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James MacMillan is 'Raising Sparks'

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.

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