Updated: Jun 10, 2019
Written by Richard Knox
Hope is the theme of the New Hampshire Master Chorale’s spring concerts, on June 15 in Concord and June 16 in Plymouth – why we need to hope, how dark and despairing life is without it.
Master Chorale director Dan Perkins says the concert program was inspired by Hope On, a recent composition by Polish-American Martin Sedek that the composer calls “socially conscious music.”
“Sedek challenges us to maintain hope in today’s social, economic, environmental and political climates,” Perkins says.
Like other works on the concert program, Hope On uses texts from what Perkins calls “wildly varying” sources. It interweaves words chosen by choristers from today’s distressing headlines with timeless meditations on the universal struggle between hope and despair. The lyrics are from sources as varied as Hebrew scripture, the Quran, Martin Luther King, Friedrich Schiller and the early 20th century British poet Lascelles Abercombie.
The title comes from the Kentucky poet Madison Julius Cawein, whose work spanned the 19th-century romantic sensibility of Shelley and Keats and the bleaker 20th-century modernism of T.S. Eliot. Hope On invites us to consider the existential necessity of hope.
“If Hope should die what doubts would blind!
What black despairs go unconfined!
What sorrows weight us utterly!”
Cawein writes. “Hope on, dear Heart!"
Another contemporary piece, Into the Light, pulls eclectic texts from writers as diverse as Gandhi, M.L. King again, Frederick Douglass and Helen Keller along with the apostle Peter and John the Evangelist from the New Testament, the 13th-century mystic Mechthild von Magdeburg and Bengali poets.
Composer Jake Runestad wrote Into the Light in 2017 on a commission from Valparaiso University in Indiana to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The piece celebrates the triumphal power of love in the face of fear and “the night of ignorance,” in Helen Keller’s phrase. In another passage, the Reverend King notes that “We are driven by love or by fear.”
The duality of hope versus despair is also Robert Kyr’s theme in the 2010 composition Songs of the Soul. Kyr calls the piece a cantata “in the manner of Bach” that “traces the journey of the soul from its most despairing and earthbound condition to its most joyful and transcendent state of being.”
The Master Chorale will perform two of the cantata’s seven parts. The first, Descending: From the Abyss, is a lament and plea for deliverance from the depths of despair. That’s followed by Arising: A Time for Song, a treatment of the familiar and much-loved Old Testament Song of Solomon that begins “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.”
Kyr splits the singers into four choruses that overlap one another, layering and weaving the text in three languages (Latin, English, Spanish) in an incantation that builds to an ecstatic climax.
The Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds wrote the “festival hymn” called Proclamation for a 2017 Grand Prix of Nations conference in Berlin, where it was premiered by a chorus of over 1,000 singers. It’s inspired by a Kim Stafford poem that is a manifesto for peace in a world where “hope seems small…kindness is seldom in the news…and peace an abstraction while war is real.” It ends with the ringing resolution that “a song shall be my calling…and peaceful words the work of my remaining days.”
Music is also the vehicle for hope and peace in the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, which sets Shakespeare’s words from Merchant of Venice. Beware “the man that hath no music in himself/Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,” the bard warns, for he “is fit for treasons, strategems and spoils.”
Finally, the Master Chorale program includes a fresh new (2018) treatment of the iconic Emma Lazarus poem The New Colossus that gives voice to the Statue of Liberty as she welcomes immigrants to New York Harbor with the familiar words, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”
Composer Saunder Choi is a Filipino graduate student at the University of Southern California who is seeking U.S. citizenship. He chose to set the Lazarus poem “because it makes sacrosanct the principle that the United States of America has been and will always be a nation of immigrants, regardless of xenophobic political ideologies.”
Choi’s piece is “edgy, playful and inspired,” Perkins says – a work unlike any Master Chorale audiences have ever heard. It simultaneously captures the tenuousness of the nation’s open-arms experiment, the yearnings of those who flock to Liberty’s embrace, and the majesty of her invitation.
The Master Chorale will perform Hope On at the First Congregational Church, 177 North Main Street, in Concord at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 15. The concert will be repeated on Sunday, June 16, at 4 p.m. at the Plymouth Congregational Church, 4 Post Office Square, in Plymouth.
Tickets are available at nhmasterchorale.org and at the door for $30, or $25 for seniors and $15 apiece for groups of 10 or more. Admission is free for undergraduates and students from kindergarten through undergraduate college. The Master Chorale also has a “pay what you are able” ticket policy available at the door or online to ensure that anyone can attend regardless of financial ability.
Saturday, June 15 at 7:00PM - First Congregational Church: 177 N. Main St, Concord, NH
Sunday, June 16 at 4PM - Plymouth Congregational Church: 4 Post Office Square, Plymouth, NH
The New Hampshire Master Chorale, led by Dr. Dan Perkins, is a non-profit choir established in the spring of 2003. This premier chamber ensemble is dedicated to excellence in the art of choral music performance. Members of the group are trained singers, auditioned from throughout New England, who have performed as soloists and in choral ensembles throughout the world. You can get a taste of the NHMC on our SoundCloud page: soundcloud.com/nh-master-chorale or find us on facebook and twitter: www.facebook.com/NHMasterChorale and twitter.com/nhmasterchorale.
Tickets available at nhmasterchorale.org and at the door — $30 general, $25 senior, $15 group of 10+
Free admission for undergraduates and students in grades K–12.
The New Hampshire Master Chorale also utilizes a “Pay What You Are Able” ticket policy so that anyone can attend regardless of financial ability. We welcome all donations to support this.