Dessoff performs works by Margaret Bonds
by April Thibeault for Vocal Area Network
Posted April 15, 2022

Margaret BondsHailed 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 season celebrating African-American composer Margaret Bonds (1913-1972), a significant figure in the fight for civil rights. This one-night only concert comprises the New York premieres of the orchestral versions of two neglected Bonds cantatas: Credo, inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’s essay; and Simon Bore the Cross (edition by Malcolm J. Merriweather), a collaboration with Langston Hughes. Conducted by Dessoff’s intrepid Music Director Malcolm J. Merriweather, The Dessoff Choirs is joined by a full orchestra, Grammy Award-winning bass-baritone Dashon Burton, renowned soprano soloist Janinah Burnett (Phantom of the Opera/The Metropolitan Opera) and the Carter Legacy Singers (Morgan State University Choir’s alumni ensemble). The concert will be performed on Thursday, April 28, 2022, at 7:30 PM (with a pre-concert talk at 6:45 PM) at the Church of the Heavenly Rest, 1085 Fifth Avenue (at 90th Street), New York City, NY.

As Malcolm J. Merriweather, Dessoff’s ninth Music Director explains, “Dessoff is dedicated to performing rarely heard choral masterpieces. We are thrilled to cast a spotlight on Margaret Bonds’s neglected, but important contribution to the American music canon. She is a forgotten voice for civil rights that must be remembered, appreciated, and cherished. It seems the time has come for Bonds’s voice to be heard!”

The evening begins with Dr. Rollo Dilworth’s edition of Credo (1965-67), a seven-movement choral symphony for full orchestra, chorus and soloists. Portions of the work were performed in 1972, just four weeks after the composer’s untimely death. In the mid-1960s, Bonds focused her attention on the writings of civil rights activist and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois’s essay Credo (1904) so inspired Bonds that she immediately began to compose her cantata on its text. So begins the prose: “I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell.” Dedicated to the memories of the poet Langston Hughes and singer-actress Abbie Mitchell, the text promotes unity and social equality which Bonds expertly portrays with rich harmonies and exciting motifs.

Credo shares the program with Bonds’s Easter cantata, Simon Bore the Cross, with text by her long-time collaborator Langston Hughes, based on the spiritual “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word.” Bonds met Hughes in 1936, and a lifelong friendship ensued. They collaborated on numerous projects both using the arts to build pride and excitement in African-American heritage, community and identity. In much of their work, they place Black characters at the center of the action. Simon Bore the Cross references an African biblical motif: Simon of Cyrene, from North Africa, figures in the Gnostic Gospels as a man who carried Jesus’s cross on the way to Calvary. Simon Bore the Cross was thought to be lost until a complete piano-vocal score was found at a book fair in a dumpster, waiting to be thrown out.

This concert marks the latest in Dessoff’s ongoing exploration of Bonds’s important work. In 2019, Dessoff released The Ballad of the Brown King (ArkivMusic/Avie) to much acclaim. According to WQXR Radio it was one the Best Classical Recordings of the year. “Nearly 60 years after its premiere, conductor Malcolm J. Merriweather and the phenomenal New York-based Dessoff Choirs have at last provided a way to experience Margaret Bonds’s genius cantata, The Ballad of the Brown King.” Dessoff performed Bonds’s Ballad in December 2021 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. As the choir did with Ballad, Dessoff will produce premiere recordings of both Credo and Simon Bore the Cross, making this music accessible to audiences everywhere.

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 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. Dessoff also collaborates with graduates of HBCUs including Carter Legacy Singers (an alumni ensemble of Morgan State University), Spelman College, Morehouse College and many more.

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 nearly 100-year history, Dessoff has presented many world premieres, including works by Virgil Thomson, George Perle, Paul Moravec,and Ricky Ian Gordon; 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.

The Dessoff Choirs is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and by funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. Please visit dessoff.org for more information.

About Malcolm J. Merriweather
Conductor Malcolm J. Merriweather is Music Director of The Dessoff Choirs. Merriweather enjoys a versatile career as conductor, baritone and teacher. An Associate Professor, he is Director of Choral Studies and Voice Department Coordinator at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and the Artistic Director of Voices of Haiti, a 60-member children’s choir in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, operated by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation.

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 works list for the composer and conductor. 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 his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from Syracuse University, summa cum laude. His professional affiliations include membership in Pi Kappa Lambda, the American Choral Directors Association and Chorus America. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @maestroweather.

April Thibeault handles public relations for The Dessoff Choirs.