150 Psalms

Regular readers of this blog will ask: “So what? We know there are 150.”

This is more than accounting. It is the title of an ambitious program called ‘150 Psalms’, performances by top vocal ensembles of song settings of these ancient poems. The program has already been to Brussels, New York and Utrecht. From one of the participating choirs:

Today we see refugees searching for a safe haven, leaders who abuse their power, people who place fear above courage, or courage above fear. Topical themes, for thousands of years already.

The project 150 Psalms regards the Psalms as a mirror of society: great themes from 3,000 years ago are still relevant today. In 2017, 12 concerts took place … and the journey continues in 2020 to Australia during the Adelaide Festival!

The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir

King David playing a harp. Early manuscript in the British Library

Several professional ensembles take part, including Australia’s The Song Company. The program for one of their Adelaide concerts is entitled Cries of Justice  — a theme regularly emphasised in these pages.

About half of the psalms include a plea or prayer for justice and equity for all, and leaders who will follow these precepts. Such are implicitly seen in the Psalter as natural elements of the Creation blueprint:

O mighty God, lover of justice; you have established equity. (Ps 99:4)

Few of our singers will be in a position to trek to Adelaide for this enticing series. However, a taste can be heard in Canberra as the Song Company brings their piece of the psalter pie around Australia on their way to the Adelaide Festival (29 Feb to 3 March). Their selection may be heard on Thursday 13 Feb 2020 19:00 at the Wesley Music Centre, National Circuit, Forrest.

Here is what The Song Company has to say about this concert:

Ancient songs from the heart in the Book of Psalms sound out across the centuries against oppression and injustice. 3000 years ago, 150 songs were gathered together to become the Hebrew Bible’s Tehillim, the Tanakh or Old Testament’s Book of Psalms. These Jewish Psalms have been a daily source of personal solace and the inspiration for composers from the Renaissance until today.

We sing settings from Josquin des Prez and Robert Parsons to Benjamin Britten and beyond. This repertoire features alongside commissioned premières by Clare Maclean and Cathy Milliken in four concerts in the 2020 Adelaide Festival’s 150 Psalms series.

Psalms in the South has no interest in promoting this or any concert other than to further the recognition of the beauty and relevance of the sung psalms, whether in secular or sacred communities.

Incipit to Ps. 62:8,9 (detail) for six voices by Orlando de Lasso, 1573. The Tallis Scholars will sing this at the Adelaide Festival.
The Song Company is in strong company! In Adelaide it meets the Tallis Scholars, The Netherlands Chamber Choir and the Norwegian Soloists Choir (Norske Solistkor).

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