Finding Light in Shadow

Conspirare sings of deep hope in the midst of great suffering

Finding Light in Shadow

History is full of events that testify to man's capacity for both great evil and great good, and in its closing concert of the current season the esteemed local chorus Conspirare reflects on this aspect of human behavior. Shadow and Light features its performance of Sir Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time, a work for chorus, orchestra, and soloists inspired by Kristallnacht, the brutal "Night of Broken Glass" in which the Nazi persecution of German Jews escalated into a campaign of terror and, ultimately, the Holocaust. Tippett weaves into the score African-American spirituals that connect the work to oppressed peoples throughout history.ÊIn balance, the concert will close with the final two movements of Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony, which Conspirare director Craig Hella Johnson calls "some of the most hopeful music ever written." Here he offers some thoughts on the concert's music and message.

Austin Chronicle: You've pointed out the relationship that A Child of Our Time bears to the Holocaust, but is there any significance to you in performing it on Juneteenth?

Craig Hella Johnson: When we first planned for this concert, there were mostly practical concerns we addressed in choosing a date: when the hall is available, when we could collaborate with the Victoria Bach Festival Orchestra, etc. Shortly after we decided on the 19th, it hit me that this was Juneteenth, and I was thrilled. It is particularly appropriate since Tippett includes five Afro-American spirituals in A Child of Our Time. "Steal Away," "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," "Deep River," "By and By," and "Go Down, Moses" are thoughtfully placed within the work to create moments of reflection, relief, and drama. Their inclusion strengthens the piece significantly and makes it clear that this is not only a piece about the Holocaust but also a universal statement about "man's inhumanity to man."

AC: Your program and Ballet Austin's recent work based in the Holocaust both reflect on profound darkness in human history, and yet the titles of both talk about light. How do the works you're performing lead us out of that shadow?

CHJ: In A Child of Our Time, Tippett offers us his idea for moving out of the darkness. He wrote the text for the piece, and the central theme of the work is a line which comes near the end of the work: "I would know my shadow and my light; So at last I would be made whole. Then courage, brothers – here is no final grieving, but an abiding hope." So the title for this concert, Shadow and Light, comes right out of Tippett's words.

The Tippett asks some big questions and even ends, for me, with a question. The Mahler provides something of a musical answer, a balancing. It expresses a bold confidence in the possibility of transformation and deep hope. One of the things powerful music of this kind can do is to remind us of the possibility of light and hope with a dramatic musical vision. It is a bold statement and deeply satisfying to experience. It is a pairing that just feels right. end story

Shadow and Light will be presented June 19, Sunday, 7pm, at Riverbend Centre, 4214 Capital of TX Hwy. For more information, call 476-5775 or visit

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