Melodia Women's Choir premieres Hilary Purrington's Cassandra in an evening celebrating women's stories heard and unheard
by Teri Duerr for Vocal Area Network
Posted May 9, 2016

Melodia Women's ChoirMelodia Women's Choir, led by Artistic Director Cynthia Powell (also the director of the Stonewall Chorale), is excited to introduce composer Hilary Purrington's Cassandra to choral audiences this May when the choir performs the world premiere piece about the prophetess, princess and priestess Cassandra of Greek mythology. The contemporary choral work for women’s voices, percussion and piano is the fruit of a collaboration between the choir and Purrington, who was awarded Melodia’s 2015 Commission for Women Composers.

As the epic tale goes, Cassandra was gifted the power of prophecy by the god Apollo, but when she rebuffs the god’s unwanted advances, he curses her tongue, so that her truths are to forever fall on disbelieving ears. As historian and writer Rebecca Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me) says of the mythic seer Cassandra, "Generations of women have been told they are delusional, confused, manipulative, malicious, conspiratorial, congenitally dishonest, often all at once." Solnit stresses the importance of recognizing the impulse to dismiss the "real-life Cassandras among us" and invokes us to lift the princess's curse by actively "making up our own minds about who to believe and why."

Purrington invites audiences to reflect on the theme of women’s voices, wisdom and stories heard and unheard with her powerful piece that brings to life Cassandra's voice with Melodia. Purrington, who is also working on a piece inspired by the Salem witch trials, is fascinated by people she calls "misunderstood women," and feels compelled to bring their stories into focus in her own work.

"As a female composer writing for women, I found it fitting to create a work that tells a story about an extraordinary woman," said Purrington. "Everyone thought there was something 'wrong' with Cassandra, but, in fact, she was just a victim of her time.... I like to imagine her as formidably intelligent and outspoken, a woman millennia ahead of her time."

“Purrington's music conveys the tragic nature of knowing when disaster is to come, but being unable to divert it,” added conductor Powell. “It’s an ancient tale, but I find its message compelling in light of current affairs.”

In keeping with Melodia’s mission to bring audiences new and exceptional music from women composers, musicians and singers, the spring concert features the rarely heard Five Limericks from Emma Lou Diemer and the exciting Quarry Weave II from Meredith Monk. Performers include an all-female group of percussionists from Néo Ensemble (the taiko group founded by Kaoru Watanabe of the world-famous Japanese drumming group Kodo), and Melodia’s longtime collaborative pianist, the award-winning Taisiya Pushkar. Please join us on Saturday, May 14, as the members of Melodia Women’s Choir raise their voices for Cassandra.

Hilary Purrington’s work, "for your judicious and pious consideration," will be premiered at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space on May 25 as part of the Yale School of Music New Music New Haven/NY Phil Biennial


Melodia Women’s Choir Spring Concert is Saturday, May 14, 2016, at 7:30 PM, West End Collegiate Church, 245 West 77th Street (at West End Avenue). Tickets are $25 door. In advance: $20; students / seniors $15. Tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2510870.

Teri Duerr is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York.