"Belshazzar's Feast," the major work on the BSO programs honoring the 50th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, is based on an event akin to the story behind Shulamit Ran's tone poem -- but that took place more than 2,000 years ago.
Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar, emperor of Babylon, who conquered the Hebrew state of Canaan in 586 B.C., sacked the temple in Jerusalem and took the Jews as slaves back to his city-state. From this event comes the most heart-wrenching of the Psalms, "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept."
At Belshazzar's feast, according to the fifth chapter of Daniel, a great hand wrote in an unknown script on the wall of the king's banquet room.
When none of Belshazzar's wise men could read the letters, the prophet Daniel was summoned and recognized them as Hebrew. They said: "Mene, mene, tekel upharsin," which he freely translated as "God has numbered thy kingdom and declared it at an end. Thou hast been weighed in the balance and found wanting."
That night, according to the Bible, the empire was invaded by the Medes and Persians under Darius, and Belshazzar was deposed and slain. Sir William Walton wrote this cantata in 1931, to a text based on the Bible and recast by the poet Osbert Sitwell.
Baritone Mark Rucker will sing the narrator's role in the BSO performances, backed by the BSO Chorus.
Chorus director Edward Polochick has called the cantata "the greatest work of choral music of the 20th century."
Pub Date: 5/17/98