Symphony No. 3, “Poems and Prayers” (2010)


I. Kaddish
II. Lullaby
III. Night Fantasy
Oseh Shalom
IV. Memorial Day for the War Dead





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“Poems and Prayers”, my third symphony, is a poetic Middle Eastern journey scored for solo vocalists, large mixed chorus and orchestra. An evening length piece, the symphony expresses ancient and modern texts ranging from the Aramaic Kaddish to modern Israeli and Arabic poetry by Mahmoud Darwish, Yehuda Amichai and Fadwa Tuqan weaving together a narrative of shared loss and dispossession as well as hope and reconciliation. The work opens with a full choral and orchestral outbreak. The chorus intones the words of the ancient Kaddish. In this first movement the solo vocalists take on a cantorial role with the chorus acting as the congregation. It is a fast paced call and response culminating with the words of the Hebrew “Oseh Shalom”. This is arguably the most famous section of the Kaddish and translates as “He who makes peace in His heights/ may he make peace for us/ and upon all Israel”. From the “amen” of the first movement we move to a more introspective second movement conveying the contemporary Arabic text of Mahmoud Darwish. In this lullaby we have the image of a woman joined by a solo clarinet singing a song to her beloved in the night (the orchestra takes on the colors of the night). In the final line of this movement it is revealed that she is singing a lullaby to her dead son embodied by the clarinet. Following this we have the response of the men’s chorus acting as a Minyan (traditionally a quorum of adult Jewish men who come together to pray on solemn occasions). Accompanied by the strings of the orchestra the men sing a passionate and rhetorical version of the Oseh Shalom. The next movement is titled “Night Fantasy” and is a setting of text by the 20th century Arab feminist poet Fadwa Tuqan. Her text is, the Lullaby, a cry in the night. She expresses the failure of words to defend her people and family. This helpless lament is accompanied by a solo violin. Another return of the Oseh Shalom follows but this time sung with purity and without much rhetoric by the women’s chorus. The final movement of Poems and Prayers is a setting of the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s Memorial Day for the War Dead. This large scale movement is expressed by the full chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists. It embodies many atmospheres from the sharing of grief to the frustration at the futility of war and its losses and the yearning to find “some great happiness” that may be hiding behind all this. An epilogue with the final return of the Oseh Shalom follows. This time it is sung by everyone once again (just as in the ancient past of the first Kaddish movement) but added to the Kaddish are those words that have been added by reform sects since the 1970s “V’al kol yosh vey teveyl” which mean “and for all the nations of the world”. And so we end with a transformation of an ancient prayer of peace not only for the tribe but for all the Earth.

—Mohammed Fairouz (2012)




May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.)
in the world that He created as He willed.
May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,
and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,
swiftly and soon. Now say:
Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,
Blessed is He.
beyond any blessing and song,
praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now say:
May there be abundant peace from Heaven
and life upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,
upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:



If you’ll not be a rain, my love,
then be a tree
drenched in fertility… be a tree
and if you’ll not be a tree, my love,
be a rock
drenched in humidity… be a rock
and if you’ll not be a rock, my love,
be a moon
in the sleep of lovers… be a moon
(This is what a woman told
her son at his funeral)

—Mahmoud Darwish (translated from the Arabic by Mohammed Fairouz)



He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,
upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:


Night Fantasy

I sit down to write, what should I write?
What’s worth saying?
My family, my country, my people:
Oh how I hate to sit down and write
on this day
Will I protect my family with words?
Will I save my country with words?
All words, today,
are salt never flowering
in this night…

—Fadwa Tuqan (translated from the Arabic by Mohammed Fairouz)


Oseh Shalom

He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,
upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:


Memorial Day for the War Dead

Memorial day for the war dead. Add now
the grief of all your losses to their grief,
even of a woman that has left you. Mix
sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning
on one day for easy, convenient memory.

Oh, sweet world soaked, like bread,
in sweet milk for the terrible toothless God.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”
No use to weep inside and to scream outside.
Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.

Memorial day. Bitter salt is dressed up
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.

The flautist’s mouth will stay like that for many days.
A dead soldier swims above little heads
with the swimming movements of the dead,
with the ancient error the dead have
about the place of the living water.

A flag loses contact with reality and flies off.
A shopwindow is decorated with
dresses of beautiful women, in blue and white.
And everything in three languages:
Hebrew, Arabic, and Death.

A great and royal animal is dying
all through the night under the jasmine
tree with a constant stare at the world.

A man whose son died in the war walks in the street
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”

—Yehuda Amichai



He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,
upon us, upon all Israel and upon all the nations of the world. Now say: