World Premiere of “Kindness” by Christina Whitten Thomas

Posted on: December 13th, 2016 by Mary Read GALA Articles No Comments

For twenty years VOX Femina has been committed to championing new works by women, commissioning over 40 pieces since our beginning. This November 19, at the “VOX20: Reflections” concert, VOX Femina was pleased to present “Kindness,” a beautiful new piece “commissioned by founding member Mary Read in honor of her wife, Liz Cvikel”.

Listen to the full piece here:

Commissioning a new work for Vox Femina, celebrating both the 20th anniversary season of the chorus and my dear wife’s upcoming 75th birthday, was an exciting and inspiring process. What began as a search for the ‘perfect’ birthday present evolved into a call to celebrate the common core values that unite women across the globe in the struggle for equality, dignity, and peace. I spoke to our founding Artistic Director, Dr. Iris Levine, well ahead of our 20th season, knowing her program planning and design takes shape a year or two in advance of performance. With her blessing, I searched for the lyrics that would convey all I have in my heart for the women I love – Liz and my chorus. I spent a whole summer reading poetry to Liz, noting which particularly touched her heart. Then, in last year’s March concert, Iris had members of the chorus read poems to introduce each set of songs. As if happens, I read the poem “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye. Each time I read it, both Liz & I were deeply touched by the words, moving from profound loss to the transcendent value of kindness. We realized we’d found the lyrics for the commission.

Iris then suggested Christina Whitten Thomas as the composer, and the match was made. Vox had previously sung one of her works, “Mornings with You”, and it had always engaged me both musically and emotionally. When she accepted the commission, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to hear the piece, receiving the score and a midi recording just as our 20th anniversary season began. The first read-through by the chorus gave me chills, and I couldn’t sing a note for the emotions welling up inside. It was so beautiful – tender and compassionate, gentle yet strong – so womanly in every way. I knew Liz would be thrilled, too.

As the concert approached, Liz invited her friends and family to attend and hear the commission’s world premiere.  In the pre-concert talk, I interviewed Christina about her process in developing the work, sharing with the audience how she, too, was moved by the poem and the over-arching need for kindness as a beacon in today’s world. She noted that the poem juxtaposes the details of everyday life with the most profound sensation of loss. To capture that musically, Thomas writes ever-growing musical phrases for each section of this metaphorical journey towards an understanding of kindness. In descriptive gestures that start small – “Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth” – these details and sensations eventually culminate in a central lesson about realizing empathy.

Singing the premiere of the piece filled my heart with love and pride and a feeling of connection to the audience in a profound way. The moments of silence after the hall took in the final measures, the roar of applause and acclamation for the composer and the chorus, the acknowledgement of a wonderful woman who has lived three-quarters of a century modeling kindness in all her actions – I’ll cherish those memories always. I had no idea what commissioning a work would be like – it’s fantastic! I highly recommend it!

Here’s more about the wonderful composer:

Christina Whitten Thomas’s works have been performed throughout the United States by both professional and community ensembles. As a recipient of the Sorel Medallion in 2007 for Choral de Bêtes, Christina attended the premiere performance of the work, performed by Voices of Ascension, in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall. She was invited back to Zankel Hall in 2008 to hear Voices of Ascension perform Take Peace, which was awarded the Sorel Conductor’s Choice award that year. In 2011, Musica Sacra of New York encored Choral de Bêtes in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. This work for a cappella choir was recorded by Musica Sacra for their 2012 CD release Messages to Myself.

Additional commissioned works include Gichigami for the Denver Women’s Chorus, ‘Tis You That Are The Music, written for the Los Angeles Master Chorale Chamber Singers and premiered at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Discovery for the Esoterics of Seattle, Mornings With You (2011) for Melodia Women’s Choir of NYC, The Academy of Silence (2011) for tenor Matthew Alan Thomas (Pasadena City College), Three Songs of Life (2009) for the USC Apollo Men’s Choir, The Raising of Lazarus(2006) for the First Baptist Church of Worcester, and The Grace of God (2012) for Grace United Methodist Church in Kokomo, IN.

Her awards include 1st place in the 2011 Indianapolis Symphonic Choir composition competition for A Child of the Snows, 1st place in the 2011 Los Robles Master Chorale composition competition for My Cathedral, 1st place in the 2010 Park Avenue Christian Church competition for The Lord is King, 1st place in the 2010 Wallingford Chorus composition competition for The Lamp of Life, and 2nd place in the 2010 NATS Art Song Composition Award for her song cycle In the Garret.

Her music is available at MusicSpoke.com.

Mary Read

Mary Read is a founding member of Vox, where she still sings as a soprano. Raised in a small village in southeastern Wisconsin, Mary went to college to study music, first in Kansas City, then Philadelphia, graduating with a performance degree in voice. She moved to California in 1980 intending to go to nursing school, but chose a different caregiving profession. She considers herself a "transplanted native" Californian. Mary lives with her life-partner (a gerontological social worker) in Long Beach and enjoy camping, walking by the beach, working for social justice, and socializing with friends, relatives and 'family of choice' in a vibrant community.

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