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'A Child' among powerful, considered works

  • Jun 29, 2012
From OregonLive June 29, 2012 The Oregon Bach Festival is known for powerful, considered performances of large choral works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Verdi and several 20th century composers. One of the latter is England's Michael Tippett, whose "A Child of Our Time" plays in Portland, July 6, and in Eugene, July 7. Tippett (1905-1998) was a conscientious objector -- he spent three months in jail in 1943 -- who found expression for his anti-war beliefs in this large-scale oratorio. Earlier this year, Steve Smith discussed the origins of the piece in The New York Times:
The historical event that served as the catalyst for “A Child of Our Time” actually occurred in autumn. Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, alarmed by news that his family had been deported to Poland from Germany, shot and fatally wounded Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat, in Paris on Nov. 7, 1938. Vom Rath died two days later, on the 15th anniversary of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Outraged by a Jewish assassin — and incited by a Joseph Goebbels speech at the site of the putsch — the Nazis retaliated with Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.”
[caption id="attachment_5919" align="alignright" width="125" caption="Matthew Halls wil conduct July 6-7. Photo: Steven Page"][/caption] Tippett adopted a structure found in Bach's Passions, with narrative recitatives, contemplative arias, descriptive choruses and familiar chorales. In place of Lutheran hymns, Tippett inserted five American spirituals: “Steal Away,” “Nobody Knows,” “Go Down, Moses,” “By and By” and “Deep River.” Smith writes that "black Americans had made the plight of biblical Jews familiar and universal, Tippett reckoned. In using them he meant to evoke not only the torments of contemporary Jews in wartime Europe but also those of anyone 'rejected, cast out from the center of our society onto the fringes: into slums, into concentration camps, into ghettos,' he wrote." Matthew Halls, the festival's designated artistic director, will lead "A Child of Our Time" in Portland at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 6, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 N.W. 19th Ave. $23-$45, 541-346-4363, oregonbachfestival.com