Salon Sanctuary Concerts Presents FROM GHETTO TO CAPELLA, Today

Salon Sanctuary Concerts Presents FROM GHETTO TO CAPELLA, Today

Salon/Sanctuary Concerts is honored to partner with Carnegie Hall's La Serenissima Festival, the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center, and NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò in presenting the third annual New York performance of From Ghetto to Cappella, conceived to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the creation of the Venetian Ghetto. This will take place at The Chapel of Emanu-el, Thursday, February 16.

With the generous patrocinio of the Comune di Sabbioneta, From Ghetto to Cappella was most recently presented in October 2016 at the 1590 Teatro all'Antica di Sabbioneta, one of three remaining Renaissance theaters in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In June, the program was performed at the Great Synagogue of Florence, Italy, at the invitation of the Synagogue.

While the Inquisition raged throughout Counter-Reformation Italy, the ghetto walls that separated Gentile from Jew were more porous than impenetrable. A lively dialogue between Jewish and Catholic musical cultures traversed the forbidding walls and enriched the music of both Synagogue and Sanctuary at a time of great oppression.

An international ensemble performs works of Benedetto Marcello, Francesco Durante, Salomone Rossi, GF Handel and unaccompanied Hebrew chants - exquisite music that attests to a vibrant conversation that triumphed over ignorance and resounds with hope and beauty into our own time.


Our program of Italian music opens with an unaccompanied Yemeni chant. The text by Dunash ha-Levi ben Labrat (920-990) is a prayer for peace and freedom, a prayer in praise of the Sabbath, a prayer for security by an uprooted people.

Jews from the Middle East were transplanted to Italy as early as Ancient Roman times, as Jews expelled from Spain found a home there after 1492. Italian Jewish communities incorporated descendents of both Sephardic refugees as well as those of slaves brought back from Judaea by conquering Roman armies. That the Jewish presence in Italy was characterized by the familiar and precarious balance between assimilation and exile is well known. What is less commonly explored is the cross-fertilization between Jewish and Christian musical cultures, and the impact this exchange had on mainstream compositional voices of the seicento.

Salon/Sanctuary Concerts presented a concert dedicated to the music of the groundbreaking Renaissance Italian-Jewish composer Salomone Rossi (1570-1630) for four consecutive years. Rossi flourished as both a composer and violinist in the court of Mantua and revolutionized the sacred music of his own people by incorporating musical forms that had previously been forbidden in the synagogue. His sister was an opera singer who premiered roles in some of the very first operas that were ever written. He achieved a remarkable level of acceptance at a time of great intolerance. He lived in two worlds, and that is why our concert dedicated to him has always been called From Ghetto to Palazzo, in reference to the Ghetto of his people and the Palazzo of the people he served.

Salomone Rossi revolutionized sacred Jewish music and created an uproar by setting Hebrew texts to polyphony, a form considered too lavish and thus unbefitting a people in exile. Just as Rossi reshaped the music of the synagogue by incorporating the forbidden polyphony of the church, many Christian composers brought sweeping changes to their sacred music by absorbing sounds they heard from neighboring Jewish ghettos. Nowhere was this more prevalent than in Venice. Numerous Venetian sacred compositions reveal modes and melodies so closely associated with the synagogue that it is next to impossible not to bring up the comparison of Temple and Church. This is why our current exploration, which goes beyond the work of Rossi, is called From Ghetto to Capella.

17th century Venice was a melting pot with many parallels to modern day New York. Jewish ghettos co-existed with Turkish and Armenian ones, while relatively liberal social attitudes for the time allowed for a degree of social exchange between people of different religions. Venice was not just the city we know today, but the region of the Veneto, which encompassed Salomone Rossi's Mantua as well as a number of other cities and towns. The ghetto walls which separated Gentile from Jew were more porous than impenetrable. Many Christians went to the ghettos for entertainment as well as edification, visiting synagogue services in order to experience an ancient tradition that gave foundation to their own. That this curiosity did nothing to prevent frequent acts of violence against Jews is fascinating, and gives a picture of a Jewish community perched uneasily between acculturation and expulsion.

Salomone Rossi makes an appearance in our program with two canzoni written for the pleasure of the Gonzaga court. Along with Rossi we hear Benedetto Marcello (1686 - 1739), whose Estro Poetico Armonico (1724) includes Hebrew chants inserted between Psalm settings in Italian which take their melodies from the chants. Another composer whose work suggests a Jewish influence is Barbara Strozzi (1619 - 1677), who was unique not only for being a successful female composer in a time of limited options for women, but for possessing a singular artistic voice which shined through works of striking invention that stand the test of time and sound radical even today. Her Salve Regina daringly sets a standard Christian sacred text to a Byzantine chant-like opening, and in the opening of her Lagrime mie, one discerns elements of cantorial chant deployed in the expression of an abandoned lover's laments.

Francesco Durante (1684 - 1755) was a Neapolitan composer known for his sacred compositions. His aria Vergin tutto amor has become engrained in the consciousness of classical singers everywhere due to its inclusion in the collection of 24 Italian Songs and Arias with which so many of us in the United States begin our vocal study. The song is known as a pedagogical piece, and as it is uprooted from its historical context, we know Vergin tutto amor as an isolated work rather than as an excerpt from a mass or motet. However the phrygian mode discernable in the descending scale which sets the text O madre pia (merciful mother) is known as Freygish, common to Middle Eastern music and Hebrew prayer. Because so little is known about Durante, how the Freygish made its way into this setting of a most Catholic text is an intriguing mystery about which we can only conjecture.

At the dawn of the 18th century, Georg Friedrich Handel's youthful Italian sojourn in Venice and Rome offered the German composer a lesson in the compositional techniques of the Italian seicento. This education resulted in a compositional output that formed the blueprints for many of his later works which he wrote in London, oratorios which set Old Testament stories to Italianate music. The chamber duet Langue, geme tells a story of a dove separated from her mate, who rootlessly flutters and laments until reunited with her other half.

In 1759, the year of Handel's death, the Jewish community of Amsterdam commissioned a Hebrew translation of Handel's London oratorio, Esther, which tells the story of Esther the orphan, the indomitable Jewish heroine who saved her people from extinction under Persian rule. A duet from that work, Mi mavet mi nafshi, concludes our program. In this short piece, Esther's entreaty finds voice through a Hebrew text.

The translation from English to Hebrew was penned by Jacob Saraval (1707 -1782), Rabbi of Mantua.

- Jessica Gould


Soprano and Salon/Sanctuary Founder and Artistic Director Jessica Gould enjoys consistent praise both for compelling performances and innovative research projects that view history through the prism of music. As a soprano, she has been noted for "a dramatic intensity that honored the texts" (The New York Times), for "expansive range, coloratura facility, and multi-hued, powerful sound" (Seen and Heard International), and for having "reached the heart of an enrapturEd English audience" (Traditional Music Maker, UK). Her original programming featuring repertoire from the 8th to 18th centuries has been praised as "impeccably curated" by Time Out New York, "highly original" by The New York Times, and "imaginative" by New York Magazine.

She is honored that From Ghetto to Cappella, her original program commemorating the 500th anniversary of the creation of the Venetian Ghetto, is being produced in conjunction with the Carnegie Hall La Serenissima Festival. The program recently received the patrocinio of the Comune di Sabbioneta, Italy, where it was performed by Ms. Gould and members of L'Aura Soave Cremona in the Teatro all'Antica, a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of three remaining Renaissance Theaters in the world, constructed by Vincenzo Gonzaga in 1590. Previous to the Sabbioneta concert, From Ghetto to Cappella was presented by the Great Synagogue of Florence, Italy after being premiered in New York City at Columbia University.

Among her recordings is the New World Records CD Tell the Birds, with actor Roger Rees and the Paul Dresher Ensemble featuring works of living composer Eve Beglarian. Forthcoming CDs include a program of seicento motets associated with the paintings of Caravaggio with lutenist Diego Cantalupi, and From Ghetto to Cappella, performed with L'Aura Soave Cremona on the MV Cremona label. A recording of Neapolitan cantatas with Swiss recorder virtuosa Corina Marti is also forthcoming.

Chamber music performances include The Guggenheim Works & Process Series with The Cassatt Quartet, The Beinecke Library at Yale University, The Clarion Society, Sinfonia New York, The Four Nations Ensemble, The Virginia Arts Festival, The American Philosophical Society, and as well as guest soloist appearances with numerous ensembles. Presenters abroad include the Istituto Francese, Martedì in Arte at the Palazzo Davanzati, Casa Martelli, the Church of Santissima Annunziata, the Museo di Arte Sacra in Tuscany, Scandicci Cultura, and the Library of the Museo di San Marco (Florence), the Chiesa di Santa Barbara dei Librari, Primavera in Musica (Rome), the UK Lute Society (London) and Hengrave Hall (Bury St. Edmunds, UK).

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