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"Force is not a remedy."
"Telling lies to the young is wrong."
"If you have ears to hear, then hear!"
Quotes from John Bright, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Jesus Christ and others are woven into a tapestry of warnings, hope and inspiration for the world. These texts ring true today, as they did in 1965 when Britten's Voices for Today was premiered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the United Nations. The combined voices of Cerddorion Vocal Ensemble and the Vox Nova Children's Choir of the Special Music School, joined by organist Douglas Keilitz, will bring this work to life in a pair of concerts in early June.
Benjamin Britten's centennial is being celebrated around the world with performances of his operas, his War Requiem and his many treasured choral works. Cerddorion Vocal Ensemble, under the direction of James John, is delighted to be presenting music honoring the 100th anniversary of Britten's birth and the 50th anniversary of Poulenc's death. Both composers were celebrated for their vocal works and both were influenced by the tragedy of World War II. The majority of works featured on the concert come from the years directly following the war and reflect a plea for spiritual sustenance and an idealism for humanity that we can still learn from.
The collaboration of the fifth-grade singers of Vox Nova with the adult voices of Cerddorion adds a special element to this concert. When singing significant words about peace, one could assume that adults are concerned and aware of the needs of the world while children are either sheltered from or oblivious to the larger issues. In fact, although we hope that children are not inundated with the concerns of the "adult" world, they are aware and often have better solutions than we, the adults, do. I was reminded of this when we were discussing Britten's pleas for peace ("if you have ears to hear, then hear!") in a recent rehearsal and one of my young singers expressed concern over the increased carbon index readings. She was deeply aware and concerned about the larger world and she understood the warnings in Britten's music – it's our job, the job of every person in every generation, to make the world better, through music, through art and through our every action.
The concerts are Saturday, June 1, 8 PM, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 199 Carroll Street (Carroll Gardens), Brooklyn; and Thursday, June 6, 8 PM, St. Ignatius of Antioch, 552 West End Avenue (at West 87th Street), Manhattan. For a promotional video with rehearsal footage, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENL74uMZv84. For tickets and concert information, visit www.cerddorion.org.
Emily John is the director of Vox Nova Choirs of the Special Music School.