Kaddish:Passio:Rothko

INSTRUMENTATION
Mezzo-soprano soloist
Male speaker
SATB Chorus (min. 2 singers per part)
2 Flutes
2 Oboes
(Oboe 2 doubles English Horn)
2 Clarinets
(Both double on Bass Clarinet)
2 Bassoons
2 Horns in F
2 Trumpets in C
Percussion (1 player):
4 Timpani
Chimes
Suspended Cymbal
Large Bass Drum
2 tom-toms
Strings (4-4-3-3-2 min.)
Commissioned
Commissioned by the Music Department of the National Gallery of Art for the National Gallery
Vocal Arts Ensemble and the National Gallery Orchestra. Premiered in January, 2010 by Tracy
Cowart, Mezzo-soprano, David Smooke, narrator, Great Noise Ensemble, the National Gallery Orchestra
and the National Gallery Vocal Arts Ensemble, Rosa Lamoreaux, Music Director.
Kaddish:Passio:Rothko, commissioned by the music department of the National Gallery of Art, takes as
its point of departure the final murals of Mark Rothko, in particular those created for Harvard University
in 1961-62. These murals reflected a darkening in Rothko’s style, a darkening that would reach its apex
in the Rothko Chapel project and a result of the artist’s increasingly somber mood in the last decade of
his life.
Rothko’s Harvard Murals consist of a central triptych framed by two independent canvases intended
to be hung on the space opposite the wall where the triptych was to be placed. The structure of Kaddish:
Passio:Rothko is devised from the central triptych and, with the orchestral diptych Colorfields
(written for the Hamilton College Orchestra in 2007), structured after the two free-standing murals in the
collection, forms the larger cycle The Colorfield Passion.
Each of Kaddish:Passio:Rothko’s three parts represents an aspect of Mark Rothko’s life and work. The
first section, “Kaddish,” is a setting of the Jewish prayer traditionally intoned for the dead. Unlike the
Christian requiem service, the kaddish makes no mention of eternal judgment or even death itself and is,
in fact, a rather hopeful and life-affirming text. These qualities are reflected in the ecstatic, central climax
of the movement, in which the choral meditation gives way to an ecstatic dance in the orchestra.
The second movement, “Deite Epises,” sets texts from the passion narrative of the Gospel According to
St. Mark in the original Greek, meant to set it apart as a historical/cultural artifact rather than as liturgical
music. This reflects Rothko’s interest, particularly in his late canvases, in myths of suffering, death
and resurrection specific, in Rothko’s case, to the Christian passion stories but going back to the ancient
Egyptian myth of Osiris, at least. Part three, “Monsters,” at last deals more directly with the facts of
Rothko’s life and aesthetics and sets a poem and a funeral oration/recollection of the artist by his friend,
the poet Stanley Kunitz. Where the first two parts, then, can be heard as somewhat detached cultural
artifacts, part three is more emotional in its intended impact and represents a rumination not just on
Rothko’s emotional state at the end of his life but his place within the pantheon of 20th century art as
well as the motivations and driving forces behind so much human artistic endeavor.
Kaddish:Passio:Rothko is dedicated to Stephen Ackert, director of the Music Department at the National
Gallery of Art, who commissioned the work and fought so valiantly to help bring it to life.is work is dedicated.

I. Kaddish

by Tracy Cowart, mezzo-soprano, National Gallery of Art Vocal Arts Ensemble, National Gallery of Art Orchestra, Great Noise Ensemble, Armando Bayolo, conductor

II. Deite Epises

by National Gallery of Art Vocal Arts Ensemble and Orchestra, Great Noise Ensemble, Armando Bayolo, conductor

III. Monsters

by Tracy Cowart, mezzo-soprano, David Smooke, narrator, National Gallery of Art Vocal Arts Ensemble, National Gallery of Art Orchestra, Great Noise Ensemble, Armando Bayolo, conductor