Dessoff Choirs Premieres Works By First Published Black Composer, November 5

The program begins with the North American premieres of motets and madrigals by the first known published Black composer, Vicente Lusitano.

By: Sep. 26, 2022
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Dessoff Choirs Premieres Works By First Published Black Composer, November 5

The Dessoff Choirs begins its 2022-23 season with a long overdue exploration of the first published Black composer, Vicente Lusitano, paired with music by the last Impressionist composer, Maurice Duruflé.

Conducted by Dessoff's Music Director Malcolm J. Merriweather, the 40+ members of The Dessoff Choirs are joined by mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford (New York City Opera) and organist David Enlow (Music Director of Park Avenue Synagogue).

The program begins with the North American premieres of motets and madrigals by the first known published Black composer, Vicente Lusitano (1520-1561). The Portuguese composer and theorist was of African descent, but the fact that he was Black has been almost entirely erased from memory. Although quite innovative, his compositions have remained obscure. In 1551, a book of his motets in five, six, and eight voices appeared.

"Despite the quality of his music and his place in history, Lusitano's works remain very rarely performed, if at all," explains Merriweather. "This neglect is another example of a persistent pattern in the history of classical music wherein Black composers encounter prejudice and disenfranchisement. The Dessoff Choirs is honored to play a small role in maximizing Lusitano's achievements and introducing his music to the classical canon's collective memory."

Led by its intrepid music director Malcolm J. Merriweather, the choir is committed to social justice, equity, and the choral art. This concert marks the latest in Dessoff's ongoing exploration of choral works by Black composers. Later this season, Dessoff will release Credo & Simon Bore the Cross (AVIE Records) by composer Margaret Bonds (1913-1972), a significant figure in the fight for civil rights. In 2019, Dessoff released the world premiere recording of Margaret Bonds: The Ballad of the Brown King & Selected Songs (AVIE Records) and later performed it in December 2021 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The evening ends with an unquestionable gem by the last Impressionist composer, Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). A French artist living and teaching in Paris, he was considered the greatest organist of his day. Dedicated to the memory of his father, Duruflé's Requiem (1947) is by far the longest and most complex work he composed during his professional musical life. Recognized as a masterpiece for more than half a century, Duruflé unquestionably made a spellbinding unique work of art. Based on Gregorian plainchant, the composer used the chants as the foundation, quoting the Mass of the Dead extensively throughout. Dessoff performs the reduced version for choir and organ (performed by David Enlow), with a solo performance by mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford. "By pairing Duruflé's Requiem which represents the idea of peace, faith and hope, we hope audiences find Lusitano's music, legacy, and the enduring silence enveloping them, even more poignant," says Merriweather.

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 for more information.

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, Artist-in-Residence at Union Theological Seminary, and Director of the New York Philharmonic Chorus. Highlights of his 2022-2023 season include the release of the world premiere recording of Credo and Simon Bore the Cross by Margaret Bonds with the Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra; a trio of performances where Merriweather prepares the New York Philharmonic Chorus; Considering Matthew Shepard with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street; Handel's Messiah at Carnegie Hall; United States premieres of music by Vicente Lusitano with the Dessoff Choirs; Bach's St. John Passion with the Dessoff Choirs; Sanctuary Road (opera), with Penn Square Music Festival; and, Sanctuary Road (oratorio), with Cincinnati May Festival.

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.


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