Vayomer Shlomo, 2009 (24′)
for 2 sopranos, mezzo-soprano, violin, 2 cellos, electric bass, electric guitar, piano, and 2 percussion
Vayomer Shlomo (And Solomon Said) is a large, one-movement work about the wise King Solomon. The piece asks: What is the nature of wisdom, especially wisdom that is a gift from the Divine? I set excerpts of three works, two of which — Song of Songs and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) — are examples of the wide body of written work that is attributed to King Solomon. The third is a setting of Solomon’s request to God, from Kings, for the wisdom to lead his people. When considered as reflections of divinely given wisdom, the rapturous joy of Song of Songs and the brooding introspection of Kohelet can be seen not as opposites, but kindred aspects of the whole that is true wisdom. Solomon, at the end of a long and prosperous life, ultimately led his kingdom into idleness and gluttony; perhaps the message of the story is that people are not meant to have such complete wisdom — rather, as in Gan Eden, there is a level of knowledge that we should accept having not in its pure form, but only reflected in the world around us. If so, then whether or not Song of Songs and Kohelet were authored by Solomon is irrelevant, as they are certainly part of the broader tale of Solomon — a tale of human interaction with the struggle to be as close to wisdom and divinity as possible, while still being humbly content within the constraints of our existence. In that spirit, I hope that Vayomer Shlomo, as a distinct and separate statement, can also be considered part of the story.
Vayomer Shlomo was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and was premiered in May of 2009 in Zankel Hall as part of the New Songs Professional Training Workshop, directed by Dawn Upshaw and Osvaldo Golijov. This work in inspired the creation of Judd’s band The Yehudim, which explores characters from the Hebrew Bible, using the strange stories of their lives and the ancient writings around their characters to weave contemporary narratives that are Passions for our time.