Dett & Bernstein

Thursday, September 28 - 7:30 PM

(Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 PM) @ Cain Center for the Arts, Cornelius


Saturday, September 30, 2023 - 7:30 PM*

(Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 PM) @ The Sarah Belk Gambrell Center for the Arts and Civic Engagement, Queens University of Charlotte


R. Nathaniel DETT: The Ordering of Moses (North Carolina Premiere)
Leonard BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms


Anne O'Byrne, soprano
Sarah Brauer, mezzo-soprano
Jason Dungee, tenor
Marques Jerrell Ruff, bass-baritone
Charlotte Master Chorale
Charlotte Symphony Orchestra
Kenney Potter, conducting

Celebrating the Oratorio Singers’ and Charlotte Master Chorale’s over seven decades of performing choral-orchestral masterworks, our Legacy Concert series continues with an examination of freedom and oppression across communities featuring Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and the North Carolina premiere of R. Nathaniel Dett’s long-neglected oratorio The Ordering of Moses, which builds on the spiritual “Go Down, Moses” to portray the liberation of the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt.

Dett: The Ordering of Moses

R. Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943) began work at the Hampton Institute (now University), a historically Black college in Hampton, Virginia, in 1913. There he trained the choir to a new level of musical excellence, with his 40-voice Hampton Singers performing at Carnegie Hall in January 1914. Dett became director of the Music Department at Hampton in 1926, another first for an African American, the same year Oberlin Conservatory awarded him  an honorary Doctor of Music degree, yet another first.

Dett’s later education included studies at Harvard University under Arthur Foote and the American Conservatory in Fountainebleau with Nadia Boulanger. In 1932, he completed a Master of Music degree at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. For his master’s project, he composed what would become one of his most significant compositions, the oratorioThe Ordering of Moses.

This monumental work drew upon the biblical story of Moses and the Exodus, blending elements of African American spirituals with classical European forms and techniques in a powerful testament of his compositional skill, his dedication to preserving African American musical traditions, and his belief in the unique and indispensable role of African American music in American culture.

ThoughThe Ordering of Moses premiered to critical acclaim at the 1937 Cincinnati May Festival, its concurrent national radio broadcast was not met with the same enthusiasm. Around forty minutes into what was meant to be an hour-long program, NBC radio listeners across the country found the historic national broadcast cut short: “We are sorry indeed, ladies and gentlemen, but due to previous commitments, we are unable to remain for the closing moments of this excellent performance.”
No official explanation was given, but the prevailing theory was that NBC had caved to complaints from listeners who objected to the broadcasting of music by a Black composer. The piece was rarely performed for the following 70 years, until its recent revival by musical organizations across the country.

Bernstein: Chichester Psalms

Versatility was a defining feature ofLeonard Bernstein’s (1918–1990) career. He composed symphonies, operas, and musicals, including the legendary West Side Story. His works often explored complex and emotionally charged themes, reflecting his deep engagement with social and political issues.

The three movements ofChichester Psalms, written in 1965, are a captivating blend of Biblical Hebrew verse and Christian choral tradition, reflecting Bernstein's commitment to promoting unity and understanding among different faiths. As the Leonard Bernstein Office notes, “Bernstein specifically called for the text to be sung in Hebrew (there is not even an English translation in the score), using the melodic and rhythmic contours of the Hebrew language to dictate mood and melodic character. By combining the Hebrew with Christian choral tradition, Bernstein was implicitly issuing a plea for peace in Israel during a turbulent time in the young country’s history.”

These concerts are presented in partnership with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, the Gambrell Center of Queens University of Charlotte, and collegiate singers from Queens University of Charlotte and UNC Charlotte and are made possible, in part, with funding from ASC and the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, and the Sally Ann and Joe Hall Fund of the Charlotte Symphony’s Endowment.

*The September 30th performance is presented in partnership with the Gambrell Center and features special performances by the Queens University Choral Union & Chamber Singers, Justin Smith, director, and the University Chorale of UNC Charlotte, Jason Dungee, director.

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