The World Premiere Of A Civil War Oratorio By Composer Aaron Siegel And Poet Tracy K. Smith

September 18, 2023

The premiere performance of this oratorio for the chamber choir and piano trio will be preceded by a reading of the featured poems by poet Tracy K. Smith.

As well as a brief conversation about the process for creating this piece.

Composer Aaron Siegel and poet Tracy K. Smith share the world premiere of their oratorio, I Will Tell You The Truth About This, I Will Tell You All About It. This fifty-minute work for eight singers, piano, cello and violin will be performed by top soloists led by soprano Michele Kennedy and the piano trio Longleash for one night only. The premiere performance will be preceded by a reading of the featured poems by Tracy K. Smith, as well as a brief conversation about the process for creating this piece.

I Will Tell You The Truth About This, I Will Tell You All About It is a ten-poem sequence by former United States Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith that describes in vivid details the lives of African American soldiers and their families during the Civil War. Derived entirely from historical record, the sequence includes the voices of a mother pleading with President Lincoln to release her son from the army; a soldier sending love to his children back home; and deposition statements given by African American veterans, their widows, and descendants hoping to receive their rightful pensions. The oratorio is a gripping tribute to these overlooked lives and stories at a pivotal time in American history. 

In 2019, Songs of Solomon, a Harlem-based youth choir under the direction of Bishop Chantel Wright, performed the first five movements of the oratorio with soloists Michele Kennedy (soprano) and Eric McKeever (baritone) at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, NY. Writing in The Log Journal, Brin Solomon noted: “Spinning out fluttering textures of interlocked voices, the music had an elevated subtlety, as weighty and solemn as polished stones, but quivering always with the pulse of life.”  The sold-out crowd was equally enthusiastic, giving the choir and soloists a standing ovation.

Composer Aaron Siegel received a grant from the New York State Council for the Arts in 2023 to complete the work, and the performance at Merkin Hall marks the world premiere of the full piece. Siegel is one of the co-founders of the essential indie opera company Experiments in Opera and has received numerous grants and awards for his “Evocative” music (The New York Times). He has a growing reputation as a composer for voice including a recent recital featuring countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo singing a song cycle for voice and vibraphone, Watching Birds at the End of the World.

Thursday, November 2, 2023, 7:30 PM, Merkin Hall, Kaufman Music Center, Abraham Goodman House, 129 West 67th Street, (btw Broadway and Amsterdam), New York, NY 10023


Photo credit: 1) Civil War 2). Music Center.

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