Towards Golgotha

Solo Soprano
Solo Alto (may be replaced by a countertenor in the scenas only)
Solo Tenor
Solo Baritone
Solo voices may be amplified. A small chorus, of at least two singers per part and no more than 4
singers per part, may be used for the vocal quartets in movements V. and IX.
Clarinet (doubles bass clarinet)
Bass Trombone
Percussion (one player)
Bass drum
Suspended crash cymbal
Crash cymbal
Field drum (marching snare drum with snares off)
4 Roto-toms (2 10” and 2 8” in diameter)
Bundle of sticks (rute)
Hammer (Preferably metal though rawhide is possible, struck on a deep wooden crate about the size of a
shoe box or a 2”x4” piece of wood)
Tam-tam (large)
Violin I (min. 1, max. 6)
Violin II (min. 1, max. 6)
Viola (min. 1, max. 4)
Cello (min. 1, max. 5)
Bass (min. 1, max. 3)
Written between April, 2002 and February, 2003.
Duration: Approximately 72 minutes.

Towards Golgotha, a passion oratorio for four soloists and large ensemble,  was a reaction to the proliferation of large scale works on religious themes, such as Helmuth Rilling’s  Passion 2000 Project (for which Osvaldo Golijov wrote his famous Pasión según San Marcos) and John Adams’ El niño at  the turn of the century.  The idea for the piece was to create a sort of Bach passion consisting solely of the madrigal portions–those portions of the passions that offer commentary on the biblical narrative.  Though I do use some passages from the Bible, I chose to use these sparingly, only in the linking recitative “scenas” that serve as important transitional points in each of the oratorio’s two parts.

Those of you who might remember last season’s premiere of my Sacred Cows (a work the Washington Post labeled an oratorio in its review, but which I consider more of a live E.P. or concept album) might be surprised to hear a sacred piece from me.  Needless to say, Towards Golgotha, which is now, amazingly, ten years old, comes from a time in my life when I was only beginning to question.  The piece is, at times, rather sincere in its approach, certainly, but there is a questioning/questing spirit at its center which has never really left me, at either extreme of my spiritual journey.  This earnestness is perhaps most strongly reflected in the inclusion of the resurrection story at the end of the work.  The resurrection does not typically form part of liturgical passion plays, but I wanted to end the piece in a more hopeful, happier way.  Since Towards Golgotha is not meant for liturgical performance, however, I felt that this was okay.

At the emotional and dramatic core of Towards Golgotha is the large and dramatic movement, “Ecce Homo.”  This movement, a setting of a long, surrealistic poem by the late British writer, David Gascoyne, is my “9/11 piece.”  It is my reaction to the events of that day and to my nation’s reactions to those events, and to the use of religion–any religion–as a justification for military or paramilitary violence.

Towards Golgotha is dedicated to my oldest daughter, Olivia, who was an infant at the time of composition and turned one year old before its premiere.  It was premiered by the Rose City Chamber Orchestra under my direction in June, 2003 in Portland, Oregon and, subsequently, performed by Great Noise Ensemble, again, under my direction, in March, 2007 in Washington, D.C.

Towards Golgotha Part I

by Great Noise Ensemble, Michael Holmes, conductor

Towards Golgotha, Part II

by Great Noise Ensemble, Michael Holmes, conductor