stefan weisman
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"David and Jonathan"
by Bill Zakariasen
The Westsider, June 7, 2001
Did the biblical heroes David and Jonathan really love each other "that" way? What about Damon and Pythias, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, or Will and Grace (sorry, Will and Jack)? The first pair’s relationship has provided fodder for biblical scholars for over two millennia and despite the ranting of fundamentalist Jews whose favorite book of the Pentateuch is Leviticus, bisexuality seemed the norm in the long post-Mosaic era.

During David’s time, most Israelites were soldiers first and dogmatists second and, like their contemporaries in Greece, were encouraged to love and defend their soldier friends in ways not exactly platonic, as much as their wives. One American-Jewish composer, 30-year-old Stefan Weisman, subscribes to that thesis, as demonstrated last Tuesday in Symphony Space, where the Gay Gotham Chorus and the Cosmopolitan Symphony Orchestra under Jonathan Babcock gave the world premiere of his cantata David and Jonathan as part of their Spring Rhapsody concert.

'The text of David and Jonathan, adapted from the Old Testament by Meg Smith, is provocative (for the record, she’s straight and Episcopalian) and so its Weisman’s beautiful score. It’s initially surprising that the composer resists the temptation to illustrate the violent aspect of the story (e.g. Saul’s attempt to murder David, the fatal battle of Gilboa) in sound, and instead the whole 25-minute cantata is a model of notable refinement, even during the most famous passage in Samuel II ("Your love for me was more wonderful than the love of a woman.") there is no breast-beating.

Weisman obviously views the events as mainly a love story, not an epic. The score is consistently engrossing, pleasingly tonal with dissonance attractively placed at crucial points (the adventurous choral writing is particularly ear-catching), and well worth hearing again.

Performance-wise, the varied program all evening was rewarding. The Gay Gotham Chorus is smaller than its more celebrated local counterpart (The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus), but it’s especially impressive for its attention to balance and subtle variations in dynamics. The incidental soloists and the Cosmopolitan players likewise did well. A special highlight of the evening was the splendid rendition of the Brahms Alto Rhapsody, with the Met mezzo Stephanie Blythe as soloist. Blythe’s huge, immaculately focused voice and formidable personality were, again, rare pleasures – in a period celebrating too many vocal bantamweights, she’s something else.

Stefan Weisman DJ1

Stefan Weisman DJ2

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