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The Dessoff Choirs to Present Works by Gregg Smith and John Rutter

The Dessoff Choirs to Present Works by Gregg Smith and John Rutter

The 50-member Dessoff Choirs continues its 95th season with a program dedicated to two of choral music's most influential composers, Britain's John Rutter and American Gregg Smith. Accompanied by pianist Steven Ryan, Dessoff performs two unforgettable choral gems: Rutter's The Sprig of Thyme, a collection of charming British folk songs for chorus, and Smith's The Continental Harmonist along with spirituals by Florence Price and Margaret Bonds sung by Dessoff's maestro, Malcolm J. Merriweather.

"The Dessoff Choirs is thrilled to be performing works by two of the greatest composers of choral music of all time," explains Malcolm J. Merriweather, ninth Music Director and conductor of The Dessoff Choirs. "Both Rutter's and Smith's music speaks from the heart to the heart. When Dessoff performs their works, we feel in the safest of hands. They have both raised the already exceptionally high choral standards."

Gregg Smith (1931-2016) set the standard for professional choirs when he established the Gregg Smith Singers and was widely admired for his contributions to the field of contemporary choral composition through interpretation, commissioning, and recording. "He is remembered for his masterful conducting that inspired several generations of singers including myself, and for his advocacy for contemporary composers and their choral music," says Merriweather. "Gregg Smith was one of the most caring, humble, gracious, and loving individuals that I have ever met."

Dessoff performs the two-piano version of Smith's The Continental Harmonist (1978) based on compositions by early American composer William Billings (1746-1800). Billings was the best known and the most prolific composer of choral music in 18th century America, having composed over 100 pieces for chorus published in six collections between 1770 and 1794. He was the first American published composer of psalms and hymns and the inventor of "fusing songs," and he organized the first church choir in America.

The latter half of the program comes from across the pond with The Sprig of Thyme (1994) by John Rutter (b.1945), "the most successful and well-known composer of choral music in recent British history" (BBC Music Magazine). A beautiful cycle of 11 folk-song settings, The Sprig of Thyme offers a selection of traditional songs of the British Isles, drawing together long-standing favorites such as the Willow Song and The Miller of Dee with such lesser-known gems as O can ye sew cushions and The Sprig of Thyme. According to AllMusic, Rutter is "the sunny optimist of contemporary British choral music."

A set of spirituals arranged by African-American composers Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, performed by maestro Merriweather, complements the program. Highlights from the set include Price's "My soul's been anchor'd in the Lord" as rendered by Marian Anderson, the first African American to sing a role at the Metropolitan Opera. The collection of songs concludes with Bonds's "He's got the whole world in His hands," an arrangement sung frequently by soprano Leontyne Price.

Known for "singing with conviction, expressivity, and passion" (New York Arts), The Dessoff Choirs continues to wow audiences with its absorbing programming and inspiring performances. Its season-opening concert was hailed by New York Classical Review as "a deeply felt performance...a warm, colorful sound, and performed with the welcome feeling that they are personally embracing what they sing."

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 94-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. In November 2019, Dessoff released its newest recording, MARGARET BONDS: The Ballad of the Brown King & Selected Songs on AVIE Records. This project is the premiere recording of the composer's magnum opus. Other CDs include 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.

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