Resonant Voices in Great Neck
by Leo Kraft, Copyright 2009
Elie Siegmeister: I Have a Dream; other vocal music. With soprano Helene Williams, mezzo Linda Thompson-Wiulliams, baritone Lars Woodul, basso Ivan Thomas. Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus/Leonard Lehrman. Great Neck Public Library. January 11, 2009.
The 100th anniversary of the birth of Elie Siegmeister is being marked by a series of concerts in a number of cities in New York and elsewhere, produced by Leonard Lehrman. Since the composer was a long-time resident of Great Neck, it was appropriate that one of the concerts be held in the Great Neck Library. I attended that event, on January 11th.
This program consisted entirely of vocal music, both solo and choral. the featured work was the cantata, I HAve a Dream, incorporating familiar portions of the memorable 1963 speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Other works were drawn from many different sources. Particularly affecting was the setting of a poem by Rosemary Benet, in which Abraham Lincoln's mother-who died when her son was nine-returns in spirit to inquire about the fate of her boy.
The performers included the Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus and four soloists. These were soprano Helene Williams, who presented her songs with vitality, wit, and superb diction, Linda Thompson-Williams, an excellent mezzo, Lars Woodul, a fine baritone, and the veteran bass Ivan Thomas, who was also the narrator in the cantata. Leonard Lehrman conducted the chorus, accompanied the solos, and provided interesting personal comments about the music and the composer, who had been his principal teacher and mentor.
The well-annotated program, by giving the dates of composition for each work, made it possible to trace the development of the composer's style over the 25 years of the music in this program. Although thoroughly at home in popular idiom from the start, his works gained in maturity and resourcefulness as time went on. No doubt the other concerts of this series will illustrate Siegmeister's later style as he turned his attention increasingly to instrumental music.
A sizeable audience braved the cold weather to hear the music of their well-known neighbor and responded with enthusiasm.
[A link to details on the 36 concerts honoring Siegmeister's centennial this year may be found at (the website of) The Elie Siegmeister Society.]