The Washington Chorus (TWC) will partner with National Philharmonic to present the program Universal Longings | Anhelos Universales at The Music Center at Strathmore on Sunday, November 5, 2023 at 3 p.m. Conducted by TWC Artistic Director Eugene Rogers, the concert features guest artists Scott Piper (tenor) and Juan Tomás Martínez Yépez (baritone). Universal Longings | Anhelos Universales is the first of two collaborations with the National Philharmonic this season. Tickets and more information are available here.
The concert celebrates compositional voices of both the past and present, meant to demonstrate the power of song. The program begins with the East Coast premiere of composer James Lee III’s 2023 Breaths of Universal Longings and concludes with Venezuelan composer Antonio Estévez’s 1954 Cantata Criolla.
James Lee III’s Breaths of Universal Longings is a work in four movements, commissioned and premiered by the Cincinnati May Festival in 2023. The piece incorporates a variety of texts, beginning with biblical excerpts from the creation story in Genesis and concluding with William Henry Davies’s poem, “Seeking Joy.” In this final movement, the music continues in a steady ascent as Davies’s text shifts from “Joy, how I sought thee!” to “Joy, I have found thee!,” concluding with an explosive last measure of music.
“Breaths of Universal Longings is a work inspired primarily by the concepts of joy and belonging. It is a work that celebrates the power of the voice and singing. It is also about shared humanity and the universality of singing.” – James Lee III
Cantata Criolla by Venezuelan composer Antonio Estévez demonstrates that same power of singing through vivid storytelling and rich, musical language. Composed in 1954, Cantata Criolla is the setting of the famous Venezuelan poem “Florentino y El Diablo” by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba. The text celebrates traditional Venezuelan folk culture, exploring the mysterious “llanos” (plains) of Venezuela and the performance practice of the “copleros” (improvisational musicians of the llanos). The Faustian story centers around Florentino, a musical cowboy, and El Diablo himself, as they engage in a singing contest with Florentino’s soul as the prize. The piece is in three large-scale movements and will be performed by the orchestra, full chorus, and two soloists.
“TWC is excited to collaborate with the National Philharmonic to celebrate voices of both the past and present. I chose both pieces as a way for us all to celebrate the human voice and to recognize our human desire and struggle to win the battle with ourselves,” said Eugene Rogers, TWC Artistic Director. “It is important to me that TWC strives to lift up voices of color to connect and build a world where every voice is heard and included; we commit to this via our Mahogany Initiative that seeks to center the voices and visions of creators of color across the entire spectrum of our programming.”
“We’re thrilled to partner with The Washington Chorus for two programs this season. Audiences can expect to be mesmerized and moved by the combination of these outstanding D.C.-area ensembles. Not only will the performances be powerful, but the repertoire will also be meaningful to our communities and relevant to our times. I’m very much looking forward to these concerts!,” shared National Philharmonic President & CEO Jim Kelly.
James Lee III, Breaths of Universal Longings
I. From Dust We Were Made [Genesis 2:7, Job 38:7 (paraphrased by James Lee III)]
II. Now and Then [Charles Bertram Johnson]
III. Reflection [Texts by members of the May Festival Youth Chorus]
IV. Seeking Joy [William Henry Davies]
Antonio Estévez, Cantata Criolla
I. Lento e cadencioso
II. Lento, tenebroso
IV. Allegro vivo
Dr. Eugene Rogers, conductor
Scott Piper, Tenor
Juan Tomás Martínez Yépez, Baritone
Reservoir High School Chamber Choir