On March 2, James MacMillan is the focus and the star of Making
Music: James MacMillan—when he will be on hand for a a full program
of his work—among them, the US premiere of the composer's Raising
Sparks—and to discuss his music with Carnegie Hall Director of
Artistic Planning Jeremy Geffen.
Raising Sparks, a cycle of six songs, is a spiritual work,
but not in the Roman Catholic sense. Poet Michael Symmons Roberts was
moved to write its text upon studying the theology of the 18th-century
Hasidic rabbi and mystic Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl.
The rabbi espoused a creation story guided by two concepts: Zimzum
(in Roberts's words "God holds back light to create something other
than himself") and Shevira ("God shines His light of creation,
but that light is so intense that it smashes the clay vessels intended
to capture it"). As a result of the shattering, sparks are scattered
across the world, and they metaphorically appear both in small acts of
mercy and profound acts of love.
This creation/redemption story acts as the philosophical grounding
for the text and the music of Raising Sparks, but a dark
atmosphere underlies the entire work, as Roberts could not ignore the
chilling parallels between Nahum's story and Chernobyl's infamous
nuclear disaster—"the breaking of the vessels, the shattering of the
light, the fallout across the world."
The Research Ensemble and Edinburgh Quartet
performing highlights of Raising Sparks by James MacMillan.