The Voice of Isaac

An Oratorio for Chorus, Soloists, and Chamber Orchestra | 2003 (rev. 2015) | 30 min
Libretto by the Composer
Commissioned by PALS Children's Chorus

Clear in design and Brittenesque in texture … ingeniously scored … [with] an almost unbearable poignancy.
The Boston Globe

Versions

  • Chorus and Chamber Orchestra
    Narrator, treble solo (Isaac), baritone solo (Abraham), SATB chorus, SSA ensemble, and orchestra (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, percussion [Chinese cymbal, medium bass drum, large bass drum, tubular bells, vibraphone, marimba], piano, and strings).* Available from Edition Peters.
  • Children's Chorus and Chamber Orchestra
    Narrator, treble solo (Isaac), baritone solo (Abraham), SSA children's chorus, and orchestra (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, percussion [Chinese cymbal, medium bass drum, large bass drum, tubular bells, vibraphone, marimba], piano, and strings).* Available from Edition Peters
  • Solo Voices, String Quartet, and Piano
    Baritone solo, SAT voices, string quartet, and piano. Commissioned by Words & Music

*Also available in performing edition with solo piano reduction.

Select Performances

  • Coro Allegro and Boston City Singers; David Kravitz, baritone; Samuel Higgins, boy soprano; David Hodgkins, conductor.  Sanders Theatre; Cambridge, MA; March 2016. (Premiere of revised SATB version)
  • Sarah Pelletier, soprano; Krista River, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Anderson, tenor; Brian Church, baritione; Linda Osborn, piano. Temple Emunah Sehihot Program, Lexington, MA; September 2012.
  •  Words&Music; St. Francis Episcopal Church; The American Composer II; Great Falls, VA; May 2012.
  • Boston Arts Academy Concert Choir and members of Emmanuel Music and Lorelei Ensemble; Joshua Taylor, baritone; Beth Willer, conductor. Roland Hayes School of Music Auditorium; Boston, MA; May 2010.
  • Libella Quartet and Asako Shibata, piano. St. Botolph Club, Club Night Concert Series; Boston, MA; April 2006.
  • Libella Quartet and Anny Cheng, piano. Pickman Hall, Longy School of Music, Faculty Artist Concert; Cambridge, MA; November 2005.
  • PALS Children's Chorus; Robert Honeysucker, baritone; Johanna Hill Simpson, conductor. Jordan Hall; Boston, MA; March 2003. (Premiere)

Listen (Excerpts)

Program Note

I am eight maybe nine years old, kids flicking spitballs at each other in Saturday School at Temple Shalom in Chicago; an adult up in front of class telling us the story of Abraham and Isaac, how God tests Abraham with the sacrifice of Isaac: and I am confused, troubled, worried.

What about Isaac? I wonder in my head, but am too angry to give voice to my thoughts. How can this adult teacher relate this horrible trauma of Isaac’s near death at his own parent’s hands to a room full of young children and so blatantly gloss over the child’s view of the story? Perhaps more disturbing, though, is that I am not really surprised. How often, in all too many families we know (perhaps even our own), are children sacrificed to the narcissistic needs and destructive impulses of their own parents, and how consistently do the adults around them (not just their parents), either for shame or ignorance, look in another direction, a child’s story left untold or consciously denied.

Back in religious school I wished there could have been someone in that classroom to stand up and give voice to Isaac. Instead we fidgeted uncomfortably at our desks and waited embarrassed (at our own silence? or at our teacher’s overly confident voice?) until the bell rang for the end of class.

Last spring while listening to the children of PALS sing I was reminded of the echo of my own young voice from another time when I was a kid, a littler human being: the sound of that voice has never completely left me, even as an adult—its vulnerability, its awkward truthfulness, its wonder at all that is good and bad in the world. And I remembered that day when I had wished someone could have stood up and given voice to Isaac.

It was also last spring when what seemed an endless wave of child abuse allegations broke forth from behind a wall of silence in the Church, while at the same time young adolescents were blowing themselves up in the Middle East—children being sacrificed, quite literally, to an adult god. And I thought perhaps now is a good time to listen to the voices of children, to retell their (our) stories, with the hope of hearing the distant echoes of our own histories and futures.

— Howard Frazin (2003)

Originally The Voice of Isaac featured a children's choir and a collection of child soloists together singing the role of Isaac.  In this new version, Isaac is sung by an adult choir of women's and men's voices in combination with a treble choir as well as a treble soloist [that can be sung by either children or adults with similar dramatic effect].  These expanded forces have allowed me to more fully realize the various expressive layers of vulnerability at the heart of Isaac's story.

– Howard Frazin (2015 addendum for SATB version)