Letters from Emily
Time & Location
About the Event
The poetry of Emily Dickinson still has the power to shock, inspire, and astonish. Nearly 135 years after her death, Emily’s vivid imagery and unconventional use of language continue to fascinate generation after generation.
Intrigued by eerie parallels between his and Emily’s personal struggles, Portland composer Grant Edward set out years ago to craft an autobiographical song cycle using her words as a libretto. After carefully selecting 27 poems from Emily’s massive output, he proceeded to set them in a full-length oratorio for mixed chorus, soloists, and orchestra—his magnum opus. The result is a deeply personal work which also reflects the universal plight of all humanity: our lives are our “letters to the world”, a world which promises nothing in return. The sun sets, the sun rises; love is gained and lost—yet sometimes, hope flies in from where we least expect it.
The 77-minute song cycle employs unapologetically tonal and melodic musical language. Many of the poems are perennial favorites (“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers”, “I’ll tell you how the sun rose”, “I shall not live in vain”). Others may be completely new to most listeners (“Shame need not crouch”, “Fame is a bee”, “Behold this little bane”). Still other settings cast new light on familiar words (“Wild Nights!”, “The soul selects her own society”, and “I never saw a moor”, re-imagined as a bitter argument between opposing factions).
In this premiere performance, Grant Edwards conducts the Locus Iste Concert Choir, an outreach program of First Congregational United Church of Christ. Mezzo-soprano Sheryl Wood personifies the venerable poet (along with Genna McAllister, as the “boy” Emily sometimes imagined herself to be). Soloists Ian Timmons, Jonathan Green, and Jonny Roberts animate various facets of the composer’s “Everyman” persona. Instrumentalists include collaborative pianist Yvette Starkey and Mary Rowell, concertmaster of the 14-member ensemble.