Elijah’s Chariot

Instrumentation: String Quartet and electronics
Duration: 19:45
Commission: Kronos Quartet and the National Endowment for the Arts
Premiere: 5/9/96
Kronos Quartet
Theatre Artaud, San Francisco, CA

Program Note:

Elijah’s Chariot was inspired by the Biblical story of the prophet Elijah, whose life ended when he was whirled up to heaven on a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire.  He was a prophet who wrought miracles and many tales exist of his return to earth to help those in trouble. This is reflected in the Jewish custom of setting out a cup of wine for Elijah during the Passover seder and opening the door so that he, or anyone in need, can enter and partake. It is also Elijah who is supposed to blow the shofar to announce the coming of the Messiah. The folk melody Eliyahu HaNavi, often sung during the close of the Sabbath, is woven into Elijah’s Chariot. The opening phrase of this melody forms a melodic thread in Elijah’s Chariot, emerging clearly at one point, obliquely at others.

The scoring for string quartet and electronics reflects the story: the four instruments symbolize the wheels of the fiery chariot; they also represent the dialogue between Elijah and Elisha, the follower who will not desert him; and, they represent the voice of the people in prayer. The electronic portion, created from a recording of a shofar (ram’s horn), represents God’s call to Elijah. The original recording, by Dr. Mel Siegel of Minneapolis, is of shofar tropes associated with the Jewish High Holidays. The electronic portion was realized at the Virginia Center for Computer Music at the University of Virginia. Elijah’s Chariot was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, with the assistance of the National Endowment for the Arts. They toured it internationally, presenting it throughout Europe, the Middle and Far East and the US, including the Next Wave Festival at BAM. For more information, visit www.judithshatin.com. –JS

Press Quotes:
“A splendid Elijah’s Chariot.”
–Il Gazzettino

“[Elijah’s Chariot] generates a dense and affecting musical dialogue.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle

“The closing “Elijah’s Chariot” with The Cassatt String Quartet and electronics ends the album as a true Baal buster with lots of moments that are both cerebral and visceral.” –George W. Harris, Jazz Weekly

“When you listen to her piece [‘Elijah’s Chariot’], you feel as though you too are being swept up to Heaven by strong winds. Shatin’s music is powerful and most distinctive. As performed here and recorded in Innova’s clear sound, it is also most inviting. I think anyone who is interested in the creation of new music should sample her offerings.” –Maria Nockin, Fanfare

“The instrumental pinnacle was Judith Shatlin’s “Elijah’s Chariot,” a symphonic poem for string quartet, with the four instruments representing the wheels of the prophet’s fiery conveyance to Heaven.”
–Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“The Shatin work…is a single long movement based on the sound of a shofar, a ram’s horn blown in the Jewish liturgy. That ancient sound is ingeniously manipulated electronically and serves as the point of departure for exploratory sonorities in the string quartet. In addition, the traditional Hebrew melody “Eliahu HaNvai” is introduced, developed and repeated in simple and elaborate variations at the end, played and hummed by the Cassatt Quartet. The work is inspired by the story of the biblical prophet Elijah and reflects his religious intensity. Shatin reveals her mastery of the union of the electronic medium and live performance in projecting a visionary experience.” –Charlottesville Weekly

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