“Song of Wonder,” a concert of South Indian and Judeo-Spanish music, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.
Inspired by the poetry of a thousand years in their traditions, vocalists and string musicians Nirmala Rajasekar and David Jordan Harris designed the concert to probe the many facets of wonder as gateways to an illumined and impassioned life. They will be joined by percussionists Thanjavur Muruga Boopathi and Mick LaBriola, ’ud player David Burk and vocalist Shruthi Rajasekar.
Highlights of the concert will include excerpts from the oldest extant piece of notated Jewish music; improvisational performances by Rajasekar on the veena in both familiar and rare ragas (melodic soundscapes of Indian music); ancient Tamil Sangam poetry; plaintive Judeo-Spanish and Hebrew chants from Jewish communities in Bosnia, Morocco and Turkey; and new musical arrangements flowing from the concert’s cross-cultural collaboration.
In a “backstage preview” of the concert at noon Tuesday, April 22, in the Room 126 auditorium of the John Roach Center at St. Thomas, Rajasekar and Harris will explore the cultural, religious, and musical worlds behind their concert’s repertoire. They will take their audience on a journey through the centuries across the landscapes of South India, Bosnia, Spain, and Turkey.
The concert and the backstage preview, which are free and open to the public, are co-sponsored by St. Thomas’ Sacred Arts Festival and the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, a joint enterprise of St. Thomas and St. John’s University, Collegeville.
Rajasekar is the artistic director of the Naadha Rasa Center of Music in Plymouth, where she teaches the art of South India’s Carnatic music. She made her debut as a solo performer on the seven-stringed veena at age 13 in Bangalore, India, and she has performed with musicians from many backgrounds, including Western classical, Chinese, and jazz. Radio India has pronounced her a Grad A artist for All India Radio since 1990, and she has been featured in many world-renowned venues, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, the United Nations’ Symphony Space, the Music Academy in Chennai, India, and the Rumi International Festival in Konya, Turkey.
Harris is co-founder and artistic director of the Twin Cities-based Voices of Sepharad. He has studied and performed Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) music in many countries and throughout North America. A singer, actor and dancer, he has been a guest artist with Ensemble Espaῆol, Guthrie Theater, Illusion Theater, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Lyra Baroque Orchestra, Minnesota Opera, North Star Opera, Rose Ensemble, Walker Art Center and Zorongo Flamenco.
He is the interfaith arts special consultant for the Jay Phillips Center and the executive director of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council.