The Symphony in A-flat is based on the orchestral score of the oratorio Souls On Fire. Soon after the premiere of Souls On Fire in December of 1998, a number of people started asking about the possibility of a recording of just the orchestral music, as a companion to the full oratorio. Because of the fullness of the original score, very little additional orchestration was needed to produce a satisfying instrumental version. And so this recording was made in February, 1999 as part of the same session at which the full Souls On Fire oratorio was also recorded.
While the Symphony in A-flat is not in itself programmatic, it is not possible to appreciate its origins without some understanding of the piece from which it is derived. The oratorio Souls On Fire is based on the book of the same name by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. It examines the lives of seven of the more influential leaders of the Chassidic movement of eastern European Judaism in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Each of the seven movements is devoted to one leader, called a "rebbe". Many of the musical effects are therefore used to illustrate aspects of the lives and influences of the seven rebbes.
The repeating 16th note figure underneath the rest of the score in the first movement is the sound of the cattle cars heading toward Auschwitz during World War II while their occupants, followers of the teachings of Israel Baal Shem Tov, are able to obey the Psalms and "serve the Lord with gladness", even in such a place as that.
The trumpet fanfare at the beginning of the 5th Movement echoes the opulence of the court of Rebbe Israel of Rizhin, while the same fanfare at the end of the movement signals the hope of Messianic redemption.