In 2014, the Boston string ensemble A Far Cry released “Dreams and Prayers,” an album that brought together works with spiritual underpinnings by four composers from different eras, countries and religious backgrounds.

At a glance, it seemed a motley assembly, with music from Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century German abbess; Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, a Turkish-born composer fascinated with Sufi mysticism; Osvaldo Golijov, a Jewish Argentinian whose piece was inspired by the writings of Isaac the Blind, a 13th century French Kabbalist; and Beethoven, represented by the prayerful central movement of one of his final works.

But the program’s motleyness – call it diversity – is part of the point. These works share an uncommon ability to reach through the fabric of daily life and touch a mystical current that transcends religious dogma. They make as moving a sequence of pieces as you will find.

A Far Cry presented its “Dreams and Prayers” program Tuesday evening at Merrill Auditorium, and the timing could not have been better. A week after the end of the most fractious election season in living memory – one that put a spotlight on the racism, religious intolerance and other ugly currents still lurking within our society – the concert was offered as a reminder of what binds us together.

You did not have to look for this message between the lines. Aimée M. Petrin, executive director of Portland Ovations, which presented the concert as part of its Seeking Resonance series, added a page to the program book in which she quoted versions of the “Golden Rule” from across the religious spectrum.

A violinist from A Far Cry, introducing the program briefly from the stage, spoke about the importance of listening to “the voice of someone different from you.” And clarinetist David Krakauer, the ensemble’s guest soloist, introduced an encore – a wild, soulful klezmer dance – by likening today’s refugees to his grandparents, who fled persecution in Poland and found refuge in America.

The music, and A Far Cry’s consistently passionate, fluid performances, expanded eloquently on those points. The group performed its own string arrangement of Hildegard’s “O Ignis Spiritus Paracliti” – a prayer with lines that include “You are holy, anointing those perilously broken; You are holy, cleansing foul wounds” – on a darkened stage, and if the instrumental version sacrificed the directness of the chanted original, Hildegard’s gracefully winding melody, set over a viola drone, projected its essential spirit nonetheless.

Golijov’s “Songs and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994) was composed for string quartet and clarinet, but the composer also made a string orchestra arrangement that A Far Cry played with Krakauer, the clarinetist (who also played on the recording, and whose other recordings include inventive amalgams of klezmer with jazz and other musical styles). Krakauer was in his astonishingly virtuosic, high-energy element here.

Melodies borrowed from Jewish prayers are woven through the work’s three movements, as are wailing, high-energy clarinet figures, couched in the bent tones and vocal inflections of the klezmer style. But the work is not a pastiche: Golijov’s compositional voice, alternately astringent, calmly meditative and explosive, is gripping and original. You don’t learn much about Isaac the Blind and his philosophy, but it’s hard not to feel drawn into a timeless universe in which suffering, devotion and ecstatic celebration are intertwined.

Sanlikol’s “Vecd,” for strings, is about devotional rapture as well, specifically that of Sufi ceremonies, from which some of its rhythms are drawn (and expanded upon). Sanlikol set boundaries here, eschewing the modal, microtonal qualities of traditional Islamic music in favor of a purely Western scale. The result is elegant but restrained, with Sanlikol’s rhythmic explorations fitting snugly within a conventional, if irresistibly sumptuous, neo-Romantic Western orchestral fabric, from which glimpses of euphoric Sufi whirling emerge only in the work’s final pages.

A Far Cry closed its program with its own inventive expansion of the “Heiliger Dankgesang” movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 (Op. 132), the composer’s sublime prayer of thanksgiving after a long illness. As in the Golijov, you didn’t miss the spareness of the original quartet scoring; in fact, the playing had a remarkably introspective, otherworldly quality that captured the depth of Beethoven’s meditation and linked it to Hildegard’s, Golijov’s and Sanlikol’s.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

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Twitter: kozinn

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