Having a Jewish poet reading in a cathedral may seem like a contradiction, but Jacqueline Osherow was able to find common ground on Sunday evening — not just with Judaism and Christianity, but with humans in general.

The poetry reading, part of the Madeleine festival at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, was paired with a performance of Morris Rosenzweig's "On the Wings of Wind," played by the Canyonlands New Music Ensemble and sung by Julie Wright-Costa and Joseph Onstott.

Although at the beginning of the evening, Osherow confessed that she hadn't read in a cathedral before, she said that she had spent quite a bit of time in cathedrals while in Italy. The first few poems, therefore, were ones that were inspired by cathedrals.

At once humorous, insightful, inspiring, and human, Osherow's poems tended to mix the every day and the divine in a way that just about everybody can relate. One of the poems in the first set, for example, was written in first person from Moses' perspective in paradise, which smacked of jealousy over David's writing ability.

Following the first reading, the Canyonlands New Music Ensemble performed Rosenzweig's song cycle, which included a poem by Osherow set to music. The composition seemed decent enough, but unfortunately, the acoustics made it so that it wasn't nearly as easy to understand as the poetry.

The main problem is that the composition hinged on details that should have come together with precision and musical intimacy. The decay (amount of time that it takes for a sound to fade) in the Cathedral of the Madeleine is so long, however, that it turned the whole thing into incomprehensible mush.

To make matters worse, the various instruments reacted so differently in the cathedral (for example, higher tones tended to cut through clearly while lower tones tended to sound garbled), that it made all of the instruments sound completely imbalanced and out of musical sync with each other.

The only exception to this was the last poem, "The Journey," which had much longer, lugubrious lines and had time to unfold more clearly. In fact, the somber, restless tone (and subject) almost seemed enhanced by the unique acoustic of the cathedral.

The program ended with another set of poems read by Osherow. Most of the second set consisted of poems inspired by, or somehow involving psalms, which seemed appropriate, since Osherow didn't start incorporating psalms in her poetry until after she had been commissioned to do the song lyric — involving a psalm — for Rosenzweig.

E-MAIL: rcline@desnews.com