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Music Text

Torah, the Koran (Arabic) and documentary material


vocal quartet: 2lyrS,T,Bar

2woodwind(fl,ob,corA,cl,bcl)-perc(4):vib/marimba/BD/kick drums/claves-3kbd(pft,sampler,computer kbd)-strings(


Abbreviations (PDF)


Boosey & Hawkes (Hendon Music)

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.


World Premiere
Messepalast, Vienna
Beryl Korot, video / Carey Perloff, director
Conductor: Paul Hillier
Company: Steve Reich Ensemble

Time and Place

Act I: West Jerusalem/Hebron, May/June 1989; Act II: East Jerusalem/Hebron, June 1989 and June 1991; Act III: New York/Austin, April/May 1992


In the Bible, Abraham buys a cave from Ephron the Hittite as a burial place for his wife Sarah. The Cave of the Patriarchs, as it has come to be known, became the final resting place not only for Sarah, but for Abraham and their descendants as well. In Jewish mystical sources the cave is also a passageway back to the Garden of Eden. It is said that Adam and Eve are buried there.

The cave is of great religious significance for Moslems as well. While the Jews are descendants of Abraham and Sarah throught their son Isaac, the Moslems trace their lineage to Abraham through his son Ishmael born to Hagar, Sarah's handmaid.

Today the cave, located in the largely Arab town of Hebron, in the West Bank, is completely built over and inaccessible. The ancient structures built above it reveal a long history of conflicting claims. One discovers not only the wall Herod erected around the cave, but also the remains of a Byzantine church, and finally the mosque built in the 12th century which has dominated the site ever since. Since 1967 the mosque built above the cave remains under Moslem jurisdiction, while the Israeli army maintains a presence at the site. Though tensions run particularly high, the site remains unique as the only place on earth where Jews and Moslems both worship.

The Cave is in three acts. In each act we asked the same basic questions to a different group of people. The basic five questions were: Who for you is Abraham? Who for you is Sarah? Who for you is Hagar? Who for you is Ishmael? Who for you is Isaac? In the first act we asked Israelis, in the second we asked Palestinians, and in the third we asked Americans.

Act 1:
West Jerusalem/Hebron
May/June 1989
64 minutes

Short Pause

Act 2:
East Jerusalem/Hebron
June 1989 and June 1991
40 minutes


Act 3:
New York/Austin
April/May 1992
32 minutes



Recommended Recording

Cheryl Bensman, Marion Beckenstein, James Bassi, Hugo Munday, Leslie Scott, Al Hunt, Elizabeth Lim, Todd Reynolds, Scott Rawls, Jeanne Leblanc, Nurit Tilles, Edmund Niemann, Philip Bush, Bob Becker, Russell Hartenberger, Garry Kvistad, Thad Wheeler, conducted by Paul Hillier
Nonesuch 7559793272

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