On Friday evening, April 25, the Cecilia Chorus of New York, under the baton of conductor Mark Shapiro, will present the world premiere of a newly commissioned work from composer Tom Cipullo. Entitled Credo for a Secular City, Mr. Cipullo’s new piece will be part of a program that also includes Brahms’s Nänie, Bruckner’s Te Deum and Vaughan Williams’s Toward the Unknown Region. The featured soloists will be soprano Kristina Bachrach, mezzo Virginie Verrez, tenor Noah Baetge and baritone Michael Anthony McGee.
Mr. Cipullo, the award-winning talent behind the opera Glory Denied, as well as numerous prize-winning song cycles, choral and instrumental works, has stated that when he received the commission he was interested in creating something “a little different.” He notes that despite the cosmopolitan nature of New York City, and the demographics of most choruses and audiences here, our repertoire is primarily comprised of masterworks from the sacred -- Christian -- musical tradition. “I decided I wanted to create a Credo,” said Mr. Cipullo, “that embraced doubt with equal fervor as belief, but also one that celebrated those things that are our closest link to the truly divine: the beauty of nature, the power of music and the fundamental goodness of people.”
Mark Shapiro, CCNY’s Music Director, having worked many times with Tom Cipullo, was enthusiastic about the choice for this commission. “Tom writes lushly harmonized, vocally idiomatic music that has terrific rhythmic energy. And he is wonderfully sensitive to text.” Indeed, the texts used for this Credo are decidedly unusual, combining parts from the original Latin liturgy with words by Descartes, Shakespeare, Milton, the poets Robert Hayden, Matthew Arnold, Lisel Mueller and Edward Hirsch, as well as essayists and thinkers. A tapestry of thoughts and words is created, expressing faith, doubt, fear, wonderment, not as barriers between people, but as common and interwoven paths.
The work begins conventionally enough, with the familiar Credo text in Latin, but elements of doubt can already be discerned in the offbeat rhythms and occasional unsettling dissonances. By the second movement, entitled Dubito, the piece moves well into the realm of questioning and doubt, with a spirited musical debate between the recurring voices of doubt ("dubito ergo cogito ergo sum") and faith, represented by recognizable passages from great sacred choral works from Handel, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Brahms -- the Age of Enlightenment meets the Age of Belief. This leads into a lyrical Interlude for baritone solo, invoking Shakespeare’s famous passage from Hamlet “What a piece of work is man....”, bringing into the picture a human-centered view of the divine. And so the piece continues, layering moments of bucolic loveliness with the Sturm und Drang of Nature at its most powerful, ambiguity with certainty, the cacophony of superstition with the celestial voices of faith, all tumbling into one huge mysterious whole, enfolding in equal manner our metaphysical and mundane selves into the eternal, the transient and each other.
The spiritual wrestling so vibrantly captured by Mr. Cipullo is also addressed in various ways by the other works on the program. Vaughan Williams’s moving and tender Toward the Unknown Region, to a poem by Walt Whitman, portrays a dialogue between a man and his soul as they step off together on the final journey. Brahms’s Nänie is an aching and lovely lamentation on the death of a friend, set to poetry by Schiller. Rounding out the program is the mystical and powerful Te Deum of late Romantic composer Anton Bruckner.
The Cecilia Chorus of New York (www.ceciliachorusny.org) performs the world premiere of Credo for a Secular City by Tom Cipullo, along with Brahms, Bruckner and Vaughan Williams on Friday, April 25 at 8:00 PM at Carnegie Hall, 7th Avenue and 57th Street, New York City. Tickets are priced from $25 to $80, and are available at CarnegieCharge, 212-247-7800, (www.carnegiehall.org) or from any Chorus member.
Melody Owens is a soprano with the Cecilia Chorus of New York.