Is it possible to tell the entire story of Judaism in 85 minutes? In what can only be described as a massive undertaking, American composer Stephen Dankner tries to do just that in his Symphony No. 5 (“Odyssey of Faith”). With liturgical guidance from Rabbi David Goldstein of the 175-year-old Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, Dankner incorporates prophetic texts from the Old Testament as well as poetry written by children who were victims of the Holocaust. He hopes that his symphony-oratorio conveys the essential elements of the Jewish faith.
Dankner had been conceptualizing a piece of this magnitude for more than five years, but it was only after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that he started composing the symphony. He began on September 12, and within 10 weeks he had finished. Though the work tells the story of Judaism, Dankner contends that the symphony is universal in scope.
“I believe in Mahler’s conception [that the symphony is representative of the world],” Dankner said. “I feel that a big piece such as this has to be universal and experience all emotions covering the gamut between A to Z.”
Under the baton of Klauspeter Seibel, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra performs the premiere of Symphony No. 5, which is set in three large sections. Part One: Genesis of Faith focuses on the origins of the Jewish faith and God’s relationship to the people; Loss of the Sacred Spirit (Abandonment) uses the poetry of Holocaust victims to tell a story of brutality and despair, and Part Three: Redemption proclaims a message of hope, concluding with a benediction for all humanity.
For Dankner, the process of creating the piece reflects his personal quest for a spiritual connection to Judaism.
“It’s representative of my concept of Judaism — what I call an odyssey of faith, and odyssey for faith,” Dankner said. “A way for me to get back to my Jewish roots, to plug into something greater than my automatic response of being part of the rituals in synagogue.”
“I think of it as a journey. The destination towards spiritual fulfillment was less meaningful to me than the journey I took of getting to that point,” he added.
A pre-concert lecture with Dankner and Seibel takes place a half-hour prior to the performance.
Orpheum Theatre, 129 University Place, New Orleans; March 4, 7:30 p.m., March 6, 8 p.m.; $13-$62, $11 students; pre-concert lecture included in ticket price; reservations recommended. (514-523-6530, 504-522-5555 or www.lpomusic.com )