Lament and Prayer marks the end of a series — the other bookend, so to speak — of a group of works motivated by my reaction to war and suffering, to genocide, especially in terms of the Holocaust, and to what we know has been going on in Bosnia.
Upon completing Lament and Prayer, I intend to put these emotional concerns to rest for a while. Ever since my Symphony No. 2 of 1991, which was partly a response to the Gulf War crisis, I've been writing pieces related to war. In fact, I quote a number of these pieces throughout Lament and Prayer. The dedication in the score reads: "In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and the Holocaust."
The image I often had in mind while composing Lament and Prayer was that of a cantor and a congregation. The music proceeds as statement and response in much of the first part, which is very chromatic, rather severe-sounding and intense the prayer is mostly quiet, and spun from a very simple, long line with pulsing harmonies underneath — just the hint of the minimalist elements that occasionally crop up in my music. On the surface it is mostly peaceful, and the last part comes to a resolution, closing this chapter of my work. Things on this globe are even more precarious than when I began this series in 1991. I have to detach and leave the world conflicts out of my music for a while.
—Aaron Jay Kernis