Bright Shiny Things releases the world premiere recording of GRAMMY-nominated composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek’s oratorio AM I BORN, featuring soprano Mellissa Hughes, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and NOVUS NY orchestra conducted by Julian Wachner.
On February 11, 2022, Bright Shiny Things releases AM I BORN [BSTC-0152], a world-premiere recording of an oratorio for soprano soloist, choir, and orchestra by composer and GRAMMY® nominee David T. Little—“one of the most imaginative young composers” on the scene (The New Yorker), with “a knack for overturning musical conventions” (The New York Times)—in partnership with librettist Royce Vavrek. Declared by the Wall Street Journal to be “one of the most exciting composer-librettist teams working in opera today,” their works together also include the operas Dog Days, named a standout opera of recent decades by The New York Times, and JFK, which earned a ten-star review in Opera Now Magazine. AM I BORN is a meditation on impermanence, using Brooklyn’s past—specifically a neighborhood that was largely demolished to make way for the Brooklyn Bridge—as a means of reflecting on the rapidly changing present. Performers include soprano Mellissa Hughes, the GRAMMY®-nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and new music orchestra NOVUS NY, all under the direction of Julian Wachner.
> Pre-order the album here.
Originally composed in 2011 for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Brooklyn Philharmonic, AM I BORN was inspired by two 19th-century sources: Francis Guy’s 1820 painting Winter Scene In Brooklyn, depicting a neighborhood sacrificed to the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and Ananias Davisson’s 1816 hymn “Idumea,” which begins by asking: “am I born to die?” The SATB version of the oratorio was commissioned by Trinity Church Wall Street, where it was premiered in 2019 as part of the PROTOTYPE Festival. By turns mysterious and philosophical, the oratorio marks Little and Vavrek’s earliest inquiries into questions of fate, mortality, and the mystical nature of art, which have continued to be thematic touchstones in their subsequent works. The New York Times wrote of the piece: "Little demonstrated a thrilling authority in writing for larger forces, mixing orchestral movements of cinematic sweep and urgency with rich a cappella choral passages and instances of chamberlike intricacy.”
The solo soprano role, sung on the album by Mellissa Hughes, personifies Guy’s painting, which hangs in the Brooklyn Museum. She gradually draws consciousness and understanding from the crowds of spectators passing by each day, until in Part III, urged on by the chorus, she is “born” out of the frame and enters a confusing and lonely present-day reality. At that point, the philosophical speculation “am I born to die?” is modified to the much more pressing and immediate: “am I born?”
NOVUS NY’s instrumental backing also lends to the mystical atmosphere of the work. In one movement a gathering texture of chimes and bells illustrates the painting’s growing consciousness; in another the orchestra dramatizes the comparative silence of pre-industrial Brooklyn in which ticking clocks and crunching snow are the most prominent sounds. The chorus, at different moments in the piece, represents the museum’s patrons and the Brooklyn residents depicted in the painting. But Davisson’s question “am I born to die?” provides a common thread between them, a question of concern to people of all times. Even when the characters in the painting become aware of their status, trapped between Brooklyn’s past and the present of the museum, Little’s setting, inspired by American shape-note singing and the close-knit communities that have practiced it, expresses the solidarity of their common human condition.
> Further information on Work: Am I Born
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