Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

The Dessoff Choirs Presents 'Freedom Concert' Inspired By Coretta Scott King


The Dessoff Choirs Presents 'Freedom Concert' Inspired By Coretta Scott King 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 Dessoff Choirs culminates its 93rd season with a "Freedom Concert" inspired by the late Coretta Scott King (b. April 27, 1927), wife of Martin Luther King Jr., and advocate for African-American equality. In this dynamic program, Dessoff offers a choral tapestry reflecting on the Civil Rights movement of the past while promoting hope for the future. The program's centerpiece is Ralph Vaughan William's plea for peace, Dona nobis pacem. Robert Sirota's homage to the nine victims of the Mother Emanuel AME massacre, Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel, works by African-American composers, the well-known civil rights freedom song, "Oh Freedom," and Bach's Dona nobis pacem from Mass in B minor round out the program. (Please scroll below for complete program details.)

Known for singing with conviction, expressivity, and passion, the 60+ members of The Dessoff Choirs will call up the universality of hope for salvation and pleadings for peace. "Through this remarkable concert, The Dessoff Choirs is affirming its values and the contribution of cultural diversity to our civil society," says Malcolm J. Merriweather, ninth Music Director and conductor of The Dessoff Choirs. "The 'Freedom Concert' is a shining example of this mission."

The Civil Rights movement captured the nation's attention in 1963, and musicians/composers proved no exception. The marches, protests, and tragedies of 55 years ago influenced some of the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st Centuries. "We've appropriately joined choral pieces that commemorate this important moment in our nation's history. According to ideas of humanity and salvation, the songs we chose were part of the movement, while others were inspired by the events of the era, and/or more recent injustices."

The concert presents works by three female composers: Nancy Wertsch, Undine Smith Moore, and Libby Larsen. The rousing Black Gospel arrangement by Wertsch of the great American hymn Blessed Assurance, commissioned and premiered by the Riverside Church in 1985, was broadcast nationally the following year during the inaugural celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Dr. King's own Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The piece has since become standard repertoire for that holiday. Influenced by Bach and black folk music, Moore was a visionary composer hailed as the Dean of Black Women Composers. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for her Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, a 16-part oratorio on the life of Dr. King. Larsen's moving Cry Peace complements the program, comprised of the word "peace" in many languages. Larsen is one of America's most prolific and most performed living composers known for capturing the contemporary American spirit.

Embodying the power of forgiveness is Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel by husband and wife team, Robert and Victoria Sirota. The work was written in memory of the victims of the June 17, 2015, shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel is written in memory of the nine faithful souls who were murdered during a Bible Class in an act of racist terrorism on 17 June 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and is dedicated to their families who revealed a deep faith in a loving God when they were able to express forgiveness to the killer two days later," says Victoria Sirota. Ralph Vaughan Williams's cantata Dona nobis pacem is another urging from the composer for communal action for peace. It is paired with Bach's Dona nobis pacem from the Mass in B minor. As part of its season-long celebration of Leonard Bernstein's (1918-1990) centenary, the choir honors Bernstein's rich legacy by performing the third movement, "Adonai, Adonai Lo gavah libi" from Chichester Psalms, considered a plea for peace as well.

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 mission is to enrich the lives of its audiences and members through the performance of choral music. Its 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 92-year history, Dessoff has presented numerous world premieres, including pieces by Virgil Thomson, George Perle, Paul Moravec, and Ricky Ian Gordon, as well as 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 REFLECTIONS, featuring music by Convery, Corigliano, Moravec, and Rorem, and GLORIES ON GLORIES, a collection of American song featuring composers ranging from Billings to Ives. Please visit for more information.

Conductor Malcolm J. Merriweather is Music Director of New York City's The Dessoff Choirs, known for performances of choral works from the pre-Baroque era through the 21st century. An Assistant Professor, he is Director of Choral Studies and Voice Department Coordinator at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Artist in Residence at Union Theological Seminary, and 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 also in demand as a baritone soloist, often performing throughout the eastern United States.

This past summer, Merriweather led Voices of Haiti in performances with Andrea Bocelli at Teatro del Silenzio in Lajatico, Italy and for Pope Francis at the Vatican. Future conducting highlights of the 2017-18 season include Handel's Messiah at Brooklyn College and the Harvard Club of New York; and Leonard Bernstein's Mass (Concert Selections) and Honegger's King David at Brooklyn College. Recent conducting highlights have included Mozart's Requiem, Vivaldi's Gloria, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, and Orff's Carmina Burana.

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 a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from Syracuse University, summa cum laude.

Merriweather's professional affiliations include membership in Pi Kappa Lambda, the American Choral Directors Association, and Chorus America, and he sits on the Board of Directors of the New York Choral Consortium. Please visit for more information. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @maestroweather.

Talent Unlimited High School is a full-time New York City high school for the arts. It offers four years of student-centered, rigorous coursework simultaneously in the performing arts and liberal arts, preparing students for an arts conservatory or traditional college setting. Voice studio members take daily solo voice and ensemble classes, studying classical and contemporary repertoire. Students perform on the main stage all 4 years, including a fully staged opera in the 12th grade. Students study piano, musicianship/theory, and phonetics. Students may complete internships with cultural organizations, perform in special events including NYSSMA adjudication, and graduate with an arts-endorsed diploma.

Related Articles

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

More Hot Stories For You