“The Earth is the Lord's”: Psalms and Songs of Exile and Return

Monday, February 10, 2014

Duke is proud to present “The Earth is the Lord's”: Psalms and Songs of Exile and Return; contemporary settings of Biblical texts for baritone and piano.

The performance will take place on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 10:00am in Goodson Chapel at the Duke Divinity School.  Duke's very own Eric Meyers (baritone) and J. Samuel Hammond (piano) will perform music by Penka Kouneva (Ph.D., Duke University), and Patrrick Norman Hunt (Stanford University), in an exciting composition that makes use of ancient melodies, Sephardic and Ashkenazi folk songs, and Biblical texts.


Penka Kouneva is Duke University’s first Ph.D. in music composition.  Born in Bulgaria, she began her work in chamber music and orchestral pieces, serving as composer in residence for several summers at the Aspen Music Festival and teaching at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.  Professionally, she has specialized in scoring music for films, working in Hollywood and as a Sundance Composer Fellow.  She has received two Ovation Awards and seven nominations.

Psalm 24 was commissioned by George Gopen in 1996 for performance with Eric Meyers in honor of the alliance between the state of Israel and the State of North Carolina.  It was performed first at the opening of the Sepphoris Exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art, featuring archaeological findings from excavations headed by Eric and Carol Meyers. 

The Haggai/ Zechariah cycle was commissioned by George Gopen and Eric Meyers in 1998 for performances at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC.  The translations are mainly from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, with some changes suggested by Eric Meyers.  The music incorporates melodic fragments from authentic Sephardic and Ashkenazi folk songs of the Bulgarian Jews collected by the Bulgarian ethnomusicologist Nikolai Kaufman, to whom the composer extends her deepest thanks.

Patrick Norman Hunt, archaeologist, writer, composer, poet, and art historian has taught at Stanford since 1992, crossing academic boundaries and mixing together disciplines whenever he can.  He travels the world regularly for his work and thus brings to his compositions widespread influences.  As musician and composer, he has written piano, choral, chamber, and orchestral works and has been a Full Writer member of ASCAP since 1980.  He directs archaeological digs in Switzerland, writes and illustrates books of poetry, and has composed an opera, “Byron in Greece,” just performed in London in 2005.  Another is completed and awaiting its premier: “Suleiman the Magnificent.”

The cycle of four songs heard on this program, dealing with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile from the Land of Israel (587-538 BCE), is dedicated to Meyers and Gopen.  The texts are the composer’s, based upon the Bible.  The music makes use of what is known of ancient melodies and modes.  The first two songs were performed in 1999 as part of the concert referred to above; the third and fourth were premiered at Duke in 2010 and at Judea Reform Congregation. 


Eric Meyers has been on the faculty of Duke University for 45 years and is the Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor of Judaic Studies.  He is internationally known and sought after as an expert in both Biblical texts and archaeology, having published several hundred works, articles and monographs.   He has studied music in one form or other most of his life and was for more than 30 years the voice student of Duke Professor John Kennedy Hanks, who also directed the Duke Divinity choir.  He has served as cantor at numerous synagogues and has performed Ernst Bloch’s Sacred Service with the Duke Chapel Choir and Symphony and with the Wilmington Chorale.  He has collaborated with George Gopen in a number of Lieder recitals, including Schubert’s Winterreise and Schwanengesang, and Schumann’s Dichterliebe.

J. Samuel Hammond is the Duke University Carillonneur and has played the bells and served as occasional organist at the University Chapel since 1965.  From 1971 to 1986 he was duke’s Music Librarian and from 1986 to 2012 was on the staff of the (now) David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  He is piano accompanist for the Duke University String School, the Triangle Jewish Chorale, and other local singers and instrumentalists.