Cecilia Chorus offers Ethel Smyth's The Prison
by Jeffrey James for Vocal Area Network
Posted April 30, 2018

Ethel SmythThe Cecilia Chorus of New York, Mark Shapiro, Music Director, will present the New York premiere and the North American co-premiere of Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Prison (Blachly edition) along with Mozart’s Requiem (Levin completion) on Friday, May 11 at 8:00 PM at Carnegie Hall. The concert will be performed by soloists, chorus and full orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Shapiro. This performance of The Prison by The Cecilia Chorus is the second phase of a joint initiative; the Johnstown Symphony performed The Prison on April 7.

The Prison (1930) is Dame Ethel Smyth’s (1858-1944) last large-scale work, for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra. Never before heard in the U.S. in its full orchestral setting, it uses an impassioned text created for the composer by her great soulmate Harry Brewster. Written in a deeply personal and impeccably controlled musical voice, The Prison calls out the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves, deploring the vanity that imprisons us, and urges us to grasp the searing truth that can be our only sure path to immortality. See a mini-documentary about The Prison and The Cecilia Chorus of New York’s performance at www.youtube.com and read more about Dame Ethel Smyth here and here.

Music Director Shaprio has written, “Banners and music! With this clarion invocation, Dame Ethel Smyth, at the close of her composing career, in the autumn of her extraordinary life, calls out a rapturous, poignant farewell. The Prison is an astonishing work: incontrovertibly – I will brook no disagreement on this – a masterpiece. Like all great art, The Prison is at once individual and sweepingly universal. Its capacious humanity derives not only from its beautiful music but also its searchingly profound text, tailor-made for Dame Ethel years earlier by her soulmate H. B. Brewster. Among the things we contradictorily seek in life: to be known and cherished for who we are; to win adulation and fortune, never mind the cost to our true selves. Henry (Harry) Brewster understood this human conundrum in general, and in particular how Dame Ethel managed it." Read his complete notes here.

You can also read notes by renowned Smyth scholar Liz Wood here.

Mozart’s Requiem, written as he lay dying, will close the Cecilia Chorus’s 2017-18 season. Robert Levin’s elegant completion offers a distinctively graceful alternative to other versions. About the program, Music Director Shapiro observes, “Composers, like any of us, engage in soul-searching later in life. An artist’s ‘late style’ typically entails both a summing up and a concentrated seeking that are charged with the wisdom and perspective earned through a lifetime of art-making. All of us are deepened — our lives become fuller and more joyful — when we are confronted with the inevitability of our own mortality and that of those we love. Artists especially can invoke and communicate this deepening, and lead us to experience it ourselves in a beautiful, exhilarating way.”

Soloists for the performance of The Prison will be Chelsea Shepherd, soprano, and Tobias Greenhalgh, baritone, in his Carnegie Hall debut. Soloists for the performance of Mozart’s Requiem will be Danielle Beckvermit, soprano, Kathleen Reveille, mezzo-soprano, John Noh, tenor, and Paul Whelan, bass. All four soloists will be making their Carnegie Hall main stage debuts.

Single tickets range from $25 to $85, and are available online at www.carnegiehall.org, by calling CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800 or by visiting the box office at 57th Street and 7th Avenue. For more information about this concert, visit ceciliachorusny.org/#/requiemtheprison/ or call 646-638-2535.

Jeffrey James heads Jeffrey James Arts Consulting.