This review of David and Jonathan is the first of my arts post that will be appearing over the course of time. Good food and good art belong together and so they will be joined on Dining with Donald.
Last night, at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, I had the opportunity to attend a performance of David and Jonathan, a new work by Geräuschbiest. Geräuschbiest is a collaboration between brothers Jesse and Thomas Krause. There is another performance tonight, June 6, 2015, at 8:30 pm. I highly recommend that you attend.
In addition to the brothers, David and Jonathan featured the involvement of the Riel Gentlemens Choir, Antiphony, and the Standing Mammals Chamber Choir.
Although an oratorio, David and Jonathan is more than a listening experience. It starts with the visuals. The chancel at St. Margaret’s was dominated by Bass Bones, a marvelous stringed creation that brings sounds that not only hit upon the ear but also enter into your bones. David’s harp, built by Jesse, has both the ability to sooth and discomfort.
The performance began with Jesse Krause’s setting of the poem They Call you to Sing, by 13th century Persian poet Hafiz. The lyrics of the poem, which unfortunately were not part of the printed program, are printed below:
Stones are longing for what you know.
If they had the graceful movements
of your feet and tongue,
they would not stop laughing
between their ecstatic dance steps and unbroken praise.
Your heart beats inside a sacred drum,
its skin is tanned and stretched —
our skin is alive and stretched —
with the wild molecules of His Wonderous Existence.
Your mind and eyes are an immense silk cloth
upon which all your thoughts and movements paint.
Your soul once sat on an easel on my knee.
For ages I have been sketching you
with myriad shapes of sounds and light;
now awake, dear pilgrim,
with your thousand swaying arms
that need to caress the Sky.
Now awake with your love for the Friend and Creation,
help this Old Tavern Sweeper, Hafiz,
No more enemies from this golden view —
all who have entered this holy mountain cave
have dropped their shields and swords.
We all cook together around a fire
our yearning music builds.
We share our tools and instruments and plates,
we are companions on this earth
as the sun and the planets are in the sky.
We are all sentries at our sacred humble posts.
The stones and stars envy the movements
of your legs and tongue
and call to you to sing on their behalf.
In the atoms in your cells and limbs are full of wonderful talents;
They dance in the Hidden Choir I conduct.
Don’t sleep tonight, dear pilgrim,
so I can lead you on my white mare to His Summer House.
This love you have of the Truth
will never forsake you.
Your joys and sufferings on this ardous path
are lifting your worn veil like a rising stage curtain
and will surely reveal your Magnificent Self
so you can guide this world like Hafiz
in the Hidden Choir
God and His friends will forever
The entirety of the poem was not used, but the whole gives you the sentiment. The poem, while expressing the deep intimacy of the relationship between David and Jonathan also leaves the question of the exact nature open to the hearers interpretation. Sung by the Standing Mammals Chamber Choir the poem served as a gentle opening to a story of love and friendship that is played out in a setting of violence, war, and political struggle.
However, before we got into this we were treated to a wonderful interlude. Around the edges of St. Margaret’s were several music stands with chimes hung from them. Members of the Riel Gentlemens Choir began by walking and striking these chimes with wood blocks. As they went audience members were given blocks and invited to join them. The result was very much like a carillon of church bells. This, to me at least, symbolized the joy and bond of David and Jonathan as expressed in Hafiz’s poem. This alone would have made this a fantastic evening. Yet, there was much more to come.
The second part of the oratorio picks up the story with David’s battle against Goliath. From a narrative point of view, David and Jonathan gives a straight forward linear reading of the text as it appears in 1 Samuel 17:40-20:42. The Krauses have stripped out some of the the narrative, particularly that of David and Saul’s daughters, to allow the focus of the work to remain on the principal pair.
Jesse and Thomas carry the bulk of the narrative burden, while the two choirs serve to represent everything from crowds to the noise and chaos of battle. Both of the Krauses are tenors and the tenor harmonization helps to make the image of two souls, David and Jonathan, that think as one.
For me, one standout musical moment is when the crowds are chanting “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Here the women of Antiphony brought a bright sound that picked up the excitement of the crowd while the men of Antiphony along with the Riel Gentlemens Choir brought through the rage and bitterness expressed by King Saul in response to the same cheers.
Throughout the evening the Riel Gentlemens choir brought an edginess and physicality to the story that helped to remind the listeners that David and Jonathan’s story is not one with a happy ending. At one point they collapse in the middle aisle of the church, bringing a dramatic conclusion to that section of the work.
As the conclusion of David and Jonathan’s story comes, the oratorio ends with a reflection from Ecclesiastes that reflects on our inability to know the ways of God. In the notes it’s explained that it is used to help understand why Saul is often tempted by an evil spirit from God, and how that is contrasted with the loving God present in David and Jonathan’s relationship.
This is a good and reasonable question to raise. On the other hand, Iwas hoping that the story would continue. In the first chapter of 2nd Samuel we have David’s lament for Saul and for Jonathan, and I think that would be a more fitting conclusion to the oratorio. I felt ending the main narrative with David and Jonathan’s encounter in the field after Saul’s outburst at the banquet table left their story incomplete.
However, that’s a minor detail, and simply my opinion. On the whole this made for a fantastic evening. As I said at the beginning, the oratorio will be performed again this evening at 8:30 pm, tickets are $15.00 and are available at the door. St. Margaret’s, corner of Westminster and Ethelbert.