"Choral Juxtaposition": Dessoff's intriguing reworking of music
by Ruth G. Nolan for Vocal Area Network
Posted February 4, 2014

Dessoff Second LifeSome pieces of music are so good you want to hear them again and again. But what if you could hear them through different ears each time? You can have that opportunity at "Choral Juxtaposition," presented by The Dessoff Choirs. This fascinating program will give listeners a chance to hear works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Lee Hoiby more than once: in their original versions and as revisited for different musical forces. Also on the program are beloved pieces by Gustav Mahler and Leonard Bernstein that take on new life in imaginative re-arrangements.

The concert will be conducted by Dessoff’s prolific music director, Christopher Shepard, and features tenor Matthew Anderson, baritone Malcolm J. Merriweather, percussionist Ian Sullivan and Dessoff's longtime accompanist, Steven Ryan. "Choral Juxtaposition" will be performed on Saturday, February 8 at 8:00 PM at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 88th Street and Lexington Avenue, Manhattan. It is part of Dessoff's annual Midwinter Festival, this year titled Second Life and devoted to familiar works in unexpected versions.

The first half of the program begins with Ralph Vaughan Williams's beautiful setting of Shakespeare's text Orpheus with his Lute, heard three ways: first in its original folk-like version for tenor and piano, and then in arrangements for women's voices and full chorus, giving the piece strikingly different musical identities.

Next is Gustav Mahler's ethereal Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (“I am lost to the world”), a setting of a poem by Friedrich Rückert, in which death is accepted and transcended. The piece was originally scored for orchestra and baritone, and on this occasion the piano version, made by the composer himself, will be followed by an unaccompanied, otherworldly re-imagining for 16 individual SATB voice parts, created in 1983 by Clytus Gottwald.

Closing the first half of the program is a much more recent work, the heartbreaking Last Letter Home by Lee Hoiby. The text is a letter from an American soldier in Iraq, to be opened only after his death, which unfortunately took place during that conflict. The piece will be performed both in its original version for men's chorus and in the composer's poignant arrangement for solo tenor.

Leonard Bernstein’s high-spirited Latin/English/Hebrew musical theater piece Mass takes up the second half of the program. Mass was created as an unconventional theatrical experience for the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971, and with lyrics by Bernstein and Godspell writer Stephen Schwartz, it became a modern commentary on faith during a time of war. For this concert, Dessoff will perform a recent authorized edition by Doreen Rao for chorus, tenor, two flutes, percussion and piano. In Rao's thrilling new arrangement of familiar solos and chorus selections, listeners will recognize the music, with all its sweetness and raucousness, as classic Bernstein.

"Choral Juxtaposition" is the next event in Dessoff's 2014 Midwinter Festival, Second Life. On March 9 at Symphony Space, the final concert in the Festival, "Brahms the Revisionist," will feature the Brahms Requiem (four-hand accompaniment) and the powerful, rarely-heard Sonata for Two Pianos, Op. 34b, forerunner of the majestic F Minor Piano Quintet of 1863. Tickets for "Choral Juxtaposition" are $35 (preferred), $25 (general), $15 (seniors/students), and are available at www.dessoff.org or by calling 212-831-8224. A light reception at the church will follow the concert. Join Dessoff next season, when we will be celebrating our 90th anniversary.

[Editor's note: The program for March 9 has been corrected. The original version of this article had the F Minor Piano Quintet as the second piece on the program.]
Ruth G. Nolan is an alto with The Dessoff Choirs and the Marketing Task Force Coordinator for this concert.