choir (SATB with divisi), organ, bass drum, narrator

45 minutes

TEXT: choir: biblical, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance; narrator: various political and religious figures

LANGUAGE: choir: Latin, English; narrator: English

COMMISSION: Cantori New York

PREMIERE: March 7, 2015, Cantori New York, Mark Shapiro (conductor), Kathleen Chalfant (narrator), Church of St. Luke in the Fields, New York, New York

CONCERT NOTES: In 2008, Illinois Senator Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. His campaign message of hope and change galvanized a generation disillusioned with government and desperate for a leader who would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity.

Throughout history, societies have often sought out charismatic leaders in times of crisis. Some of these leaders rescued nations and inspired millions; others became the most notorious despots in history. What unites these heroes and villains is the incredible blind faith of their followers -- the powerful force which transformed these individuals from relative unknowns to figures of messianic proportions.

Messiahs: False and True (for choir, organ, bass drum and narrator) examines this particular cultural phenomenon by tracing the trajectory of such a leader. The libretto combines texts describing or spoken by messianic figures and charismatic leaders as diverse as Julius Caesar and Jim Jones. These texts spoken by the narrator are juxtaposed with passages from the Old and New Testaments sung in Latin by the choir, which follow the events of the story. Much of the biblical text is borrowed from Handel's Messiah, but presented in the Latin Vulgate translation. Only the very last chorus is in English -- a poem included in the prologue to Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance.

As we witness the dramatic events of the 2016 presidential race, we are reminded once again of the intoxicating allure of charismatic leadership. This piece asks us to consider the consequences of falling under its spell.