Jordi Savall's Jerusalem, subtitled City Of Two Peaces: Heavenly Peace And Earthly Peace, chronicles the struggles for control of the city considered holy by the three Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Performed around the world since 2008, Savall brought together the singers and early music instrumentalists of La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Hesperion XXI, guest artists from Armenia, Greece, Israel, Palestine and Turkey and occasional recorded segments. Saturday's concert was part of the Esplanade's A Tapestry Of Sacred Music festival.
The musicians played on a weird and wonderful collection of instruments, ranging from the shofar (ram's horn) to sackbutt (renaissance trombone), a selection of zithers and medieval harp, viols of varying sizes, drums and bells. The human voice was a core element, with singing and spoken word in languages that were heard in Jerusalem over the millenia.
A stirring fanfare by shofars and anifars (Moorish trumpets) playing from the stage and upper balconies opened the performance. The intensity of sound from the ram's horns and ancient trumpets reverberating through the hall chilled the blood in this account of how Joshua and seven priests blowing their shofars brought down the walls of Jericho, a city just outside Jerusalem.
Next was a set of text, song and music from different traditions prophesying Jerusalem's fate and role for the future. This was followed by sets representing overlapping eras of Jerusalem as a city for Jews, Christians, pilgrims, Arabs and Ottomans, refugees and exiles.
Savall and his band are artists of the highest order, and the music-making was excellent throughout. To pull off this performance through the music of just the Judaic or Christian tradition would have been no mean feat, but Savall programmed Greek text with Aramaic music, Latin text followed by a prayer in Arabic, all tastefully and coherently inter-weaved.
Electronic acoustic reinforcement was necessary, but very well judged, providing the support needed without taking away the immediacy of natural acoustics.
Israeli vocalist Lubna Salame's achingly beautiful lamentations were a stark contrast to Palestinian Mahmud Husein's calm and mellifluous calls to prayer. Equally impressive were La Capella Reial de Catalunya, whose chants and motets represented a very European perspective to the music.
The final chapter, Earthly Peace: A Duty And Hope, sums up Savall's narrative. The same gazhali (poetry set to song) was sung in different languages, then finally sung together like a unified Tower of Babel, underscoring a message that amidst the strife over Jerusalem, there is much the players have in common.
Just as shofars brought down the walls of Jericho, Savall's final fanfare, Against The Barriers Of The Spirit, signalled a call for the walls in present day Jerusalem to be brought down. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but a sentiment the audience seemed to agreed with, judging from the standing ovation at the end of the concert.