Mendelssohn Choir Of Pittsburgh Presents 'Let My People Go!'
In February 2019, the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh (MCP) invites audiences to celebrate Black History Month with the Pittsburgh premiere of American composer Donald McCullough's "Let My People Go! A Spiritual Journey Along the Underground Railroad." This concert of African American spirituals is presented in collaboration with Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the concert will take place on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, at 7:30 p.m.
This project, the first collaboration between these two venerable Pittsburgh institutions, seeks to be a compelling example of unity amidst the current climate of emboldened racism, and to invite the community to experience the powerful story of African Americans' journey towards freedom that is an indelible part of our national and regional history. MCP and Ebenezer Baptist Church intend the spirituals through which this story is told to uplift and galvanize, just as they inspired and guided the enslaved on their courageous journey.
After its premiere at the Kennedy Center, "Let My People Go!" was featured at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of the museum's inaugural activities. Audiences have described their experience as "moving," "haunting," "magnificent," and "spine-tingling."
At 110 years in operation, MCP is the city's oldest continually performing arts organization. Composed of 100-plus singers, it is led by Robert Page Music Director Matthew Mehaffey. "We're excited to collaborate with Ebenezer Baptist Church on this powerful piece," says Mehaffey. "This is a celebration of community both past and present."
Located in Pittsburgh's historic Hill District, the 143-year-old Ebenezer Baptist Church serves a diverse congregation near the actual location of an Underground Railroad stop. The church itself was a primary meeting place for local civil rights activists in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination.
"We are humbled to have the opportunity to host the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and this important production. Ebenezer is a 'Life Changing Church' where Pastor and people work together to achieve our vision to reach the congregation, local community and beyond," says Ebenezer's Pastor, Dr. Vincent Campbell. "The presentation of 'Let My People Go!' is in line with our vision, and we are proud to provide this venue so that many from all neighborhoods will be able to experience this highly acclaimed production. We welcome everyone to join us in sharing this extraordinary musical experience."
In "Let My People Go!" the choir will perform along with four soloists and two actors. Leading the audience along the Underground Railroad through storytelling, the actors will illuminate the secret codes used by those who traversed the Railroad and explain the importance of the era's songs. The Junior Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh (JMCP), a talented ensemble of high school-aged students, will open the show with works by contemporary African American composers that celebrate the power of the human spirit to persevere amidst adversity and to imagine a future full of hope. JMCP will also join the adult choir for the final song, a rousing rendition of "Go Down Moses."
All of the show's soloists and actors will be African American:
- Internationally acclaimed operatic soprano Elisabeth Stevens is also a dedicated teacher of vocal technique and the business of singing.
- Baritone Gregg Baker, a favorite of the Pittsburgh Symphony known for his commanding voice, has performed leading roles at opera houses around the world.
- Born in Pittsburgh, tenor Donovan Elliot Smith currently studies at the Swiss Opera Studio of Bern University of the Arts. He has appeared in various opera productions and recitals in the U.S. and Europe.
- Mezzo Soprano Demareus Cooper was a Metropolitan Opera audition winner and has performed as a soloist with many American orchestras.
- Actor Charles Timbers has been a performer for more than 30 years, appearing in more than 30 plays in Pittsburgh.
- Actor Hope Anthony, also a singer, dancer and teaching artist, has appeared in numerous local productions.
In addition to the Feb. 15 performance at Ebenezer Baptist Church (2001 Wylie Ave., Hill District, 7:30 p.m.), there will be performances on Feb. 16 at Grove City College (7:30 p.m.) and on Feb. 17 at West Virginia University (3:30 p.m.) The latter two performances will not include the JMCP. The show's run time is 80 minutes.
Tickets are on sale now and available at this link.
- Funding for "Let My People Go!" has been provided by: McKinney Charitable Foundation of the PNC Charitable Trusts, the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Grable Foundation, Eden Hall Foundation and the Buhl Foundation.
- UPMC is a Good Neighbor Sponsor of this production, having underwritten 80 free tickets for Hill District community members.
- In-kind media sponsorship provided by Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting (WESA/WYEP).
- Media partner WQED will record the performance for later broadcast.
Up Next for the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh: Victoria's Secret: A Life in Music, May 18 and 19, 2019, East Liberty Presbyterian Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church.