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Bel Canto

Composer Yotam Haber finds inspiration in a dusty Roman archive

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Yotam Haber and others at the world premiere of 'death will come and she will have your eyes' at the Villa Aurelia in Rome, 2008
Yotam Haber and others at the world premiere of death will come and she will have your eyes at the Villa Aurelia in Rome, 2008

Thirty years before the common era—a century before the destruction of the Second Temple—some Jews left Jerusalem for Rome. There, they established a community whose cantors chanted Torah in the tradition they brought with them from the land of ancient Israel. It was an insular community and over subsequent generations, that insularity helped preserve the community’s distinctiveness. Over the ensuing centuries, the Roman cantorial style remained relatively unchanged, impervious to the flourishes and innovations of newer traditions that arose in the Sephardic and Ashkenazic worlds.

Fast forward two-plus millennia, to the year 2007. That’s when New York-based composer Yotam Haber went to Italy and discovered in some archives dusty old recordings of Roman cantors chanting the Torah in the age-old local style. The recordings were made more than 50 years ago by an ethnomusicologist named Leo Levi.

So taken was Haber with the unadulterated singing of the Roman cantors, that he decided to use the recordings, along with verses from the Book of Lamentations and poetry by Jorie Graham, in a song cycle of his own, called death will come and she shall have your eyes.

He speaks with Nextbook about his own composition, about what makes Roman liturgy unique, and about his plans for the future.

Listen to “Cum Nimis Absurdum, the first movement of death will come and she shall have your eyes

Listen to “Bereshit the fourth movement of death will come and she shall have your eyes

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Bel Canto

Composer Yotam Haber finds inspiration in a dusty Roman archive

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