Streams in the Desert
by W. Gerald Cochran
Meira Warshauer: Streams in the Desert. Stephanie Gregory, soprano; Michael Hendrick, tenor; Carol Potter, narrator; Jennifer Hines, mezzo-soprano; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, conductor; Slovak Philharmonic Chorus, Blanka Juhanakova, director. Albany Records TROY973, © 2007, 65:42, $16.99.
Streams in the Desert by Meira Warshauer is a recording of three works for orchestra, chorus, and soloists, inspired by the Torah.
The recording opens with Shacharit, a work for soprano, tenor, and narrator, with orchestra and chorus. It is the composer's personal expression of the Sabbath Morning Service. The work was written in 1989 as Warshauer's doctoral dissertation at the University of South Carolina, where it was also premiered. To attempt to describe this music is like trying to describe one's feelings of awe and inspiration. It is at times bright, rhythmic, and powerful; at others filled with wonder and amazement. It culminates in a peak of faith and affirmation.
The performances of Stephanie Gregory and Michael Hendrick are splendid, echoing the force of conviction of faith that this work embodies.
Like Streams in the Desert was commissioned and premiered in 1998 by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Neal Gittelman, Music Director, with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton, to recognize the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel. It was inspired by Psalm 126, whose theme is the return of exiles to Zion. Themes from three different musical settings of the psalm, with contrasting interpretations of exile and return, are used. The work, for orchestra only, begins with a plaintive melody in a dream-like atmosphere. The tone then shifts, becoming more accented and rhythmic, as the bonds of exile are shed and there is reveling in the joy of return and freedom.
The orchestral performance follows perfectly the composer's melodic line, with the opening melodies by oboe and trumpet infused with longing and despair. The percussion, accompanied by vibrant woodwinds and strings, then emphasizes the ecstasy of reunion and return.
Ahavah (Love) is the concluding piece on the disc. Written in 1994, it was inspired by the composer's connection of love with a tree, following an afternoon of meditation and prayer under said tree. It draws on the Jewish tradition that teaches that there is an all-pervasive love that flows from God. The first movement brings a promise of love and fulfillment, the second warns of the consequences of turning away from divine love and law, and the third restores order and promise.
Jennifer Hines, like the other soloists on this recording, accompanied by chorus and orchestra, provides a compelling and beautiful interpretation of these Hebrew words of love.
Meira Warshauer, a native of Wilmington, NC, studied at Harvard, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the University of South Carolina, and is currently on the faculty of Columbia College in Columbia, SC, where she teaches a course in the healing art of music. She has devoted much of her music to Jewish themes and their universal message.
Exactly one year ago, I had the privilege of hearing and reviewing the world premiere of Warshauer's Symphony No. 1, Living, Breathing Earth, performed by the Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra under the direction of John Gordon Ross in Hickory, NC. This work reflects a love and respect for the earth, and in turn, for its creator, as does the music on this disc.
Critics have described Meira Warshauer's music as a "spiritually ecstatic, beautifully felt... representation of [the] mystical creative process." The three pieces on this recording are the complete embodiment of that sentiment.