Malcolm J. Merriweather, music director & conductor
Elliott Forrest and Rod Caspers, co-directors
The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra
Brooklyn College Conservatory Singers
Matthew Cahill, Tami Petty, and Markel Reed
What: The Dessoff Choirs presents Considering Matthew Shepard
When: Saturday, November 6, 2021, 4:00-6:00 p.m.,
Where: New York Society for Ethical Culture Concert Hall, 2 West 64th Street, New York, NY, Train: A/B/C/D Columbus Circle
Tickets: $20-40 in Advance. To purchase, visit dessoff.org.
What: Dessoff Dialogue (virtual): Considering Matthew Shepard
When: October 28, 2021, 7:00-8:00 p.m.
How: Free – Registration required in advance at dessoff.org.
New York City, NY (For Release 10.08.21) — Hailed 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 50-member Dessoff Choirs begins its 97th season with the New York premiere of Considering Matthew Shepard by Craig Hella Johnson. Conducted by Dessoff’s Music Director Malcolm J. Merriweather and co-directed by WQXR Radio’s Elliott Forrest (Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, producer, and director) and Rod Caspers, this 100-minute, three-part oratorio is a musical response to the tragic death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who has become an American icon and a symbol for hope and empowerment. This lightly-staged performance features The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra, Brooklyn College’s Conservatory Singers, soloists Matthew Cahill in the part of Matthew Shepard, soprano Tami Petty, and baritone Markel Reed.
On October 6, 1998, University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, beaten, and left to die in what became an infamous act of brutality and one of America’s most notorious anti-gay hate crimes. He is the subject of Considering Matthew Shepard, Johnson’s evocative and compassionate first concert-length work. The choral composer channeled his own emotional response to Shepard’s death the only way he knew how — through music and words. “In composing Considering Matthew Shepard I wanted to create, within a musical framework, a space for reflection, consideration and unity around his life and legacy,” explained Craig Hella Johnson (b.1962).
Considering Matthew Shepard premiered in 2018 in Austin, Texas, performed by Johnson’s choral group Conspirare, and has subsequently toured nationally. It was broadcast on PBS and received a Grammy nomination for its 2016 recording (Harmonia Mundi). According to The Washington Post, “Considering Matthew Shepard demonstrates music’s capacity to encompass, transform and transcend tragedy. Powerfully cathartic, it leads us from horror and grief to a higher understanding of the human condition, enabling us to endure.”
Johnson set lyrics taken from Shepard’s personal journal, writings from his parents, newspaper reports, and a wide range of poetic and soulful texts by poets including Hildegard of Bingen, Lesléa Newman, Michael Dennis Browne, and Rumi. Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, helped Johnson research the piece. “Matt loved the theatre, films and music, and so it is fitting that a growing part of how he is honored and remembered is through the artistic achievements of those who, like myself, mourned his passage and refused to fully heal from the shock we all felt at his violent, needless death,” said Johnson. “The piece actually became a whole lot more than just the story of the suffering. It needed to become this larger invitation to return to love. And to return to remember who we are as human beings, in the deepest sense of our essence.”
Audiences describe the work as “brilliant,” “powerful,” “innovative,” “dazzling,” and “gripping.” The Bay Area Reporter wrote: “It has the richness, depth and complexity to compel repeated hearing, and the power to get you the first time out.” The Chicago Tribune hailed the piece, saying: “Listen to this music…and you’ll encounter the antithesis of despair and gloom. Yes, Considering Matthew Shepard conjures the horror of the crime, but through its synthesis of poetry, excerpts from Shepard’s journal and comments from his parents, the piece renders Shepard much more than just a victim: He’s a real-life, multidimensional person whose death led Johnson not only to lament what happened but to point toward a better path for humanity.”
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. 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. Dessoff’s recent discography includes MARGARET BONDS: THE BALLAD OF THE BROWN KING AND SELECTED SONGS, a debut recording of Margaret Bonds’s crowning achievement, which was cited as a “Best Classical Recording of 2019” by WQXR-FM Radio; REFLECTIONS, featuring music by Convery, Corigliano, Moravec, and Rorem; and GLORIES ON GLORIES, a collection of American song featuring composers from Billings to Ives. 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, founded in 1924, and known for pathbreaking performances of choral works from the pre-Baroque era through the 21st century. Merriweather enjoys a versatile career with performances ranging from the songs of Margaret Bonds to gems of the symphonic choral repertoire. The baritone can be heard on the GRAMMY nominated recording of Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary Road (NAXOS). Hailed by Opera News as “moving…expertly interpreted,” Margaret Bonds: The Ballad of the Brown King & Selected Songs (AVIE) has earned considerable praise around the world. 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 is excited to resume in-person rehearsals and concerts. Highlights of his 2021-2022 season include the world premiere performance and recording of Credo and Simon Bore the Cross by Margaret Bonds; a performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled, The Beauty of Holiness; and performances with Syracuse Opera, North Carolina Opera, and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. During the pandemic, Merriweather’s 2020-2021 season has been enriched with guest lectures and virtual appearances around the world, most notably at Yale University and Columbia University. He has inaugurated a series of virtual events entitled “Dessoff Dialogues.” These conversations emphasize matters of social justice, equity, and inclusion as they relate to classical music and the choral art.
Merriweather’s 2019-2020 season included Fauré’s Requiem; Rutter’s The Sprig of Thyme; and Gregg Smith’s Continental Harmonist with The Dessoff Choirs. He was engaged by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra for Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary Road, and at the Eastman School of Music for the American Choral Directors Association Eastern Division Conference in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. The COVID-19 global pandemic forced cancellations with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic.
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.
About the Soloists
Matt Cahill believes that each of us is inextricably linked with the world around us, and that by shifting the way we pay attention to that world, we can find the deep inner beauty, truth, and peace that has been waiting both outside and inside of us all along. His quest to find, live, create, and share that deep inner beauty, truth, and peace has drawn labyrinthine lines through traditional professions and art forms. One constant is that there is always music, play, and movement. His professions include actor, singer, model, writer, director, choreographer, artistic director, administrator, producer, and teacher. His art forms include film, television, physical theater, musical theater, concert, opera, movement, and the Alexander Technique. As Le Monde in Paris declared, “you really want to hear him in either an opera or a musical. He has a big presence, a warm baritone voice, immense humanity, and the gift of an actor.”
Tami Petty is a recent Award Winner of the Joy in Singing Competition and has performed with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, and Voices of Ascension at Alice Tully Hall, for which The New York Times hailed her “powerful soprano”; Her upcoming engagements include her debut with the Modesto Symphony as the soprano soloist in Poulenc GLORIA and Richard Strauss VIER LETZTE GESÄNGE with the Brooklyn Art Song Society. Ms. Petty’s favorite oratorio and concert performances include Orff CARMINA BURANA with Lehigh Choral Arts, Beethoven MISSA SOLEMNIS with Choral Society of Grace Church NYC, Britten WAR REQUIEM at the ACDA’s Eastern Division Concert, Brahms GERMAN REQUIEM with Manchester Choral Society, Beethoven SYMPHONY NO. 9 with Altoona Symphony, Mozart REQUIEM with Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, Dvorak TE DEUM with St. George Choral Society, Vaughan Williams A SEA SYMPHONY with Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, DONA NOBIS PACEM with New Hampshire Music Festival, and Strauss VIER LETZTE GESÄNGE with St. Joseph Symphony. Ms. Petty’s repertoire also includes both soprano and mezzo-soprano operatic roles, including the title role in SUOR ANGELICA with Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, Leonore (FIDELIO) with Fort Collins Symphony, the Mother (AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS) with historic Grace Church in New York City, and Berta (IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA) with Cincinnati Opera and Central City Opera, among others. She is a recipient of career grants from the Richard Tucker Foundation, the Lotte Lehmann Foundation and the Lotte Lenya Competition.
Markel Reed, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, has been featured in various concerts, recitals and performances throughout the U.S., Canada and in Europe. His repertoire includes: Schaunard in La Bohème, Il County in Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Leporello in Don Giovanni, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, and John Sorel in The Consul. As a passionate conveyor of the operatic repertoire, Mr. Reed is a wonderful interpreter of both the standard, as well as contemporary works. Following the shutdowns of Covid-19, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ first live season of 2021 saw Markel in the premiere of acclaimed The Tongue & The Lash composed by Damien Sneed and written by Karen Chilton. Born out of racial turbulence following George Floyd’s death, the role of James Baldwin in the piece provided an apt conduit to express the difficult topic. In March of 2020, Markel premiered Nkeiru Okoye’s masterwork entitled Black Bottom with the Detroit Symphony. It is a musical depiction of a historically black community of the same name. In the Summer of 2019, he originated the role of “Chester” in the premiere of Terence Blanchard’s acclaimed opera Fire Shut up in my Bones with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Following this, Mr. Reed had the pleasure of singing in the Metropolitan Opera’s Grammy winning production of Porgy and Bess. As a member of Utah Opera’s Resident Artist Program, Mr. Reed performed the roles of Masetto in Don Giovanni, Dancaïre in Carmen, Kromov in The Merry Widow and covered the role of Brian Castner in the western premiere of Jeremy Howard Beck’s The Long Walk. Mr. Reed was featured in a revue of original miniature operas as part of a collaboration between Utah Opera, the Bee (a story telling organization based in Salt Lake City) and local composers, entitled Operas on the Hive. Prior to his residency with Utah Opera, Mr. Reed was a young artist with Kentucky Opera during the 2014-15 season where he performed the role of Count Paris in Romeo et Juliette. He has also performed with the Metropolitan Opera, Bronx Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Soo Theatre Project, National Music Festival, Utah Symphony, Opera Louisiane, dell’Arte Opera, Lyric Opera Studio Weimar, Hartford Opera Theater, Lighthouse Opera, Utopia Opera, Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Markel Reed pursued his Bachelors of Music Performance at Oakwood University and is an alumnus of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre program.
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