­ing a new al­bum in to­day’s fi­nan­cial cli­mate is a tall or­der, though — so, with ad­mirable en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit, she has set out to re­cruit some spon­sors be­fore a dead­line of May 26.

She has cooked up a feast of ways that her back­ers can be­come in­volved in the cre­ation of the CD. Each piece can be ded­i­cated as a per­sonal gift for, or in mem­ory of, a loved one. Ev­ery ded­i­ca­tion will be printed in the book­let; spon­sors can re­ceive a signed copy of the first page of the score plus a signed CD. The spon­sor and/or ded­i­ca­tee can at­tend the record­ing ses­sions, where their name and pho­to­graph will be cir­cu­lated among the mu­si­cians so that each piece can be per­formed with the ap­pro­pri­ate peo­ple in mind.

Panufnik has cho­sen texts rang­ing from 14th-cen­tury Sufi po­etry and Zen verses from the 15th cen­tury to fa­mous bib­li­cal ex­tracts, as well as Love En­dureth, with its char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally Jewish sounds. The per­for­mance at West­min­ster Cathe­dral can serve in part as a taster for the project, and Panufnik is ea­ger to en­cour­age would-be au­di­ences who might ini­tially hes­i­tate to at­tend ves­pers in a Catholic cathe­dral: “West­min­ster Cathe­dral is in­cred­i­bly wel­com­ing and all-em­brac­ing, and they do a great deal of multi-faith work,” she says.

Panufnik and her younger brother grew up with­out be­ing steeped in any one re­li­gious tra­di­tion, which could be the clue to her open-minded at­ti­tude. Her mother, she says, is from a Jewish fam­ily who had im­mi­grated to Bri­tain from Hol­land in the 18th cen­tury; her ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, Richard Jes­sel, was dec­o­rated for his hero­ism as a sub­ma­rine com­man­der in the Bri­tish Navy in the Sec­ond World War. Her fa­ther, who had made a dra­matic es­cape from com­mu­nist-era Poland, died when Rox­anna was only 23.

“When I was 19 and study­ing at the Royal Academy of Mu­sic, I be­gan to ex­plore my Jewish roots,” she says. “My first Jewish work was a set­ting of the Shemah, and it was per­formed at my fa­ther’s fu­neral. I’d like to re­work it at some stage.”

To­day Panufnik is among a se­lect hand­ful of com­posers who are so plen­ti­fully com­mis­sioned that they are able to write mu­sic full time. One re­cent achieve­ment is her Four World Sea­sons, a suite of pieces pre­miered to much ac­claim in March by the vi­o­lin­ist Tas­min Lit­tle and the London Mozart Play­ers, for which Panufnik is Com­poser in As­so­ci­a­tion.

Liv­ing in south-west London with her hus­band and three young chil­dren, she ac­knowl­edges that life re­mains a care­ful bal­anc­ing act. But the mu­sic flows on, of­ten the re­sult of her stim­u­lat­ing re­search into world tra­di­tions, dif­fer­ent faiths and com­pelling texts. Her next Ju­daism-re­lated project is a choral work based on Nor­man Le­brecht’s novel The Song of Names, for which Le­brecht is writ­ing her a text him­self. Abra­ham would doubt­less ap­prove. BORN: London 1968. Fa­ther com­poser and con­duc­tor Sir An­drzej Panufnik CA­REER: Stud­ied com­po­si­tion at Royal Academy of Mu­sic. Writ­ten for opera, bal­let, film and TV, and choral and cham­ber works. Par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in Jewish, Chris­tian and Is­lamic re­li­gious mu­sic HOME LIFE: Mar­ried with three chil­dren More de­tails about the ‘Love Abide’ record­ing project can be found at www.love­abide.com. ‘Love En­dureth’ is pre­miered at West­min­ster Cathe­dral on May 13 at 3.30pm. ww.rox­an­na­panufnik.com

Panufnik’s first Jewish work was a set­ting of the Shemah for her fa­ther’s fu­neral

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