With a selection of works from Jewish and black composers, the Handel + Haydn Society will promote interfaith and intercultural relations through this year’s edition of its Every Voice concert.

Described on the H+H website as “[an] uplifting concert for justice and peace,” the series was founded three years ago, building upon similar endeavors dating back to 2015. This year, the concert will feature voices from the Jewish and black communities, with performances on Saturday, Nov. 2, at First Church in Roxbury, and Sunday, Nov. 3, at Union United Methodist Church in the South End.

The repertoire was selected by concert director Reginald Mobley, who is also a countertenor. Dr. Jennifer Kane will be the conductor, and the repertoire will be performed by members of the H+H orchestra and chorus, as well as the H+H youth choruses concert choir.

“I decided to focus this year on the Jewish community in Boston, and also to come back to the black community,” Mobley said. “The black community and the Jewish community are two communities in America, and really kind of globally, who have done so much, overcome so much, [shown] so much strength, resilience and beauty, but even in 2019 suffer so much hatred and vitriol. Synagogues are being burned, blacks are being shot in the streets by police [and] not getting a fair shake. They’ve been around so much and contributed so long to human civilization. The two communities really pair well together in this way.”

The Every Voice concert has “grown to be a central part of what we do at Handel and Haydn,” said Emily Yoder Reed, vice president of education and community engagement at the society. “We focus on individual voices from our community to celebrate resilience. All of these different voices show the interconnectedness of the whole of the city.”

The selected composers reflect diverse periods of history—from Salamone Rossi, a proud Jew who created music for Jewish and secular audiences in Mantua, Italy, at a time of thawing relations between Christians and Jews during the Renaissance, to Zanaida Robles, a contemporary African American recording artist and composer whose works have tackled such challenging themes as the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Arguably the most famous name on the list is African American recording star Bobby McFerrin, whom the world knows through his 1988 hit “Don’t Worry Be Happy”; H+H will perform his “Psalm 23.”

In addition to Rossi, Jewish composers included in the program are Giacobbe Cervetto, who is described on the Jewish Museum website as having popularized the cello in 18th-century England, where he performed into his late 90s and lived to be 102; and Marblehead native Allan E. Naplan, an award-winning composer who is also the executive and producing director of the Arizona Musicfest; his work “Al Shlosha D’varim” will be performed by the youth choir.


“I composed ‘Al Shlosha D’varim’ in 1994 as a commission for a children’s choir in New York,” Naplan wrote in an email. “As I frequently look to set inclusive Jewish/Hebrew texts, I was immediately drawn to a lesser-known version of the Pirkei Avot maxim. Different from the popular version of ‘Al Shlosha D’varim’—traditionally sung on Shabbat prior to the Torah reading, which celebrates Torah, prayer and loving kindness as ‘three pillars upon which the world is sustained’—the version I set instead promotes truth, justice and peace as the three foundational items.”

Added Naplan, who grew up in Marblehead in the 1970s and 1980s and whose mother was a longtime music teacher at Cohen Hillel Academy (now Epstein Hillel): “Because of the text’s universal appeal, the piece has been embraced as an anthem that speaks to all people of all faiths. Since its publishing in 1994, more than half-a-million copies of the choral work have sold worldwide. It has been recorded by ensembles around the world and has also been performed at the White House and at Carnegie Hall. The orchestral arrangement of the work debuted in 2012 in a series of holiday concerts by the Springfield Symphony.”

Mobley’s favorite composers on the program include Florence Price, the first black female to graduate from The New England Conservatory of Music, who went on to have her music commissioned by the Boston and Chicago symphonies. “She’s enjoying a renaissance now,” Mobley said.

He added that the works of African American composer Harry T. Burleigh and Jewish composer Lazar Weiner work well when paired. “Both saw and thought to really create and legitimize their music on the same level, worthy of the same attraction as any art song,” Mobley said, noting that Burleigh did this with African spirituals and slave songs, while Weiner did this with Yiddish music. Weiner’s son, Yehudi Wyner, has connections with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood and remains in the area, Mobley said, adding that for Every Voice, “There’s a slight chance he’ll show up, which would be really, really cool.”

Of all the composers on the program, Mobley said he is “most taken with, interested in, moved by” the work of the youngest—African American rising star Jonathan Woody, whose piece “Nigra Sum Sed Formosa,” or “I Am Black but Beautiful,” is included in the repertoire. The piece, subtitled “A fantasia on microaggressions,” was world-premiered by H+H at Roxbury Community College in April.

“Part of why we commissioned Jonathan to write this piece,” Mobley said, “is that we are still stereotyped in so many ways in the classical sphere. Every now and then I go perform in a hall and someone appears and asks me to unlock a door, or if I could get them a program. I’m always asked if I’m in the right place. These are all stories of casual racism.”

Woody’s piece will be performed as part of the third section of the program—“kind of a progress report, 400 years since the first slave ship arrived in Jamestown,” Mobley said. “[Woody] represents the future of persons of color that I want to see. He is the future, the next, the next stage of existence of the other, the nonwhite, the non-default. He’s just wonderful. He’s great.”

Asked about his expectations for the concert, Mobley said: “I really hope that just for a moment, everyone who comes in can appreciate exactly just how wonderful these communities are. I know there are going to be people hearing a lot of the music and composers for the first time. I think there will be people who will suddenly realize that black music did not just start 100 years ago, that with Jewish composers like Salomone Rossi, there were so many wonderful composers around since the 16th and 17th centuries and beyond. I’m just hoping it does this in some way.”

“We should be a melting pot,” Mobley added. “We are that gestalt. The community is also like an orchestra … We work together, really as a whole, combine together, make everyone stronger.”

Get tickets for this free event here.