Whitney Hale


College: Fine Arts

Lexington Singers to Perform UK Composer's 'American Requiem'

Published: Nov 8, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 8, 2012) — The Lexington Singers are bringing back University of Kentucky Composer-in-Residence Joseph Baber’s “An American Requiem,” a composition for chorus and orchestra that premiered in Lexington in 1999. The concert, presented in conjunction with the launching of the Baber Collection at UK Libraries’ Special Collections and the composer's 70th birthday, will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, at Immanuel Baptist Church, in Lexington.


When "An American Requiem," by the Virginia native and UK composer first appeared, it was hailed by the Lexington Herald-Leader as a “kaleidoscope of triumph and anguish.” Then-Lexington Philharmonic Director George Zack explained the piece’s contemporary relevance, saying that he heard “echoes of those Civil War soldiers in the words of soldiers now on the front lines in Iraq…There is an incredible problem getting past unanimity of emotion of anyone who’s ever been in a war.”


Jefferson Johnson, Lexington Singers’ director and director of UK Choral Activities, said of the work, “The text is striking in that it’s in places gut-level raw when it talks about the dead and dying on the battlefield, and then it’s so poignant when it’s a soldier in a trench writing about his wife and how much he loves her, and he dies in battle the next day.”


In preparing the libretto, Baber combed through Civil War-era diaries, poetry and letters. Among the writings are the poetry of Herman Melville, Henry Timrod and Walt Whitman; and the oratory of Frederick Douglass and James Russell Lowell. The text is especially notable for bringing to light the voices of many ordinary people, including a Kentucky diarist, a volunteer nurse at Gettysburg and many soldiers.


“I thought I would let the poetry be the sacred text and intersperse it with the voices of the men who had fought. Once I began manipulating the text, the music just came. By the end I was dreaming the voices — they were haunting me,” Baber said.


Writing on the 1999 premiere, music critic Carmen Geraci suggested that “As a composer, Baber proved he is at the height of his powers, and assured of his effects. The opening notes reflected the fusion of opposites in the piece. The recurring two-note motif from the timpani recalled both a heartbeat and cannon fire — the sounds and silences of life and death. The section titled 'Battle Lines' ironically blurred these lines, as words from North and South combined until it mattered little which side was speaking. 'The Voices' movement included chanted accounts by nurses and soldiers, consecrating their words in this requiem. The beautiful 'Raven Days' combined eloquence and halting sorrow, and a section recalling a Handel oratio gave Frederick Douglass’s words biblical authority before moving into a masterful spiritual.”


Baber’s “An American Requiem” will be part of a program that will also include music by Kentucky composers Jay Flippin and Johnie Dean, as well as spirituals and other American music. The evening will also include a presentation of the colors by members of the 7th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, a Civil War reenactment organization, and a panel exhibit prepared by the Kentucky Historical Society.


Tickets for the Lexington Singers concert are $20 for general admission, $18 for seniors and $15 for children. Tickets can be purchased by contacting (859) 338-9888.


Baber is composer-in-residence at the UK School of Music in the UK College of Fine Arts. The School of Music  has achieved awards and national and international recognition for high-caliber education in opera, choral and instrumental music performance, as well as for music education, composition, theory and music history.




MEDIA CONTACT: Whitney Hale, (859) 257-8716 or whitney.hale@uky.edu


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