Princeton Singers artistic director Steven Sametz’s “A Child’s Requiem” will have its New Jersey premiere on Saturday, November 21, at 8 p.m. at Princeton Meadows Church.
The work was created in memory of the children, teachers, and administrators killed during the mass shooting on December 4, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was written for the University of Connecticut as part of the Raymond and Beverly Sacker 2013 Music Prize and premiered in March, 2015.
Sametz, a Connecticut native who has led the choral group since 1998, used a combination of writing by elementary school students and several prominent American poets to fashion the 45-minute oratorio for children’s chorus, adult choir, three soloists, and chamber orchestra.
“How to approach the suddenness, the violent assault on innocence and wonder, the sorrow of families robbed of their children?” Sametz writes about the work. “As I wrote, characters began to emerge: the tenor, the grieving father; the soprano solo, the mother singing a lullaby to her departed child; the children’s solos offering comforting words from the beyond or child-like prayers for peace.”
Early in the work audiences will hear the whispering of children: “Stay in line … Hold hands … Keep your eyes closed,” then a tenor’s voice intoning lines by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th-century New England poet who lived through the losses of the young — siblings, wife, and his first son. His poem “Threnody,” a poem or hymn of mourning, is woven into the Requiem’s libretto.
“I knew it couldn’t only be about loss and mourning,” writes Sametz. “Requiem settings are for the living, to provide solace and comfort. Without being asked — because they are children — some of the texts expressed sorrow turning to joy. ‘I am being taken away to a happier land of flowers and rainbows … to the land I was once from,’ to a land ‘made out of stars.’ Many requiem settings close with ‘In Paradisum.’ In ‘A Child’s Requiem,’ the last movement also has a sense of ascent to paradise. Emerson’s poem, asking if there is ‘no star that could be sent’ to grieve for the ‘most beautiful and sweet of human youth’ which ‘has left the hill’ is answered by the child’s text: ‘from my window, there is a hill to the stars.’ The last movement brings together the soprano’s lament, the tenor’s hopeful query, the child’s prayer, and the final choral statement: ‘Hearts’ love will meet thee again.’”
Sametz will conduct an ensemble that includes the Princeton Girlchoir and an international cast of soloists. Also on the program is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music,” for soloist, chorus, and orchestra.
The Princeton Singers was founded in 1983 and has a reputation for performing classics as well as new compositions for voice.
Sametz’s other compositions include the ballet “Small Steps/Tiny Revolutions,” “in time of” (using poems by e.e. cummings), “Three Mystical Choruses” premiered by Chanticleer, and “Music’s Music,” commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and premiered at Disney Hall in Los Angeles.
Steven Sametz’s “A Child’s Requiem,” Princeton Meadows Church, 545 Meadow Road, Princeton, Saturday, November 21, 8 p.m. $10 to $25.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Princeton Singers, Nassau Presbyterian Church, 61 Nassau Street, Princeton. Saturday, December 12, 6 p.m. $10 to $25. 866-846-7464 or www.princetonsingers.org.