Parables of Zion, scored for organ and trumpet, was commissioned by the Fulcrum Point New Music Project. The initial concept for the work was a multi-faceted take on the various connotations of the notion of Zion, a mountain upon which the chosen people live blissfully separate from the sins of the world. The peaceful and hostile associations this cultural image engenders is at the heart of Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel “War of the End of the World”, a work of profound spiritual and emotional depth based on events of one of Brazil’s bloodiest civil wars, the War of Canudos, that took place in the late 19th century. Scenes from the novel became the foundation for the three movements, or rather “Parables” in this composition.
The first, “Scorched”, comes from the climax of the novel where the Republican army, after many attempts, infiltrates the camp of the Councilor, an extremist self-proclaimed prophet who’s immense following has become a threat. The Councilor’s visions for a purist society free from the tyranny of the Republic here turns to the most brutal form of resistance as his Jaguncos, a guerilla fighting force made up of ex-bandits, strings up the bodies of dead Republican soldiers and burns them.
The second, “Canudos”, takes its name from an abandoned hacienda in the Bahia region where the Councilor first led his followers, preaching a message of salvation to Brazil’s poorest and most destitute. This initial, peaceful gathering of souls upon the hill where the Hacienda sits is the proverbial Zion of the novel and eerily contrasts, in retrospect, the horrors of the carnage to come. The final parable, “La Danza Eternidad” is a twisted dance of imagined triumph. In the face of utter annihilation “the Councilor” assures his flocks with promises of eternal salvation as a means of continuing the resistance. His followers not only greet this annihilation, but celebrate it as a confirmation of siding with righteousness in the sight of the Almighty, who will ultimately deliver just rewards. “Parables of Zion” is written for and dedicated to Stephen Burns.