This concert is the sequel to last spring’s sold-out performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Oconomowoc Arts Center, which also featured the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Waukesha Choral Union. Bel Canto Music Director Richard Hynson will once again conduct the performance. In addition to the three choruses and the orchestra, the performance will feature special guest soloists Eric Greene (baritone) and Mary Elizabeth Williams (soprano) of Pinnacle Arts Management in New York.
Give Us Peace concludes Bel Canto Chorus's 80th anniversary season, which has focused exclusively on music inspired by, and in commemoration of, the Civil War era. This concert marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War, when Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
The concert will open with Songs of the Slave by American composer Kirke Mechem. Songs of the Slave is a five-movement excerpt from Mechem’s opera John Brown, that uses quotes from actual letters and stories from slaves and excerpts of speeches by Frederick Douglass, one of the principal characters in the opera. The final movement brings the cantata to a great climax, with the chorus singing the famous words from the Declaration of Independence:
In contrast, the second half of the concert features Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem, a vividly dramatic and touching plea for peace, featuring texts from the Roman Catholic Mass, the Bible, and the poetry of Walt Whitman. Vaughan Williams, who personally experienced the carnage and horrors of war during his own World War I service, found Whitman’s writings deeply moving and channeled his emotions into much of the composition.
“Choosing to celebrate Bel Canto’s 80th anniversary season by focusing on the 150th anniversary of the beginning of our Civil War seemed a natural for us,” said Music Director Hynson. “It not only put our celebration into a larger, national context, but it allowed us to fulfill our mission to give voice to the spirit of our community. The tragedy of the Civil War has provided us with a gripping historic context in which to perform music that addresses universal issues like justice for all and the desperate need for peace.”
Ernie Brusubardis, III, Artistic Director of the Waukesha Choral Union, was intrigued by both the collaborative nature of the project and the pieces themselves. “It is a great pleasure to once again collaborate on two great choral works of our time. Vaughan Williams's timeless Dona nobis pacem still speaks to us and our culture in our present age. Mechem’s Songs of the Slave brings a fresh perspective to our own nation's civil war that we commemorate with this collaboration. In the end, this will be a unique and memorable experience for the performers as well as the audience.”
According to Daniel Van Gelderen, local composer and Conductor for the Baptist College of Ministry Concert Chorale, his singers were honored to be a part of this project. “It is a distinct privilege to once again join forces with the Bel Canto Chorus this season. We are also excited about the opportunity of collaborating with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The chorale has benefited greatly from working alongside this experienced group with such a high standard of excellence and a passion for exploring the depth of choral literature. We are thrilled to be a part of this concert that commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and we hope for many such opportunities in the future.”
Laurence E. Tucker, Vice President and Chief Program Office for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, adds: “The MSO is once again delighted to be collaborating with the Bel Canto Chorus and Maestro Hynson. Our Verdi Requiem of last season is still fresh in our ears, and we are truly looking forward to our collaboration this year, with less familiar, but equally interesting and engrossing repertoire. We hope that this collaboration will continue for many years to come.”
Give Us Peace
Saturday, May 21 at 7:30 PM
Oconomowoc Arts Center, 641 E. Forest St., Oconomowoc, WI 53066 (Highway 67 and Forest)
Bel Canto Chorus with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (Edo de Waart, Music Director), the Waukesha Choral Union, and the Baptist College of Ministry Concert Chorale. Conducted by Richard Hynson. Featuring soloists Eric Greene and Mary Elizabeth Williams.
To purchase tickets ($23-$28) please call the box office at (414) 481-8801 or visit www.belcanto.org. Senior, student, and group discounts are available by phone.
For additional information, promotional photos, or interview requests, contact the Bel Canto Chorus Administration at (414) 481-8801.
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Bel Canto Chorus is Milwaukee’s premier choral organization. Founded in 1931, Bel
Canto is committed to enriching the lives of its audiences and singing members through
the outstanding live presentation of choral music.