To launch the 140th anniversary season of the Oratorio Society of New York, the city's second-oldest cultural organization still performing, OSNY Music Director Kent Tritle has created an all-American program about "American aesthetics, history, and experience": music by Charles Ives and Aaron Copland and the New York premiere of a 2008 oratorio about an 1888 American tragedy. "American Voices" takes place on Monday, November 5, 2012, at Carnegie Hall, and features arrangements for chorus and orchestra of selections from Copland's Old American Songs and three songs by Charles Ives; Copland's "The Promise of Living" from The Tender Land; and the New York premiere of Paul Moravec's The Blizzard Voices, a work based on poetry by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser about the Great Plains blizzard of 1888.
The program's soloists are sopranos Susanna Phillips and Maeve Höglund, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Feinstein, tenor Aaron Blake, baritone Jonathan Estabrooks, and bass Kevin Deas-all six are featured in the Moravec work, and Kevin Deas is also the soloist in Ives's song "General William Booth Enters into Heaven." Feinstein and Estabrooks are two winners of the OSNY's Oratorio-Solo Competition. Kent Tritle conducts "The Promise of Living" and The Blizzard Voices, and OSNY Assistant Conductor David Rosenmeyer leads the Copland and Ives songs.
The Oratorio Society of New York presented its first concert on December 3, 1873, performed at the opening festival of Carnegie Hall, conducted by Tchaikovsky, in May 1891, and in the years since has become the city's standard for grand choral performance. Led by Kent Tritle, in his eighth season as music director, the OSNY 140th anniversary season at Carnegie Hall begins with "American Voices," continues with its annual performance-since 1874-of Handel's Messiah at Christmastime, and concludes in the spring with a performance of Britten's monumental War Requiem, in Britten's centennial year-Kent Tritle's first time leading the work.
The Blizzard Voices
Premiered by Opera Omaha in 2008, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec's The Blizzard Voices is an oratorio based on poetry by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, telling the story of the Great Plains blizzard of 1888-often called the "Children's Blizzard" because so many schoolchildren were killed when the storm struck in mid-day on January 12, 1888. Each of Kooser's poems set to music is written in the voice of a victim or a witness. The chorus takes on a number of roles, those of participants, narrator, and commentator.
"There's something biblical about the extent and the tragedy of the blizzard," says Moravec, which is why he chose to frame it "in the context of an Old Testament oratorio. The Blizzard Voices is essentially an American Requiem." Musically, the composer describes it as suggesting the world of 19th century music from the perspective of today.
The work's subject has a personal resonance for Kent Tritle. He grew up in northwest Iowa, not far from where the blizzard struck. "My uncle's uncle was caught in the blizzard and lost a friend, so I've heard stories about it since boyhood."
See Paul Moravec and Kent Tritle talk about the work in a video on the Oratorio Society of New York's YouTube channel.