ONXA is scored for mezzo-soprano, cello, string quartet, and double bass. It is conceived to be followed without pause by a quotation of the Pie Jesu from Duruflé’s Requiem.ONXA This work is a personal interpretation of the biblical episode (Genesis 22) in which Abraham, in order to prove his faith, is asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac. He loads the wood for the burnt offering onto his son’s back and takes him up to the mountain. His hand, armed with a knife, is held back at the last moment by an angel, thus avoiding the slaughter. For his unquestioning submission and his fear of God, Abraham is rewarded by the promise of uncounted descendants. The event is recalled in the Offertory, a part of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Mass.
In ONXA, things are a bit more ambiguous. A mysterious scream triggers the suspension of the sacrifice. Is this intervention divine or human? By God or by Sarah, Isaac’s mother? ONXA ends with the long echo of this scream, and with a feeling of hesitation. The echo lasts for 2000 years, and, in a powerful ellipsis, that hesitation resolves at the foot of the cross. Christ, who also carried the wood for his sacrifice, suffers his death and thus fulfills his destiny initiated 2000 years before. The echo of the original scream metamorphoses into the powerless sorrow of Mary—the mother—and leads us into the Pie Jesu by Duruflé. The scream can still be heard…the sorrow still felt.
I originally did not want any actual words to be sung—preferring wordless vocalization. But very soon I felt the need for articulation and for consonants. In order to observe my desire to remain timeless and universal, and after experimenting with a few exotic languages, I decided to use an unfamiliar, invented language, Silarg. I wrote the somewhat enigmatic text in French and had it translated into Silarg by its inventor, Jean Pierre Mallaroni. Silarg has the quality of an ancient language as well as a futuristic one—offering beautiful sound colors and consonants and echoing many of the ancient languages I had considered.
The moment depicted in ONXA—as short as a flash of lightning—captured my imagination. I was fascinated by this gesture, interrupted a fraction of a second before the knife touched the throat, and finally accomplished two millennia later. Time needed to be suspended and stretched—quite a challenge for a composer. This is the core idea of my work.
ONXA(Silarg for “look of astonishment”) was commissioned by the organization Que l’Esprit Vive, whose only requirement was that I write a piece that would have some connection to the offering.