The Dessoff Choirs Celebrate Walt Whitman

The Dessoff Choirs Celebrate Walt Whitman

The Dessoff Choirs begins its 94th season with Requiem for Whitman: a one night only concert inspired by the American poet and journalist Walt Whitman (1819-1892). As part of a season-long celebration of Whitman's bicentennial, Dessoff's 60 singers will perform exquisite choral settings of Whitman's poetry by Bach, Schuman, Pizzetti, as well as the world premiere of a newly commissioned Whitman-inspired work by contemporary composer Douglas Geers.

Known for singing with conviction, expressivity, and passion, The Dessoff Choirs performs non-standard tuning and "spectral" harmonies in the program's capstone piece, As Adam, Early in the Morning by Geers. Interspersed with audio recordings of Whitman reading one of his own poems, this eponymous work is based on Whitman's short poem. According to Geers, he was intrigued by this poem's "concision and vivid imagery, especially Walt Whitman's invitation to celebrate the human body. This work is meant to be a statement of love for life in its physicality and in its passing brevity."

Douglas Geers, who is known for integrating new technologies and multimedia dimensions into concert music, has written nearly 100 works. Reviewers have described his music as "...glitchy... keening... scrabbling... contemplative" (The New York Times), "kaleidoscopic" (Washington Post), " and have praised its "shimmering electronic textures" (Village Voice). A graduate of Columbia University, Geers currently is an Associate Professor of Music and Director of the Center for Computer Music at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music. He is also a member of the music faculty of the Graduate Center, the Manhattan-based doctorate-granting division of City University of New York.

The program also includes a piece by William Schuman, a composer who always adopted American subjects for his programmatic works, including American poets. Dessoff performs Schuman's The Carols of Death, short a cappella settings of short poems by Whitman. Rounding out the concert are Bach's funeral motet, Fürchte dich nicht, BWV 228, and the opulent a cappella Messa di Requiem by Ildebrando Pizzetti, a work firmly steeped in the Gregorian tradition.

The concert will be introduced with a pre-concert talk by renowned Whitman scholar Karen Karbiener, Ph.D., Clinical Professor at New York University and co-director of the 2019 Whitman Consortium, a collective of east coast organizations, institutions, venues, and individuals planning events in celebration of the poet's 200th birthday, of which Dessoff is a member.

Whitman, who was born on May 31, 1819, is one of the most influential voices in American-and world-literature. "He was an American icon whose life and works have been an inspiration for artists and musicians everywhere," explains Malcolm J. Merriweather, ninth Music Director and conductor of The Dessoff Choirs. "His is a kind of distinct and distinctive American voice that has brought joy to so many people in our country and around the world." Although many great writers have contemplated the power of music, few have articulated it more perfectly or more sensuously than Whitman. He wrote of music as "a god, yet completely human... supplying in certain wants and quarters what nothing else could supply." Not only was Whitman outspoken in his love for music, he also inspired over 500 composers to draw from his work. "Many composers have been attracted to Whitman's exuberant spirit, democratic ideals, and timelessness."

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 dessoff.org 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. In the summer of 2017, Merriweather led Voices of Haiti in performances with Andrea Bocelli at Teatro del Silenzio in Lajatico, Italy, and for Pope Francis at the Vatican. Merriweather is also in demand as a baritone soloist, often performing throughout the eastern United States.

Conducting highlights of the 2017-18 season include: conducting the West Chorus in the world premiere of John Luther Adams's In the Name of the Earth, as part of Lincoln Center's 2018 Mostly Mozart Festival; David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion, Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Bach's Singet dem Herrn, BWV225, and Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229, with Dessoff; 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, an horus America, and he sits on the Board of Directors of the New York Choral Consortium. Please visit malcolmjmerriweather.com for more information. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @maestroweather.

What: The Dessoff Choirs in Concert: Requiem for Whitman

When: Sunday, November 11, 2018, at 4:00 p.m., Pre-concert talk at 3:15 p.m. with Dr. Karen Karbiener

Where: Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, 273 Mott Street, New York, NY, Train: Q/R Prince Street, E/B/D/F/M Broadway/Lafayette Street

Tickets: $20-40 in Advance. $25-45 at Door. To purchase, visit dessoff.org.

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