St. Thomas Newsroom

Concert Commissioned by Jay Phillips Center Awarded Arts Tour Minnesota Grant

Nirmala Rajasekar and David Jordan Harris.

“Song of Wonder,” a concert of South Indian and Judeo-Spanish music commissioned by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning and first performed in April 2014 at the University of St. Thomas, has been awarded an Arts Tour Minnesota grant to be performed in four Minnesota locations.

The concert, created by David Jordan Harris and Nirmala Rajasekar, will be performed at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, in The Pause at St. Olaf College, Northfield; 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8, in the Jussi Bjorling Recital Hall at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter; at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 3, 2016, in the Centrum at Concordia College, Moorhead; and at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 5, at the Rochester Civic Theatre.

After premiering at St. Thomas, Song of Wonder was performed in May 2014 at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn., and in Nov. 2014 at the Hindu Temple of Minnesota, Maple Grove.

Inspired by the poetry of a thousand years in their traditions, Harris and Rajasekar designed the concert to probe the many facets of wonder as gateways to an illumined and impassioned life.

Harris and Rajasekar are the lead vocalists in the Song of Wonder ensemble, and Rajasekar also plays the veena (an ancient Indian string instrument) in the concert. Other members of the ensemble are Carnatic percussion master Thanjavur Muruga Boopathi, percussionist Mick LaBriola, and ’ud player David Burk.

Highlights of the concert include excerpts from the oldest extant piece of notated Jewish music; improvisational performances by Rajasekar on the veena in both familiar and rare ragas (melodic soundscapes of Indian music); ancient Tamil Sangam poetry; plaintive Judeo-Spanish and Hebrew chants from Jewish communities in Bosnia, Morocco, and Turkey; and new musical arrangements flowing from the concert’s cross-cultural collaboration.

“We are honored to tour this unique collaboration throughout Minnesota,” said Harris, “to continue to learn from one another and to deepen audiences’ awareness of Sephardic Jewish and South Indian cultures.”

“One of our primary goals,” he added, “is to draw attention to creativity as an avenue for deeper understanding within Minnesota’s increasingly diverse cultural landscape.”

Harris is co-founder and artistic director of the Twin Cities-based Voices of Sepharad. A singer, actor, and dancer, he has studied and performed Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) music in many countries and throughout North America. The interfaith arts special consultant for the Jay Phillips Center, he is also executive director of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council.

Rajasekar is the artistic director of the Naadha Rasa Center of Music in Plymouth, where she teaches the art of South India’s Carnatic music. She made her debut as a solo performer on the seven-string veena at age 13 in Bangalore, India, and has been featured in many world-renowned venues, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, the United Nations’ Symphony Space, and the Rumi International Festival in Konya, Turkey.

Arts Tour Minnesota project grants support touring performances, exhibitions, and other arts activities throughout Minnesota. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

The Jay Phillips Center is a joint enterprise of the University of St. Thomas and St. John’s University, Collegeville.