Dessoff presents Lang's the little match girl passion
by April Thibeault for Vocal Area Network
Posted March 5, 2018

David LangHailed as "one of the great amateur choruses of our time" (New York Today) for its "full-bodied sound and suppleness," (The New York Times) The Dessoff Choirs continues its 93rd season with a concert at 4:00 PM on March 11, 2018 at downtown’s Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, 273 Mott Street. The highlight of the program is the little match girl passion, the allegorical choral reenactment of the Passion by composer David Lang (b.1957).

Lang won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for music for the little match girl passion, a meditation on human suffering based on Hans Christian Andersen's story The Little Match Girl. Andersen's Dickensian tale is of a little girl who freezes to death on the street on New Year's eve after failing to sell any matches to earn money for her family. “What drew me to The Little Match Girl is that the strength of the story lies not in its plot but in the fact that the horror and the beauty are constantly suffused with their opposites,” explains Lang. “Andersen tells this story as a kind of parable, drawing a religious and moral equivalency between the suffering of the poor girl and the suffering of Jesus.”
Interwoven with texts by Picander (the librettist of Bach's St. Matthew Passion) and the Gospel of Matthew itself, Lang’s delicate, minimalist score evokes passion through stasis, repetition and the unexpected combination of percussion instruments with voices. Dessoff’s version includes full choir with four soloists and guest percussionist Maria Finkelmeier. “People who like the sound of straight-toned voices singing intricate counterpoint at close intervals will appreciate this piece,” says Malcolm J. Merriweather, ninth music director and conductor of The Dessoff Choirs.

The program continues with the fourth Dessoff installment of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six motets, Komm Jesu, komm BWV 229. And as part of its season-long celebration of the centenary of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), the choir honors Bernstein’s rich legacy by performing his Chichester Psalms.

The Dessoff Choirs, one of the leading choruses in New York City, is an independent chorus with an established reputation for pioneering performances of choral works from the Renaissance era through the 21st century. Since its founding in 1924, Dessoff’s mission is to enrich the lives of its audiences and members through the performance of choral music. Its concerts, professional collaborations, community outreach, and educational initiatives are dedicated to stimulating public interest in and appreciation of choral music as an art form that enhances the culture and life of our times.

With repertoire ranging over a wide variety of eras and styles, Dessoff’s musical acumen and flexibility has been recognized with invitations from major orchestras for oratorios and orchestral works. Past performances include Britten’s War Requiem and Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with Lorin Maazel in his final performances as music director with the New York Philharmonic. Over the course of its 92-year history, Dessoff has presented numerous world premieres, including pieces by Virgil Thomson, George Perle, Paul Moravec and Ricky Ian Gordon, as well as the first American performance in nearly 100 years of Montemezzi’s opera La Nave with Teatro Grattacielo; and the American premieres of Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 5 and Sir John Tavener’s all-night vigil, The Veil of the Temple. Dessoff’s recent discography includes Reflections, featuring music by Convery, Corigliano, Moravec and Rorem; and Glories on Glories, a collection of American song featuring composers ranging from Billings to Ives. Please visit dessoff.org for more information.

In addition to his duties as music director of The Dessoff Choirs, Malcolm J. Merriweather is an Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, where he is Director of Choral Studies and Voice Department Coordinator. He is Artist-in-Residence at Union Theological Seminary and Artistic Director of Voices of Haiti, a 60-member children’s choir in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, operated by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation. Merriweather is also in demand as a baritone soloist, often performing throughout the eastern United States. This past summer, Merriweather led Voices of Haiti in performances with Andrea Bocelli at Teatro del Silenzio in Lajatico, Italy and for Pope Francis at the Vatican. Future conducting highlights of the 2017-18 season include Handel’s Messiah at Brooklyn College and the Harvard Club of New York; and Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (Concert Selections) and Honegger’s King David at Brooklyn College. Recent conducting highlights have included Mozart’s Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Orff’s Carmina Burana.

Merriweather holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from the studio of Kent Tritle at the Manhattan School of Music, where his doctoral dissertation, Now I Walk in Beauty, Gregg Smith: A Biography and Complete Works Catalog, constituted the first complete list of Mr. Smith's works. He received Master of Music degrees in Choral Conducting and in Vocal Performance from the studio of Rita Shane at the Eastman School of Music, as well as a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from Syracuse University, summa cum laude. Merriweather’s professional affiliations include membership in Pi Kappa Lambda, the American Choral Directors Association and Chorus America, and he sits on the Board of Directors of the New York Choral Consortium. Please visit malcolmjmerriweather.com for more information. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @maestroweather.

April Thibeault is the founder and president of AMT Public Relations.