work details

GATHERING

A Choral Symphony

  • Instrumentation: for soprano, baritone, chorus, and wind symphony
  • Completed: July 2017
  • Duration: 23 minutes
  • Texts: On texts from University of Illinois alumni Mark Van Doren, Rosalyn Yalow, and Fazlur Khan, as selected by Richard Powers.
  • Commission:

    Commissioned by the University of Illinois School of Music to mark the sesquicentennial of the University of Illinois, founded 1867. 

    The world premiere was given on February 11, 2018 in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, IL
    University of Illinois Wind Symphony - Stephen Peterson, conductor
    University of Illinois Chamber Singers - Andrew Megill, conductor
    Yvonne Gonzales Redman, soprano
    Nathan Gunn, baritone

    Additional premiere performances were given on April 14, 2018 in Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY and on April 21, 2018 at Foellinger Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, IL
    University of Illinois Wind Symphony - Stephen Peterson, conductor
    University of Illinois Chamber Singers - Andrew Megill, conductor
    Yvonne Gonzales Redman, soprano
    R. Todd Payne, baritone

  • Instrumentation:

    Piccolo
    Flute 1, 2  (four players)
    Oboe 1, 2
    English Horn
    Bassoon 1, 2
    Contrabassoon

    Eb Soprano Clarinet
    Bb Clarinet 1, 2, 3 (with divisi, six to nine players)
    Bb Bass Clarinet

    Bb Soprano Saxophone
    Eb Alto Saxophone
    Bb Tenor Saxophone
    Eb Baritone Saxophone

    Solo Soprano (C4 to Bb5)
    Solo Baritone (Bb2 to F4, with optional G4)

    Chorus (SATB with divisi)

    Bb Trumpet 1, 2, 3 (six players)
    F Horn 1, 2, 3, 4 (four, six or eight players)
    Trombone 1, 2, 3, 4 (fourth playing Bass Trombone)
    Euphonium (one or two players)
    Tuba (one or two players)

    Harp
    Piano (Concert Grand)
    Double-Bass (low C extension necessary)

    Percussion:
    P1: Timpani (4 drums – lowest note: Db1; highest note G3)
    P2: Marimba (5-octave instrument necessary, with low C)
    P3: Vibraphone / Orchestral Bells / Suspended Cymbal*
    P4: Crotales / Xylophone / Suspended Cymbal*
    P5: Suspended Cymbal / Tenor Drum / Snare Drum
    P6: Bass Drum

                                                                   * Only 1 necessary; use the same instrument as P5

  • About the Authors of the Text:

    About the Authors
    Biographies written by the editors of Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

    Mark Van Doren

    Mark Van Doren, (born June 13, 1894, Hope, Illinois, U.S.—died December 10, 1972, Torrington, Connecticut), American poet, writer, and eminent teacher. He upheld the writing of verse in traditional forms throughout a lengthy period of experiment in poetry. As a teacher at Columbia University for 39 years (1920–59), he exercised a profound influence on generations of students. Van Doren was the son of a country doctor. He was reared on the family farm in eastern Illinois and in the town of Urbana. Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Carl, he attended Columbia University and became literary editor (1924–28) of The Nation, in New York City, and its film critic (1935–38). After receiving a Ph.D. from Columbia, he served as a professor of English there from 1942 to 1959. Van Doren’s literary criticism includes The Poetry of John Dryden (1920; rev. ed., John Dryden: A Study of His Poetry, 1946; reprinted 1967), the basis of which was his Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia. He also wrote Shakespeare (1939, reprinted 1982), a volume of essays on the plays; Nathaniel Hawthorne (1949, reprinted 1972); and The Happy Critic, and Other Essays (1961). Two of his finest studies grew out of a course he taught at Columbia. In The Noble Voice (1946, reprinted as Mark Van Doren on Great Poems of Western Literature, 1962), he considers 10 long poems, from Homer and Virgil through Lucretius, Dante, Chaucer, Milton, Spenser, Wordsworth, and Byron. Van Doren’s An Anthology of World Poetry (1928) was among the first works of its kind, and his Introduction to Poetry (1951; new ed. 1966) examines shorter classic poems of English and American literature.

    The author of more than 20 volumes of verse, Van Doren published his first, Spring Thunder, in 1924. In 1940 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his Collected Poems, reissued as Collected and New Poems, 1924–1963. His poetry includes the verse play The Last Days of Lincoln (1959) and three book-length narrative poems: Jonathan Gentry (1931), about the settling of the Midwest by three generations of Gentrys, their experience in the Civil War, and the end of a long-held dream of a paradise beyond the Appalachian Mountains; A Winter Diary (1935), the poetic record of a winter spent on his Connecticut farm; and The Mayfield Deer (1941), a backwoods tale of murder and revenge. He was the author of three novels—The Transients (1935), Windless Cabins (1940), and Tilda (1943)—and several volumes of short stories; he also edited a number of anthologies. In 1922 he married Dorothy Graffe, author of five novels and the memoir The Professor and I.

    Rosalyn Yalow

    Rosalyn S. Yalow, in full Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (born July 19, 1921, New York, New York, U.S.—died May 30, 2011, New York), American medical physicist and joint recipient (with Andrew V. Schally and Roger Guillemin) of the 1977 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, awarded for her development of radioimmunoassay (RIA), an extremely sensitive technique for measuring minute quantities of biologically active substances. Yalow graduated with honours from Hunter College of the City University of New York in 1941 and four years later received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois. From 1946 to 1950 she lectured on physics at Hunter, and in 1947 she became a consultant in nuclear physics to the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital, where from 1950 to 1970 she was physicist and assistant chief of the radioisotope service.

    With a colleague, the American physician Solomon A. Berson, Yalow began using radioactive isotopes to examine and diagnose various disease conditions. Yalow and Berson’s investigations into the mechanism underlying type II diabetes led to their development of RIA. In the 1950s it was known that individuals treated with injections of animal insulin developed resistance to the hormone and so required greater amounts of it to offset the effects of the disease; however, a satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon had not been put forth. Yalow and Berson theorized that the foreign insulin stimulated the production of antibodies, which became bound to the insulin and prevented the hormone from entering cells and carrying out its function of metabolizing glucose. In order to prove their hypothesis to a skeptical scientific community, the researchers combined techniques from immunology and radioisotope tracing to measure minute amounts of these antibodies, and the RIA was born. It was soon apparent that this method could be used to measure hundreds of other biologically active substances, such as viruses, drugs, and other proteins. This made possible such practical applications as the screening of blood in blood banks for hepatitis virus and the determination of effective dosage levels of drugs and antibiotics.

    In 1970 Yalow was appointed chief of the laboratory later renamed the Nuclear Medical Service at the Veterans Administration Hospital. In 1976 she was the first female recipient of the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. Yalow became a distinguished professor at large at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in 1979 and left in 1985 to accept the position of Solomon A. Berson Distinguished Professor at Large at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1988.

    Fazlur Khan

    Fazlur R. Khan, in full Fazlur Rahman Khan (born April 3, 1929, Dacca, India [now Dhaka, Bangladesh]—died March 27, 1982, Jiddah, Saudi Arabia), Bangladeshi American civil engineer known for his innovations in high-rise building construction. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Dacca in 1950, Khan worked as assistant engineer for the India Highway Department and taught at the University of Dacca. Qualifying for a scholarship in 1952, he enrolled at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, where he received master’s degrees in both applied mechanics and structural engineering and a Ph.D. in structural engineering. He returned briefly to Pakistan and won an important position as executive engineer of the Karachi Development Authority. Frustrated by administrative demands that kept him from design work, however, he returned to the United States and joined the prestigious architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in Chicago in 1955, eventually becoming a partner (1966). In 1967 he became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

    Khan’s many skyscraper projects include Chicago’s John Hancock Center (1970) and Sears (now Willis) Tower (1973), which are among the world’s tallest buildings. The Sears Tower was his first skyscraper to employ the “bundled tube” structural system, which consists of a group of narrow steel cylinders that are clustered together to form a thicker column. This innovative system minimized the amount of steel needed for high towers, eliminated internal wind braces (since the perimeter columns bear the weight of the wind force), and permitted freer organization of the interior space. Khan’s later projects include the strikingly original Haj Terminal of the King Abdul Aziz International Airport (1976–81) in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, and King Abdul Aziz University (1977–78), also in Jiddah.

  • Libretto, by Richard Powers:

    GATHERING
    Libretto by Richard Powers

     

    CHORUS (Mark Van Doren): (march or processional)

    Slowly, slowly wisdom gathers:
    Golden dust in the afternoon,
    Somewhere between the sun and me,
    Sometimes so near that I can see,
    Yet never settling, late or soon.

     

    FEMALE SOLO (Rosalyn Yalow):

    You students,
    who are the carriers
    of our hopes
    for the survival
    of the world:

    We must believe
    in ourselves or
    no one else will.

    The world cannot
    afford the loss
    of the talents of half
    its people...

     

    CHORUS:

    Slowly, slowly wisdom gathers:
    Golden dust in the afternoon,
    Somewhere between the sun and me,
    Sometimes so near that I can see,
    Yet never settling, late or soon.

     

    MALE SOLO (Fazlur Khan):

    I put myself
    in the place
    of a whole building,
    feeling every part.
    In my mind
    I visualize
    the stresses and twisting
    a building undergoes.


    CHORUS:

    Would that it did, and a rug of gold
    Spread west of me a mile or more:
    Not large, but so that I might lie
    Face up, between the earth and sky,
    And know what none has known before.

     

    MALE SOLO (Khan):

    The technical man
    must not be lost
    in his own technology.

    He must be able
    to appreciate life,
    and life is art,
    [and life is] drama,
    [and life is] music…

     

    CHORUS:

    Would that it did, and a rug of gold
    Spread west of me a mile or more:
    Not large, but so that I might lie
    Face up, between the earth and sky,
    And know what none has known before.

     

    FEMALE SOLO (Yalow):

    We bequeath to you,
    the next generation,
    our knowledge but
    also our problems.
    Man himself is
    a mysterious object.

    While we still live,
    let us join hands,
    hearts and minds
    to work together.

    Man himself is
    a mysterious object. (he repeated)

     

    CHORUS:

    Then I would tell as best I could
    The secrets of that shining place:
    The web of the world, how thick, how thin,
    How firm, with all things folded in;
    How ancient, and how full of grace. 

  • Note from the Librettist:

    The invitation was simple enough: Would you be interested in preparing the text for a large-scale choral work honoring the 150th birthday of one of the world’s leading universities—a piece that would also celebrate public education in America?  Since the simplicity of the request was matched by its impossibility, I decided to give it a try.

    The University of Illinois, founded in 1867, was one of the first public universities established under the land grant act that transformed the entire country.  Since its beginning, it has grown into a vast enterprise of over 40 disciplines, at least 15 of which are consistently ranked among the top five in the country.  Indeed, it is considered by several ranking systems to be among the three or four dozen best universities on the planet.  Over a century and a half, it has graduated countless students who have gone on to change the world.  I knew that I wanted accomplished alumni to speak for all those whose lives have been enriched by the university.  My task was to choose, from out of the numerous famous inventors, creators, industrialists, public servants, artists, doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople—the prize winners and CEOs and visionaries and educators and founders of companies—those two or three who might sum up, in a few words, the cause of education.

    Early on, I wanted to include Fazlur Khan.  Often called the greatest structural engineer of the twentieth century, he and his innovations helped to change the skyline of every large city in the world.  Khan represents Illinois’s traditional leadership in many fields of engineering.  His words here speak not just to the engineer’s imagination but to the overlap of engineering with the worlds of architecture and fine and applied arts. 

    To represent Illinois’s incalculable contribution to the sciences, I chose Rosalyn Yalow, the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.  Her development of the radioimmunoassay bridges the domains of physics, medicine, and life science.  She also championed women’s access to all intellectual disciplines. 

    Finally, to speak for the humanities, so central to Illinois’s original mandate and 150-year mission, I have used a poem by the renowned educator and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mark Van Doren.  One of his most luminous poems serves to connect the arts and sciences in a hymn to wisdom.

    We live in a moment of rising xenophobia and religious intolerance, and it pleased me to discover that my final trio of voices included a Christian-raised Illinois farm boy, an observant New York Jew, and an immigrant from Muslim Bangladesh.  We are also experiencing an attack on public education unmatched by anything in my lifetime, and my deepest hope is that the words of these three people, chosen to honor the millions educated at one of the world’s premier public universities, might inspire others to advance, in whatever ways their gifts allow, the causes of wisdom, tolerance, curiosity, inclusion, knowledge, openness, imagination, and above all else, the kindness and joy that education at its best can bring.

    -- Richard Powers

  • Note from the Composer:

    Growing up in suburban New Hampshire, I attended Catholic Mass each Sunday with my parents and siblings. My earliest singing experiences date to this time, and those simple and curious songs still float through my mind. The Gather hymnal was the songbook used by my local parish. It contained both old, beloved barn-burners as well as a few spicy new settings that always aroused suspicion among a portion of the congregation when programmed by the adventurous music director.

    As a teenager I found it odd that people would come together and sing with others they didn’t associate with during the rest of the week. Yet there was a fascination and mystery in this communal devotion, one that I’ve reflected on often in my subsequent career in the arts.

    Music is by its very nature a gathering of sorts, and it is remarkable that performances of our major operas, oratorios, and symphonies manage to come together at all. Each measure of music is pregnant with choices that must be made: How fast is the pulse?  How short are the eighth notes?  How high or low do we tune the third in this major chord? Some of these choices are made by the composer months before the performance, encoded in the score and parts as an instruction manual from another planet. Some of these choices are made in the moment of performance, as skilled musicians interpret these markings in various ways, sometimes led by a singular individual dressed in 19th-century attire and holding a wooden stick. Meanwhile, hundreds of listeners sit in near darkness, captive to these artists’ whims, as if strapped to a chair on a slow-moving conveyor belt in an art museum, forced to visit the exhibits in the order the curator has determined.

    Yes, music is a vast, complex, and highly improbable gathering. And yet, out of its bumbling process and despite its disheveled and often insecure exterior arise moments of sublime transcendence. Through this most human of art forms, we find the sounds to safely explore the deepest recesses of our emotions and histories. Through the words of poets and artisans, we gain inspiration while acknowledging those who came before us. Choral music has the power to speak to us in community. It is in community that we gather, and in this act of gathering we are enriched and uplifted.

    I have spent thirty years of my life in the classroom. The first seven took place in a private Catholic school on Long Island; the next seven were in a public school in New England, followed by four more in a private liberal arts college in upstate New York and three more at one of our country’s great Ivy League institutions. After twenty-one years as a student, I switched sides, teaching for three years at a community college in Texas before I landed at yet another of our nation’s great research institutions, Indiana University, where I have been privileged to spend the last six years.

    I walk you through my history to illustrate this one point: I have spent my life in many different schools, from the most troubled to the most privileged. And I have observed that our schools are the place where our society’s values are expressed most clearly and fervently.

    America’s great experiment in public education continues to face one trial after another, and its current crisis worries me greatly. As Mark Van Doren wisely sings to us: “Slowly, slowly wisdom gathers.” The operative word here is slowly. It takes time to build the collective history, truth, and consciousness of a great society. Our commitment to public education, to civic engagement, to shared responsibility and governance: These are some of our greatest values, and they are manifested most obviously in our music and musical gatherings. This choral symphony partakes of a history and complexitythat would not have been possible without the remarkable contributions to knowledge and of truth that the University of Illinois and other great institutions of higher learning have championed. Just as in the sciences and the humanities, the greatest achievements in the arts depend upon a society that has invested in their discovery.

    I am honored to write this work, a celebration of the values of a society where education is available to all who seek it. I have been enriched through my collaboration with Richard Powers, a prophetic and probing artist like no other. His vision and mind brought to my attention the essential words of Mark Van Doren, Rosalyn Yalow, and Fazlur Khan, all acclaimed for their far-reaching contributions to our world. I’m humbled to stand beside these remarkable individuals, and I have attempted to do their words justice and honor with my musical setting.

    In this work, I have included an extended quotation from the fourth movement of Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, which begins, “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen—How lovely is thy dwelling place.” Premiered 150 years ago, Brahms’s most stunning achievement is often called a “human” requiem because of the universal nature of its text. Brahms does not impose dogma or any specific religious affiliation on the words of his Requiem; instead, he invites all people into a community of reconciliation. In that sacred space, we all witness the suffering of loss, and we are all part of the gathering that leads to communal healing. For this reason, I have chosen Brahms as a spiritual counterpart for this commission.

    I have also quoted the famous tune that ends Brahms’s First Symphony.  While not completed and premiered until 1876, already in September of 1868, Brahms sent a letter to Clara Schumann with the famous tune from the fourth movement, saying how inspired he was to find the germinating seed that would populate his work. In this work, his tune is gloriously dressed, propelling us with Van Doren’s final exultant words into a ringing and optimistic C major.

    Yes, music is a vast, complex, and precarious gathering, but it is the pinnacle and lifeblood of human experience. Its vitality is ours to nurture, and its future lies in the hands and minds of the students who grace our halls.

    -- Dominick DiOrio

  • Performances:
    • February 11, 2018 (premiere)
      University of Illinois Wind Symphony; Stephen Peterson, conductor
      University of Illinois Chamber Singers; Andrew Megill, conductor
      Yvonne Gonzales Redman, soprano
      Nathan Gunn, baritone
      Orchestra Hall - Chicago, IL
    • April 14, 2018 (premiere)
      University of Illinois Wind Symphony; Stephen Peterson, conductor
      University of Illinois Chamber Singers; Andrew Megill, conductor
      Yvonne Gonzales Redman, soprano
      R. Todd Payne, baritone
      Alice Tully Hall - Lincoln Center - New York, NY
    • April 21, 2018 (premiere)
      University of Illinois Wind Symphony; Stephen Peterson, conductor
      University of Illinois Chamber Singers; Andrew Megill, conductor
      Yvonne Gonzales Redman, soprano
      R. Todd Payne, baritone
      Krannert Center for the Performing Arts - University of Illinois - Urbana, IL