Sydney Chamber Choir premieres Yezerski’s Kaddish Avelim


Over the years, the Sydney Chamber Choir has garnered a reputation for its sophisticated performances of the best in both established and emerging choral music. Musical Director Paul Stanhope has also extended the concept of ‘classical’ choral performances and pioneered programmes of music that crosses faiths and underscores similarities rather than differences in beliefs. The ultimate question of this aesthetic is  whether religion and music can each become a single universal entity devoid of division or categorisation.

In the past, Stanhope has programmed viols and voices, saxophones and singers. In their June concert, Lux Aeterna, the Sydney Chamber Choir is joined by cellist Julian Smiles to premiere a work commissioned by the choir and composed by Michael Yezerski, Kaddish Avelim for cello and choir.

Like the Catholic Requiem, The Kaddish is central to the Jewish ritual of mourning. In Lux Aeterna, Kaddish Avelim presents the Jewish tradition alongside Duruflé’s Requiem, selections from Peter Sculthorpe’s Requiem for cello alone and works by Messiaen, Ligeti.

Also on the programme, Sculthorpe’s Lullaby, a re-imagining of a Torres-Strait Island song, central to this great Australian composer’s own Requiem and Duruflé’s Four motets on Gregorian themes.

Michael Yezerski in fact studied composition with Peter Sculthorpe at the University of Sydney, graduating with first-class honours. He went on to study audio technology at The Australian Institute of Music and completed film music studies at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. He has since written the scores for the films The Black Balloon and  The Waiting City, the concert  piece The Red Tree and the Academy Award-winning short  film, The Lost Thing. Yezerski ‘s music has earned him five APRA-AGSC Australian Screen  Music Awards from ten nominations and a swag of other affirmations.

Michael Yezersky

Of Kaddish Avelim, he says “I wanted to try to capture the essence of my remembered childhood experience. The cello assumes a rabbinical role, calling the congregation (the choir) to attention and devotion. There is interplay between our Rabbi and Congregation – we hear interjections from both sides as the weight of the text takes hold. Gradually the two move more and more towards a sanctified union.”.

Adding to this, Paul Stanhope comments “I’ve known Michael ever since he was a student at Sydney University and knew then that he was a talent to watch. When I contacted him regarding this commission, he suggested setting the Kaddish text as a foil for the Christian Requiem in this program. It gives us a broader view of cultural traditions and a chance for Michael’s music to shine. Plus, the piece makes virtuosic use of the cello, performed here by the amazing Julian Smiles.”

Joining the ensemble are two other artists, guest conductor Thomas Wilson and organist Amy Johansen. Thomas Wilson is Head of Music at St Marys Cathedral and former assistant organist at Westminster Cathedral; Amy Johansen is the Sydney University Organist and regular guest organist with the Sydney Symphony.

The programme:

Duruflé: Requiem
Duruflé: Four motets on Gregorian themes
Messiaen: O Sacrum Convivium!
Ligeti: Lux Aeterna
Sculthorpe: Requiem for cello alone [selections]
Sculthorpe: Lullaby (Canticle) from Requiem

Yezerski: Kaddish Avelim

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