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Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. A reduction written by the composer pared down the orchestral performance forces to organ, one harp, and percussion. Bernstein stated explicitly in his writing that the part for countertenor may be sung by either a countertenor or a boy soprano, but never by a woman. This was to reinforce the liturgical meaning of the passage sung, perhaps to suggest that the 23rd Psalm, a “Psalm of David” from the Hebrew Bible, was to be heard as if sung by the boy David himself.
The text was arranged by Bernstein from the psalms in the original Hebrew. Part 1 uses Psalms 100 and 108, Part 2 uses 2 and 23 and Part 3 uses 131 and 133. The work was commissioned for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival at Chichester Cathedral by the cathedral’s organist, John Birch, and the Dean, Walter Hussey.
However, the world premiere took place in the Philharmonic Hall, New York on July 15, 1965 with the composer conducting, followed by the performance in the Chichester Festival on July 31, conducted by John Birch. They are his two most overtly Jewish works.