World premiere · Niels Rønsholdt · Book of Prayers

"The street is the house of prayer," is one way to describe Book of Prayers, a new work by Niels Rønsholdt world premiering September 7th in Christians Kirke.

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September 7th at 5 pm, Book of Prayers by Niels Rønsholdt will be world premiering, performed by Mogens Dahl Kammerkor and Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen on Golden Days Festival in Christians Kirke. 

Read the Danish version here.

Golden Days Festival is September 6th - 22nd this year. The description of the festival is one, that communicates knowledge, history and culture in a vibrant, engaging and actualizing way. This year, the theme is the year 1989 in remembrance of the fall of the Berlin Wall. "This year, we celebrate 1989, a year that set Europe free," says Svante Lindeburg, head of Golden Days. 

See Golden Days' programme here.

An oratorio from the street

Book of Prayers can be seen as a portrait of the last years of the 80ies and it's dystopia and anger that was replaced by the fall of the Berlin Wall and new hope. Book of Prayers is an oratorio for choir and orchestra, but not in the traditional sense. The work is not based on one narrative but is a paraphrase of the genre oratorios and the word 'orare' - to pray. 

"I take the meaning of the oratorio literally when I look at the word 'orare' - to pray - and the oratorio as a kind of room to pray. The prayer room of the rebellion is the street. On the street, the protests blare as a kind of collective prayer for a better future," Niels Rønsholdt describes. 

In this way, Book of Prayers is ambiguous, as it praises the human devotion in the prayer and exhibits the thought-provoking in praying instead of taking action. 

Protests and traditional church music

Rønsholdt finds inspiration in the prayer as a phenomenon. 

"I am very interested in the prayer as a phenomenon because it inhabits a utopia, a wish for a better future - for the individual or the group. In this way, the prayer can be seen as political. And the other way around, the political protest a kind of prayer - also a utopia - a dream of a change of action for the better," the composer says.

The combination of the street protests and the oratorio as a kind of ecclesiastical drama shares several elements in addition to the composer: the repetition, the collective ritual, the musicalization of the language. 

"In Book of Prayers, the street protests is combined with the classical music tradition of the church. In this way, it is my intention to raise and deconstruction them - to praise the community and on the same time exhibit the mass seduction," Rønsholdt says. 

The work paraphrases the prayer on both a textual and musically level. In the music, the nature of the prayer is examined: the repetition. "The repetition is the strongest trait of character in both music and prayer. In the repetition, the perseverance and the strength in the hope itself, but also the desperation in the distance between what we have, and what we are hoping to get," the composer says.

Descriptions from 1989
The lyrics in Book of Prayers is based upon particular descriptions of the street protests in East Germany in 1989, that let to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The protests were zealously written down and categorized by Stasi agents and assembled in a handwritten book. 

"The lyrics of the work is based on the story that took place on the streets of Leipzig, Dresden, Halle etc. in the fall of 1989. But it is adapted so that the choir represents a community who expresses a mixture of prayer and demands. Does the choir represent us in the audience, or do they ask us about something? Who is the choir addressing?" the composer asks. 

Only the listener's interpretation can determine as Book of Prayers is premiering September 7th in Christians Kirke.