3000 years ago, 150 songs were gathered together to become the Hebrew Bible’s Tehillim, then the Old Testament’s Book of Psalms. Songs about justice, humanity, compassion, liberation and power. Of people struggling with leadership or passing on responsibility; humans using and exploiting the environment; refugees desperately looking for a safe haven.
In March 2020, Adelaide Festival presents 150 Psalms, the fourth incarnation of a remarkable choral event with three of the world’s greatest choral ensembles: The Tallis Scholars from England; Netherlands Chamber Choir (Nederlands Kamerkoor), Norwegian Soloists’ Choir (Det Norske Solistkor) and Australia’s finest vocal group, The Song Company.
Over four days, in four sacred spaces and one secular space, 12 concerts will encompass all 150 psalms in musical settings by 150 different composers spanning 10 centuries of choral tradition, from Gregorian chant to Ockeghem, from Monteverdi to Bach, from Brahms to Britten and beyond. Many Australian premieres, and world premieres of newly commissioned works by Elena Kats-Chernin, Clare Maclean, Cathy Milliken and Kate Moore. In the final concert all the voices converge in the Adelaide Town Hall for Tallis’ mighty motet in 40 individual parts, Spem in alium.
Conceived in 2017 by Netherlands Chamber Choir, this is much more than a banquet for lovers of choral music as audiences discovered in Amsterdam, Brussels and New York. It’s a symposium for the spirit and the intellect.
Each concert is introduced by a noted writer or contemporary thought-leader focusing on one of twelve identified themes running through this ancient songbook. Further insights are provided by an exhibition of work by renowned Australian photojournalists that pairs each psalm with a powerful image.
These poems are etched on humanity’s psyche and their concerns still burn hot. They represent not the word of God, but of humankind; shouting or whispering its fears, its worries, its anger, its sorrows, its thanksgiving and joy to the universe.