The shofar blasts and then pierces.
It goes inside, cleanses.
There is but one mitzvah - a commandment of Jewish law - for the Jewish New Year: Hear the sound of the shofar.
Rosh Hashanah was in September, but the sounds of the shofar will be heard Tuesday as the USC Symphony Orchestra performs Meira Warshauer's composition, "Tekeeyah (a call)."
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The concerto is the first written for a shofar and trombone soloist with an orchestra, Warshauer said. Israeli trombonist Haim Avitsur will be the soloist on both instruments.
The shofar is an instrument made of an animal's horn, such as a sheep or ram. Avitsur, a trombone professor at West Chester University School of Music (Pa.) and at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, N.Y., will play a shofar made from an antelope's horn.
Actually, one does not play the shofar; one blows the shofar.
The hollowed-out horn, which sounds not unlike a muzzled brass instrument, has a very specific purpose. The call of the shofar is to lead followers.
"It's returning to the essence," Warshauer said. "It's clearing away all the garbage that gets in the way, clearing away all the filters that we build up to protect ourselves from life.
"We have so many filters that we don't even know who we are anymore."
Warshauer, the Nancy A. Smith Distinguished Visitor in Residence at Coastal Carolina University, has dedicated much of her work to Jewish themes and universal messages.
But the shofar concerto is a unique task. Each shofar is different in size and sound, the curvature of the horn eliciting distinctive notes. The tones and colors aren't predictable like, say, a trombone. And sometimes, depending on the air given, a shofar can be a cantankerous instrument.
Warshauer's concerto was written specifically for Avitsur's shofar.
"I just hope God is watching out for us because nothing can happen to the shofar we're using," she said.
The shofar can reach a few specific notes, while others have a nebulous affect. On a recent visit to Warshauer's home office, she played a snippet of the work. In one section, the shofar's call widens as if trying to expand across a large area as the strings, perhaps performing as wind gusts, rest underneath the shofar's healing notes.
An opening segment of "Tekeeyah" will shock and engage. As Avitsur softly blows the shofar to create a whistling-whisper sound, the orchestra members will mimic with their mouths. It will remind concertgoers of brush-tipped drumsticks being swirled on a snare head.
"I wanted to get some movement so that you can have a feeling of something happening without it being precise pitches," Warshauer said.
Tuesday's performance won't be the debut of "Tekeeyah." The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra premiered the piece in October, and The Brevard Philharmonic will play it today.
Donald Portnoy, the conductor and music director of the USC Symphony, will also lead the Brevard Philharmonic. Portnoy, who conducts international orchestras, was not familiar with the shofar before working with Warshauer.
"I've never heard of a shofar, but we'll see how it works," he said. "You have to give this music a chance."
Portnoy said concertgoers should look at the shofar concerto like choosing something different from a familiar restaurant's menu. Also on Tuesday's program: Schubert and Tchaikovsky. "Tekeeyah" will stick out.
"It's totally different," Portnoy said. "Take a listen to contemporary music, and I'll give you a couple of desserts with it."
To feel the shofar's blast, hearts - tastes and opinions, too - must be open.
"The job of the shofar is to wake you up," Warshauer said. "It's reconnecting with the bedrock, with the soul."
IF YOU GO
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Koger Center, 1051 Greene St.
TICKETS: $8 to $25
INFORMATION: (803) 251-2222
Warshauer, "Tekeeyah (a call)"
Berlioz, "Roman Carnival, op. 9"
Schubert, "Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759," Unfinished
Tchaikovsky, "Marche Slav, op. 31"