Britten by Dessoff: an hour of great music
by Ruth Nolan for Vocal Area Network
Posted November 11, 2013

Dessoff and Chris ShepardOn Thursday, November 14 at 7:00 PM, The Dessoff Choirs will be presenting "Dessoff Express: A Britten Century," a concert celebration of Benjamin Britten's music to honor the 100th anniversary of his birth. Leading the renowned group at Saint Peter's Church in midtown Manhattan will be Christopher Shepard, Music Director. Tickets are $25 general admission; $15 seniors/students; children under 12 free.

Too much going on right now? Too many friends to see and not enough time? Overwhelmed by work? This "Express" concert has been programmed just for you; an hour of fine music and then you are off to have dinner with friends, start your very early holiday shopping, or – shudder -- go back to the office.

"Dessoff Express: A Britten Century" kicks off the group's 2013-14 Midwinter Festival season with a mixed-choir version of A Ceremony of Carols, arranged by Julius Harrison in response to the great success of the original for treble voices; the Hymn to Saint Cecilia, rewritten by Britten from memory during a WWII Atlantic crossing after U.S. Customs had confiscated the original manuscript for fear it was a code; and the Choral Dances from the opera Gloriana, Britten's contribution to the festivities 60 years ago surrounding the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Fittingly, the title of Dessoff's Midwinter Festival (January 12-March 9, 2014) is "Second Life," with a focus on familiar works in unfamiliar versions. According to Dessoff's music director Christopher Shepard, who will conduct all the Festival events, "There are many reasons why composers create different versions of the same work. Often, it's because the work is so successful that a new version will allow more ensembles to perform it and more people to hear it. Other times, sections are excerpted from larger works, particularly ones that are expensive to perform. In other cases, publishers cajole composers—or commission others—to create a new version that will extend the life of the original. In this year's Midwinter Festival, we'll examine a wide range of 'second-life' compositions, including enchanting examples from four great Bs: Bach, Brahms, Britten and Bernstein."

As a special benefit to the Express audience, the group will offer a brief singing demonstration before A Ceremony of Carols, comparing the original treble version with the SATB version being performed.

To purchase tickets to "Dessoff Express: A Britten Century" and the rest of the season, please visit www.dessoff.org or call 212-831-8224.


The Dessoff Choirs is one of New York City's leading choruses. Founded in 1924 by Margarete Dessoff, and now led by music director Christopher Shepard, the group has a reputation for pioneering performances of choral works from the pre-Baroque era through the 21st century. The plural “s” in Choirs connotes the group's 65-voice core, plus the larger Symphonic Choir assembled for orchestral engagements and a smaller Chamber Choir selected for more intimate settings.

Dessoff produces its own concert series each year and collaborates frequently with local and visiting ensembles. In recent seasons, these engagements have ranged from Lorin Maazel's final performances as music director of the New York Philharmonic to screenings of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers with live orchestra at Radio City Music Hall to an East Coast tour with British rock star Ray Davies, former front man of The Kinks.

Lately, collaborations have been taking Dessoff farther from home. In June, the choir participated in a London concert marking the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. One year earlier, the group traveled to Mexico City at the invitation of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, for two performances of Bach's Mass in B Minor.

Ruth Nolan is part of the Marketing Committee for The Dessoff Choirs.