The Dessoff Choirs kicks off its 92nd season at Alice Tully Hall
by April Thibeault for Vocal Area Network
Posted October 15, 2016

Malcolm MerriweatherHailed 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, with soloists and orchestra, opens its 92nd season at Alice Tully Hall. For one night only, Dessoff presents "We Remember" including Mozart’s Requiem and contemporary choral works reflecting on the lives of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and paying tribute to composer Steven Stucky, a champion of new music.

"This season-opening concert embodies Dessoff’s mission of linking the old with the new by exploring this country’s most poignant moments alongside adventurous, contemporary works,” says Malcolm J. Merriweather, Dessoff’s ninth Music Director. Dedicated to presenting traditional works of the choral music canon with pieces by today’s top composers, "We Remember" pairs Franz Beyer’s reorchestration of Mozart’s Requiem (1791) with Steven Stucky’s Take Him, Earth (2012) and Whispers (2002), and the world premiere of the orchestrated version of In Honor of Martin (2016), by composer/organist David Hurd. “This concert is rather auspicious. I am honored to be taking the podium for the first time as Dessoff’s Music Director on what would have been Steven Stucky’s 69th birthday.”

The concert begins with an homage to Steven Stucky (1949-2016), a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of America’s most highly regarded composers. Stucky’s American identity is reflected in his music’s style, subject matter and sense of place. In Take Him, Earth, Stucky commemorated the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination by assembling a group of texts associated with JFK in some way, but that also stand alone as a more general eulogy. For instance, there are a few lines from the early Christian burial hymn that begins “Take him, Earth, for cherishing” — lines that were earlier set to music by Herbert Howells in his classic motet commissioned for Kennedy’s memorial service in 1963. In Whispers, Stucky blends fragments of William Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus and an ethereal setting of Walt Whitman’s poem Whispers of Heavenly Death. According to Stucky, “in both the Whitman and the Byrd, thoughts and images of death are so transmuted by the power of great art that the result is not sadness, but instead a kind of mystical exaltation. This is a blessing that we need more than ever in our own time.”

Dessoff continues its program of remembrance with the world premiere of the orchestrated version of David Hurd’s five-movement work In Honor of Martin, in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. Known for his bold, visceral musical ideas, Hurd (born 1950) is one of the world's most visible and successful African-American classical organists. For more than three decades, he was Professor of Sacred Music at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. He was recently appointed Director of Music and Organist at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Times Square.

The concert concludes with a full-blooded performance of Requiem in D Minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Legend has it that Mozart wrote his requiem mass in premonition of his own death. The Requiem has been performed at the funeral services of Joseph Haydn, Frédéric Chopin and President John F. Kennedy; the bicentenary of Mozart’s death on December 5, 1991; and for the victims of the Siege of Sarajevo in 1994. The last time Dessoff performed the Requiem was 15 years ago in October 2001 under the direction of Kent Tritle, The Dessoff Choirs’s sixth music director, following the September 11th attacks.

About The Dessoff Choirs

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 over-seven-hour work 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.

About Malcolm J. Merriweather

Malcolm J. Merriweather, newly appointed as the ninth Music Director and conductor of the Dessoff Choirs, is presenting his first season with The Dessoff Choirs beginning in September 2016. Conductor, baritone and educator, he is also the current Director of Choirs at Brooklyn College of The City University of New York, Artist in Residence at Union Theological Seminary, and the Music Director of the Voices of Haiti, a 60-member children’s choir in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, funded by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation. Merriweather was previously Associate Choirmaster at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine under Kent Tritle. Recent conducting highlights for Merriweather have included Orff’s Carmina Burana with the choirs and orchestra of the Brooklyn College Conservatory; Handel’s Messiah with the Harvard Club Festival Choir; and the "Oh, Freedom" concert with the West Village Chorale and Orchestra, where he previously served as Artistic Director. A protégé of Kent Tritle, Merriweather holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting from the Manhattan School of Music, and Master of Music degrees in Choral Conducting and in Vocal Performance from the Eastman School of Music, as well as his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from Syracuse University. His professional affiliations include membership in Pi Kappa Lambda, the American Choral Directors Association, the Association for Anglican Musicians and Chorus America.

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