NU symphony, choirs premiere oratorio
The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus.
‘Not in Our Time’
Northwestern University Student Chorus and Orchestra, led by Robert A. Harris
Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Washington Street and Michigan Avenue, Chicago
6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 27
Admission is free
Updated: May 25, 2012 12:12PM
The oratorio “Not in Our Time,” written to commemorate the terrorist attacks on 9/11, will receive its United States premiere Sunday at Millennium Park in Chicago.
Under the baton of Northwestern University’s Robert A. Harris, the 70-member Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra will perform the work by British composer Richard Blackford. About 175 singers from NU’s Chorale and Chorus and Women’s Chorus, including 62 members of the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, will be on the Pritzker Pavilion stage.
Soloists will be tenor Harold Brock and bass-baritone David Govertsen, both Northwestern alumni.
The oratorio was commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus for its centenary and premiered in England last year the10th anniversary of 9/11. Its title comes from the Hilda Doolittle poem “Not in our time, O Lord, the ploughshare for the sword.”
“It is a very profound work,” said Harris, who is himself a composer and whose composition titled “Gloria” will open the program Sunday evening. “The references to 9/11 are not overt, but they are there. Plus, Richard is especially good at setting texts.”
The composer, who is a personal friend of Harris’s, will be in the audience. “And we’re very happy to have singers from the Bournemouth chorus join us,” Harris declared.
Harris met Blackford about a dozen years ago, when Harris was consulting in England with another British composer. “We were introduced and we became fast friends right away, “ he said.
In addition to oratorios, Blackford has written operas, concert music, and musicals. Britain does not observe the uniquely American divide between classical composers and film composers, and Blackford has composed scores for more than two hundred films.
chose the texts for “Not
in Our Time,” choosing quotes from speeches by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama to bracket the 55-minute piece. It also uses poems on holy war and lines from a speech by Pope Urban II on divinely sanctioned violence, which is credited with launching the First Crusade in the 11th century. It finally shares a message of hope for peace between cultures and faiths.
One description of the oratorio cites its “Carmina Burana” exuberance and moments in which is resembles the incandescent work of Messiaen. “The work is tonal,” Harris said, “but there is dissonance, because of the subject matter.” It was highly acclaimed at its premiere.
For Maestro Harris, who lives in Evanston, this is the final Northwestern concert he will conduct, as he is retiring at the end of this school year. “I plan to do some guest teaching and I hope to have more time to compose,” he said. “I am not stopping my work, I am just stopping work here at my university office.”
A free concert at Millennium Park on the Sunday before Memorial Day has become a Northwestern tradition, he explained. And, it might be added, this concert comes at a perfect time to remember those who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.