The composer views this work as a “stylistic confrontation” between a klezmer clarinet solo—deriving from the haunting virtuoso sounds typical of traditional eastern European Jewish bands—and cantorial vocal passages that emanate from age-old Ashkenazi liturgical ritual. The piece also constitutes what he calls “a dichotomy between song and dance, which at the conclusion become one and the same expression: a prayer.” The strings—which function simultaneously as collective participant, audience, and echo—for the most part represent a worshiping congregation experiencing what a congregation engaged in true prayer would: a process of spiritual purification.
I. Am kadosh (Holy Folk)
This is an introductory cadenza in which the two soloists make their initial entrances and musical statements. The movement’s title, Am kadosh (Holy Folk), refers to a traditional call to Jews to arise for morning prayers—“to serve the Creator.” It echoes an old common practice among Jews, especially in small towns and villages, or in certain religious neighborhoods in Israel (and previously in Palestine), particularly during the period of the yamim nora’im (Days of Awe)—during the days immediately preceding Rosh Hashana and the “ten days of repentance” between Rosh Hashana and YomKippur—when the s’liḥot liturgy (penitential prayers) is recited at the daily morning services (shaḥarit).The local shammash (beadle) would go from house to house at dawn, knocking on each door to awaken the inhabitants and calling on them to hasten to the synagogue to join the congregation for morning prayers. Thus did observant Jews begin each day in those traditional surroundings, as they still do.
II. Uv'yom hashabbat (The Sabbath Day)
The focus here is on the cantor’s song. Its nusaḥ hat’filla (the prescribed traditional musical formulas and modes for specific prayers, sections of services, and specific days or holydays in Ashkenazi ritual) here is centered around a single principal focal pitch (the reciting tone of the chant), which is given a continuous rumbling sound in the cellos and basses.
III. A gasn nign (A Street Song)
In this movement the clarinet takes the lead in a purely instrumental tune reminiscent of Jewish bands in eastern European towns and villages—klezmorim—who typically played these type of melodies in the street, particularly when welcoming the guests as they arrived to participate in a wedding ceremony.
IV. Adonoi Melekh (God, the King)
This is an emphatic proclamation of God’s sovereignty, expressed by solid support from the entire ensemble. The marked, even exaggerated individuality of the solo parts, and the contrast between them, symbolize the individuality and uniqueness of each worshiper as a participant in the communal prayer. These three phrases affirming God’s eternal sovereignty—past, present, and future—derive from the Bible and occur in this combination throughout the Hebrew liturgy.
V. Celestial Freylekh
The instrumental peak of the entire work is this traditional eastern European Jewish wedding dance of joy, the freylekh. The movement begins with a solo recitative for the clarinet and continues with the orchestra as it becomes a perpetual-motion wedding dance, symbolizing a marriage between heaven and earth—between man and God, and between humanity and its Divine source.
VI. Dinen (Serve!)
The composer describes this concluding movement as “a quietly ecstatic setting” based on a Hassidic melody attached to a piyyut (liturgical poem) recited in the Yom Kippur liturgy and, in some traditions, every Sabbath. This prayer traverses the entire Hebrew alphabet in the acrostic of its strophes, punctuated after each one by the refrain “To You whose life is eternal.” Ben-Amots has employed this melody as an illustration of the way in which the major mode is often reserved in Hebrew liturgy “for the most serene and solemn moments.”