10 Apr 2016
Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon School of Music
Eugene Vocal Arts
Diane Retallack, Artistic Director & Conductor
A new composition by Joan Szymko, giving voice to the challenges, courage, and loving acceptance of people and caregivers affected by Alzheimer's and dementia. The first-ever original commission from Eugene Vocal Arts, made possible by the Fred W. Fields Fund Creative Heights Initiative of the Oregon Community Foundation and by the Oregon Cultural Trust.
The Eugene Concert Choir organization, Diane Retallack, Director, was awarded a $125,000 grant from the Fred W. Fields Fund of Oregon Community Foundation Creative Heights initiative to commission a choral-orchestral work by nationally-recognized Oregon composer Joan Szymko that gives voice to those affected by Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Szymko met with patients, families and caregivers, arranged in partnership with the Oregon Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. She was both emotionally and creatively impacted by the intimate narratives regarding the challenges, frustrations, despair, hopes, courage, determination, acceptance, and moments of light and tenderness. She has worked tirelessly over the last year to translate the stories she's collected into music. Artistic Director and Conductor, Diane Retallack, worked closely with the composer along the creative journey to develop this groundbreaking work. Both Szymko and Retallack were equally struck and delighted with the resulting piece of music. What was intended to be a 30-minute work burgeoned into a 60-minute masterwork for choir, orchestra and soloists with thrilling, demanding movements.
The libretto comprises existing poetry and texts carefully selected by Szymko. The words of Emily Dickenson open the piece:
I felt a cleaving in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence ravelled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor.
The music and lyrics are complemented by spoken lines from on and off stage, such as this from the first section of the work that leads into the words of poet Gail White:
Speaker: You have dementia, probably of the Alzheimer's type.
Mezzo: This is the paper that gives the date.
This is the kettle to boil the water.
This is a china breakfast plate.
This is a note to call my daughter.
“I'm honored,” says Retallack, “to have been in any way responsible for the addition of this work to the choral repertoire. The music...it is hard to put into words—it takes my breath away.”
The world premiere of the work will be presented in a triumphant and passionate performance by the select chamber choir of the Eugene Concert Choir organization, Eugene Vocal Arts with Eugene Concert Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Retallack, in April, 2016 at Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon. The performance will be professionally recorded for wider distribution with both audio and video.