Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and The Tyler Clementi Foundation present Portraits of Healing: Tyler’s Suite and the Music of Ola Gjeilo
James M. Meaders, DCINY Associate Artistic Director and conductor
Ola Gjeilo, DCINY Composer-in-Residence, piano
Tim Seelig, Conductor Laureate
Stephen Schwartz, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Michael McCorry Rose, Special Guest Artist
Andrew Caldwell, tenor; Steve Huffness, bass; Nancy Nail, mezzo-soprano; Keilan Christopher, tenor; Jorge Ávila, violin; Carl Pantle, piano
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
June 4, 2017
Talk about a concert with a mission! Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented the very moving New York premiere of Tyler’s Suite, a work commissioned by the Tyler Clementi Foundation in 2012 (the 2014 world premiere was in San Francisco) to honor the memory of the eighteen-year-old college freshman who committed suicide nearly seven years ago, due to intense, vile, cyber-bullying. We will get to that work , which comprised the second half of the concert, later.
The concert opened with four choruses by the Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjeilo, an eminence in the field, despite not yet having reached age 40. Even their texts seemed to relate to Tyler Clementi. For me, the standout was Dark Night of the Soul, from the poem by St. John of the Cross, the Counter-Reformation mystic whose sacred raptures border on the erotic. “One dark night,/fired with love’s urgent longings/–ah, the sheer grace!–/I went out unseen,/my house being now all stilled,” for example. Mr. Gjeilo is what I call a “maximal minimalist,” at times sounding like a descendent of Philip Glass, but with much greater access to emotion, and much more romantic. The Dark Night was preceded by The Ground, a reworking of a portion of Mr. Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass that had a beautiful three-note “Brahmsian” motive. Then came the phoenix legend reconsidered beautifully in Across the Vast, Eternal Sky. Finally, a counterpart to Dark was provided by the Luminous Night of the Soul, words mostly by Charles Silvestri, but with the inclusion of more St. John of the Cross. The composite choir was excellent, with absolutely stunning blends, surely the achievement of the conductor; the composer himself was the pianist, along with the strings of the Distinguished Concerts orchestra. Mr. Gjeilo’s sensitive rendition of the extended piano interlude in Luminous Night was breathtaking.
After intermission came the main event, Tyler’s Suite– a collaboration among nine of today’s most celebrated composers: John Bucchino, Ann Hampton Callaway, Craig Carnelia, John Corigliano, Stephen Flaherty, Nolan Gasser, Jake Heggie, Lance Horne, and Stephen Schwartz, with the libretto by Pamela Stewart, Mark Adamo, and Joe Clementi. Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother, was introduced by composer Stephen Schwartz (of multi-Broadway show fame). I don’t understand how any mother (or parent, sibling, or friend) can ever truly “heal” from such an immense loss, however, she spoke with great composure and passion about the need for kindness and an end to bullying (online and offline), harassment, and humiliation. The family started the Tyler Clementi Foundation in the hope that their worst nightmare would not have to happen to anyone else. Tyler’s father even collaborated in part of the libretto.
The work is in nine sections, with a violin solo prominent (due to Tyler Clementi’s talent on that instrument), piano, SATB choir, and soloists. There was one lighter moment in The Unicycle Song, about Tyler’s ability to play the violin while riding, you guessed it, a unicycle. The points of view of mother, father, and brother were all represented in this collaborative work, whose composers aren’t identified by specific section, nor are librettists identified by whose words are which—they truly meld their identities in the service of this memorial.
As Jane Clementi said, she truly believes that perhaps only music has the power to reach inside and transform someone’s attitudes and soul. Overall, the work was at all times beautiful, but very difficult for me emotionally, but what is my discomfort compared to the family’s grief. Perhaps some of that was due to the raw, literal nature of the words. The children’s nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” (in the movement called A Wish), though conceived years ago for this work, seemed strangely prescient given yesterday’s terrorism in London on that very bridge. It caused me to think about whether it is proper to take aesthetic enjoyment as a result of someone’s tragedy. However, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have Shostakovich’s Babi Yar symphony either. The soloists and choir were very, very good; and it was great to see the concertmaster of the Distinguished Concerts orchestra properly credited (he was the violin “embodiment” of Tyler Clementi).
This work should be required listening for every high school and college. Click here to watch the live video of the concert. Please be kind, people, and use social media for good purposes only.