Vocal Arts Ensemble To Perform CONSIDERING MATTHEW SHEPARD, 3/4-5

Vocal Arts Ensemble To Perform CONSIDERING MATTHEW SHEPARD, 3/4-5

Cincinnati's Vocal Arts Ensemble (VAE), the city's premier professional choral ensemble, will perform the regional premiere of the nationally acclaimed concert-length oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard under the direction of Grammy Award-winning Music Director Craig Hella Johnson, who composed the work. The two performances will take place Saturday, March 4 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 5 at 5 p.m. at Xavier University's Gallagher Student Center Theater.

As his first concert-length work, Considering Matthew Shepard is Mr. Johnson's powerful musical response to the tragic death of a young man who has since become an icon for hope and human dignity. The work was inspired by Bach's St. Matthew Passion and uses poetic classical and contemporary texts from Lesléa Newman, Hafiz, Hildegard von Bingen and Michael Dennis Browne, among others. These performances will feature several VAE singers as soloists, as well as a small instrumental ensemble. The world premiere recording of Considering Matthew Shepard, performed by Mr. Johnson's Conspirare ensemble, was released last fall on the Harmonia Mundi label, and was nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album. At the forefront of the project is the power of art as a tool for healing and a catalyst for change, opening the human experience, erase hatred, and "speak for life over death, love over hate, light over darkness" (libretto, Considering Matthew Shepard). Both the recording and recent live performances of the work have received critical acclaim for its moving tribute to the subject and its testament to hope and peace.

"Not unlike John Adams's post-9/11 masterpiece, 'On the Transmigration of Souls,' Johnson's '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." - The Washington Post

Tickets for these performances start at $30 for adults ($10 for students) and are available at vaecinci.org or by calling the VAE Box Office at (513) 381-3300.

Craig Hella Johnson, Music Director

Renowned as one of today's most influential voices in choral conducting, Craig Hella Johnson brings unparalleled depth of knowledge, artistic sensitivity, and rich imagination to his programs. As Grammy®-winning founder and Artistic Director of Conspirare, Johnson assembles some of the finest singers in the country to form a world-class, award-winning ensemble committed to creating dynamic choral art. Beloved by audiences, lauded by critics and composers, and revered by singers, Johnson is known for crafting musical journeys that create deep connections between performers and listeners. The Wall Street Journal praised his ability to "find the emotional essence other performers often miss," and Fanfare wrote that "Craig Hella Johnson has assembled and molded a first-rate choir to be respected as highly as the best we have had." Distinguished composer John Corigliano wrote, "I believe that [Johnson] has understood my music in a way that I have never experienced before. He is a great musician who understands everything about the music he conducts." Composer and collaborator Robert Kyr observed, "Craig's attitude toward creating a community of artists who work together to interpret the score ... goes beyond technical mastery into that emotional depth and spiritual life of the music." Of Johnson's performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, the San Antonio Express-News wrote: "Through all the amazing ebbs and flows of dynamics, the radiant balances, the seamless connection of episodes, the theatrically astute tempo relations, the unified structural arc, the music shone forth with organic naturalness. Nothing sounded fussed over. Everything just sounded right."

Johnson is also Music Director of the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble and conductor emeritus of the Victoria Bach Festival. He was Artistic Director of San Francisco-based Chanticleer (1998-1999) and has served as guest conductor with the Austin Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, and many others in Texas, the U.S., and abroad. As the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Texas at Austin from 1990-2001, Johnson led the graduate program in choral conducting.

He remains an active educator, teaching nationally and internationally with professionals and students at conferences and universities. He is also a frequent speaker at regional and national conferences of the American Choral Directors Association. In Fall 2012, he became the first Artist in Residence at the Texas State University School of Music.

A composer and arranger, Johnson works with G. Schirmer Publishing on the Craig Hella Johnson Choral Series, featuring specially selected composers as well as some of his original compositions and arrangements. His works are also published by Alliance Music Publications. A unique aspect of Johnson's programming is his signature "collage" style: through-composed programs that marry music and poetry to blend sacred and secular, classical and contemporary, traditional and popular styles. In 2006 he was engaged to create a special peace-themed collage program for the North Central ACDA convention, and in 2007 by the famed St. Olaf Choir to create and conduct a collage program during a five-week residency. Craig's first concert-length composition, Considering Matthew Shepard, was premiered in 2016 by Conspirare.

Johnson has been honored with numerous awards, including 2008 induction into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame, Chorus America's 2009 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal, and the 2011 Citation of Merit from professional music fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon, the organization's highest honor for a non-member. In 2012 he was an invited speaker for TEDxAustin. He was one of seven panelists for the Fetzer Institute and Eranos Foundation's "Love and the Musical Arts" gathering in Switzerland in 2011. In April 2013 Johnson was designated the official Texas State Musician for 2013 by the Texas Legislature. The designation was recommended by the Texas Commission on the Arts after a competitive nomination process, and he is only the second classical musician to receive the honor in its eleven-year history. Johnson was awarded the 2015 Best Choral Performance Grammy® for conducting Conspirare on the CD The Sacred Spirit of Russia (Harmonia Mundi label). In June 2015 Johnson received The Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art, Chorus America's lifetime achievement award.

A Minnesota native, Johnson studied at St. Olaf College, the Juilliard School, and the University of Illinois and earned his doctorate at Yale University. As the recipient of a National Arts Fellowship, Johnson studied with Helmuth Rilling at the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart, Germany. He has been a Texas resident since 1990.

About VAE: Cincinnati's Vocal Arts Ensemble

The Vocal Arts Ensemble (VAE) is Greater Cincinnati's premier professional vocal ensemble dedicated to presenting passionate and innovative performances of choral music that raise and nurture the public's appreciation of the life enriching qualities of the choral arts.

VAE fulfills a unique niche in the region as a professional chamber choir with exceptional artistic quality, a creative balance of traditional yet innovative programming, and intimate performances of unparalleled precision and virtuosity. This dynamic artistic activity contributes to the quality of life in Cincinnati for both performers and audience members alike, and VAE plays an integral role in the cultural landscape of Greater Cincinnati.

Founded in 1979, for 37 years VAE has brought the power of spectacular choral chamber music to audiences of all generations in distinguished architectural and acoustic venues throughout the region. VAE has enjoyed artistic leadership by some of the nation's leaders in choral conducting? Grammy winner/six-time nominee Craig Hella Johnson currently leads the talented and dynamic core of 24 (and full roster of 51) members. Praised for his visionary approach, Johnson is considered one of the most influential voices in choral music in the US today. Over the years, creative collaborations have resulted in unique productions and reached diverse audiences.

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