The trio for clarinet, viola, and piano, Yedid Nefesh (“Beloved of my soul”), takes its title from a poem (see translation below) by Eliezer Azikri, a mystical Jewish poet of the 16th century. The poem, traditionally used at the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, expresses the relation between the individual and the divine as one of longing and of delight, using the imagery of a lover as its prime metaphor. The poem has been set to many different melodies; this piece is based on a beautiful and delicate Sephardic melody, one that has remained in my mind for many years as a melody that I wanted to use in a composition.
The trio is essentially a set of variations/transformations on the Yedid Nefesh melody, exploring its different moods and harmonies. The 25-minute piece is in five movements (slow-fast-slow-fast-slow), and is played without pause. The first movement introduces and then presents several variations on the melody; the second and fourth movements, scherzo-like, are exuberant celebrations of that side of its character; and the third and the final, fifth movement are gentle, still, meditations. In addition to the principal melody, there is one other prominent melody, first introduced by the viola in the third movement–a “longing” theme, more chromatic than the Yedid Nefesh theme, to emphasize the yearning nature of much of the poem.
This trio was written for my friend, violist Maria Lambros, and the Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival (since renamed Chesapeake Chamber Music). We decided on the ensemble of clarinet, viola and piano—a combination that we both love, and that seemed fitting for the nature of the composition. The piece received its premiere at the Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival on June 8, 2007, played by Lawrie Bloom, Dov Scheindlin, and Diane Walsh. The piece has been subsequently performed in Portland, Chicago, Baltimore and New York City, and has been recorded on the album Sea of Reeds, performed by Vasko Dukovski, Maria Lambros, and Alexandra Joan.