In the very first concert of its 30th season, The Esoterics will perform two brand-new choral compositions by the Los Angeles-based composer, Rex Isenberg.
For his first piece, If we have wisdom, Isenberg sets the text of a letter written by George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790. After a flourishing Jewish community in the American colonies fled during British occupation, any left during the British occupation, the Jewish community in Newport had only begun to recover its former prominence at the time of George Washington's visit in August 1790 . This letter holds much significance for many American Jews as a testament to their rights to religious freedom and self-determination – right from the founding of this country. This letter is framed in the home of Rex’s husband’s parents, and his family reads it annually on Passover. The Esoterics is honored to be singing this text for the first time in the world premiere of this composition!
In the second, more extensive work of our performance, Messiahs false and true, Isenberg explores the perennial predicament of the “messianic leader” in human history. This work is composed for choir with accompaniment of organ and percussion, as well as a spoken oratorio. During periods of crisis or cultural upheaval, societies tend to gravitate toward those individuals who promise salvation and elevate them to power. We may be seeking hope, guidance, salvation, or a sense of purpose in our lives. Messianic figures have played an important role in shaping human history, and their influence continues to be felt today. Some of these figures become our greatest heroes, others, our most hateful villains.
Rex’s Messiahs examines this phenomenon through a tour of messianic figures - heroic and horrific - and the narrative of the piece follows society’s common response to such figures: anticipation, jubilation, disappointment, condemnation, and grief. The spoken narration of this piece consists of a collage of texts from various messianic leaders, as well as their admirers and critics. This narration is paired with biblical passages from Handel’s Messiah that is sung by the choir, which responds to the narration. At the end of this journey, the final words of the piece ask us to rely less on imperfect saviors, and to have faith in the strength of our collective will to forge a better tomorrow.
Born in Philadelphia, Rex holds a BA in Music from Yale University and Masters and Doctorate degrees in composition from the Manhattan School of Music. Isenberg’s artistic works often explore the complexities of human relationships across different times and societal settings. He is also devoted to expanding and enriching the catalog of Jewish liturgical music by creating compositions that remain faithful to the original text but also resonate and renew meaning with modern audiences
To perform Messiahs, The Esoterics will be joined by organist Wyatt Smith, percussionist James Doyle, and our narrator, the Reverend Kelle Brown, senior pastor at Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle. The Esoterics is excited to welcome Rex to the Pacific Northwest for these performances of his works. We hope you can join us for this fantastic concert!
If we have wisdom (2021, world premiere)
Messiahs false and true (2019, regional premiere)
by Rex Isenberg