Review: Understanding Spiritual Nationality; Apollo’s Fire — Sephardic Journey

By Christine Jay

One of the most remarkable elements of mankind is its ability to endure. History is filled with stories of people struggling, failing, succeeding, and surviving, but few have endured the centuries of exile and forced displacement experienced by the Jews. Performing an inspired program devised by artistic director Jeannette Sorrell, soprano Nell Snaidas, baritone Jeffrey Strauss, and cellist René Schiffer, Apollo’s Fire gave a sensational concert on February 5 at St. Paul’s Church in Cleveland Heights.

The concert captured the emotions of the Spanish Jews upon their 1492 expulsion from that country, wandering on a Sephardic Journey. Their resolute craving for a spiritual home enthralls and beguiles us because we can relate to it as human beings.

The story began with two violinists, Julie Andrijeski and Adriane Post, slowly creeping down the outer aisles, yearning and conversing in exotic modes. Strauss processed down the center aisle, initiating the concert with a call to prayer. Snaidas and tenor Karim Sulayman responded to Strauss’s pleading lamentation, repeating his text Ir me Kero, Madre A Yerushalayim (I want to go to Jerusalem, mother). The chorus echoed his undulating petitions while Snaidas, Strauss, and Sulayman spoke the supplicating text — “O Jerusalem, when will I see you again?” — over the entire ensemble in Ladino (the Sephardic language), Hebrew, and Italian, respectively.

In another traditional Sephardic song arranged by Sorrell entitled Kuando el Rey Nimrod (When King Nimrod), the uplifting tune passed throughout the ensemble. After hearty applause, Sorrell spoke to the audience, explaining that the last tune was sung by the Sephardim while getting “kicked out of Spain, heads held high.” As she wrote in the program notes, “Though merry on the surface, the song is tinged with defiance.”

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