by Nicholas Weininger
A cantata in ten movements in memory of the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic
Vince Peterson | Artistic Director
Amy Buckley | Soprano
Blythe Gaissert | Mezzo-Soprano
Brian Mextorf | Baritone
Saturday, March 25 2023
Saint Peter's Church
619 Lexington Ave
New York, NY
Sunday, March 26 2023
Church of the Holy Apostles
296 9th Ave
New York, NY
Composer Nicholas Weininger offers his first major work Hakol Hevel, or All is Mere Breath examining the relationship between forced isolation and how we as human beings bring about either our collective freedom or captivity. A deep and complex 10-movement work with a chamber orchestra and oratorio soloists, it is the first new choral/orchestral piece for a men’s chorus we’ve seen in a long time.
We’re thrilled to have the privilege of bringing it to life and sharing it with our audiences. Weininger’s carefully considered texts juxtapose Hebrew with English translations from the Torah by the important translator, Robert Alter, forming a narrative arc. The piece makes an impassioned plea for us to embrace humility, reject divisiveness, and come back into the light.
Mezzo Soprano, Baritone, Chorus
Mezzo Soprano, Chorus
Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Chorus
Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Baritone
Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Baritone, Chorus
In writing Hakol Hevel I sought to express what I and many others felt during the pandemic and to connect those feelings to timeless human experiences. In 2020, cooped up at home, I was reading Robert Alter's translation of the Tanakh, The Hebrew Bible , and the beginning of Lamentations stopped me cold:
"How she sits alone, the city once great with people."
I knew I had to write a piece that started with that verse. Surely there is no defter evocation of the sense of defeat and desolation that stalked us, the cold profusion of distanced mourning, of our cities sitting alone, full only with wailing, united only in grief.
But that beginning was incomplete. That initial shock of loneliness colored our pandemic experience but didn't capture it fully. What might? I went back to Alter and his commentary on Qohelet/Ecclesiastes. "Havel havalim hakol hevel," says the Hebrew, and the King James Version renders it "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity". But Alter says that's wrong: “hevel" means "breath" and we should take that both literally, as a concrete image, and metaphorically to signify the ephemeral and transient. "Merest breath, all is mere breath." The idea has echoes in many spiritual traditions-- think of the importance of the breath in Buddhism.
And it’s an idea never so resonant as now. All is mere breath : the threatening breath of others who might infect us, the life-sustaining breath denied those whose lungs COVID ravaged. All is mere breath : the way the pandemic exposed the fragility of civilization, cancelling our future plans instantly. All is mere breath : the necessity of contemplation to keep us sane and calm in our monastic distance. All is mere breath : the origin and backbone of song.
So I wrote Hakol Hevel to speak not only to the hardship of the pandemic’s beginning, but to the ambiguity of its progress, the aching feeling that rescue was indefinitely far away, that another surge might always happen, that “whatever comes is mere breath.” I hope it can serve as a document of those feelings and a solace to those who may come to know through it that they do not sit alone.
I’ve written musical settings of Hebrew texts before; it’s an underappreciated lyrical language, its compact phrase structure and frequent alliteration lending power and immediacy to the music. Hakol Hevel situates the Hebrew original text in the TTBB choir, to give it the gravity and solemnity the verses deserve, while putting solo arias and recitatives in English, which increases the piece’s accessibility and brings out the beauty and cleverness of Alter’s English translation. We in the Western choral liturgical tradition usually set Biblical texts either in Latin or in the faulty KJV English translation. By juxtaposing the original words with a modern scholarly English version, I aim to bring a new sound and unusual nuances of meaning to ancient scripture.
-Nicholas Weininger, 2023
Edward Angelo Enrique
Scott Michael Brown
Aaron S. Hock
David R. Murray
Su-Jan Miguel Sang Rodriguez
*co-founder of ECMC/GGC and founding CEO of Gotham Performing Arts
When founding Choral Chameleon, his “shape-shifting choral ensemble” (Time Out New York) in 2008, Vince Peterson began a nearly 15-year dissertation on what choral music could be for the next generation of singers and listeners. Today, he still works within Choral Chameleon and in many other places to invest in the continuing evolution of the art form. He is responsible for over 200 premieres of new choral music and founding an annual institute for composers and conductors where he has guided 175+ students on their journeys to find their best musical selves. He has been a devoted advocate for functional music used for humanitarian and social justice work in the communities he serves.
Vince is a recipient of the prestigious Chorus America Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal, a lifetime distinction he shares with fewer than twenty choral musicians. His work in choral music has been reviewed in major news outlets, including The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out New York, The Brooklyn Eagle, and I Care If You Listen, among other publications. It has been funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council on the Arts, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and The Sparkplug Foundation. Choral Chameleon is the recipient of The American Prize in Choral Music and the prestigious ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming.
A recognized thought leader in choral music, The NewYork Times called Vince Peterson “authoritative beyond his... years.” The Brooklyn Eagle praised his work as “a stunning symphony of the spiritual and secular” while hailing him as a solo performer “with depth and vigor” who “provided a universal context which resonated with his audience.”
Trained formally and primarily as a composer, Vince has devoted the lion’s share of his compositional output to choral music, both original and arrangements, chamber music, and musical theater. His catalog comprises nearly 100 works and includes eight commissions from the multi Grammy® award-winning ensemble, Chanticleer, a million+ views on YouTube, and performances in some of the world’s most significant spaces, including Carnegie Hall, Chicago Symphony Hall, Bela Bartok Concert Hall in Budapest, San Francisco’s Herbst Theater, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others.
For over 20 years, Vince has explored how to reframe traditional mindsets about music education for the modern era. No matter the educational setting, Vince’s work as a music pedagogue bridges gaps between starkly opposed philosophies, embracing time-tested learning techniques and helping musicians of all ages and stages of development to become their best musical selves.
He lives in the Bronx with his husband, David, a Hebrew Bible Theologian.
Robbie Cowan has conducted or played performances in 49 states (Hawaii remains elusive). Primarily working in theater, he has been the music director for several national tours including Bullets Over Broadway, Anything Goes, Shrek, and Elf. He supervised the long-running off-broadway hit The Imbible, is the resident music supervisor and contractor at the historic New London Barn Playhouse, and has worked at some of the country’s best loved regional theaters, like the Ogunquit Playhouse and Northern Stage. He conceived, wrote, and directed the original comedy revue 4 Guys Who Sing, which can now be seen worldwide aboard luxury cruise lines, and his original 10-minute comedy murder mystery play, Who Did It?, was selected from hundreds to be performed in Playbill’s inaugural Virtual Theater Festival. Educated at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Gonzaga University, and New College, Oxford. Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. @robbiecowan.com, www.robbiecowan.com
Hee Sung Kim is a versatile pianist, collaborative artist, music director, and pedagogue. A native of Seoul, she began her musical studies at the Juilliard School Pre-College division at the age of six. Hee Sung holds a B.M. from Seoul National University, M.M. from Yonsei University, and Professional Studies Certificate from Manhattan School of Music. Her extensive performing career as soloist and chamber musician has led her to venues across the Americas, Europe, and Asia, including Carnegie Hall, Steinway Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, and Seoul National Arts Center. As an avid proponent of contemporary music, she has premiered numerous new works by present-day composers. Her initial training was in classical music, but she is equally at home collaborating with artists across multiple genres such as sacred, pop, and musical theater. She is in demand as a pianist, director, and coach; working with various instrumentalists, vocalists, choral groups, and educational institutions throughout the city.
Nicholas Weininger (b. 1978) is a software engineer by profession and a composer and singer by avocation. His works have been performed by choirs across the US, ranging from the International Orange Chorale of San Francisco and the NYC-based ensemble Choral Chameleon to the West Genesee High School Chorale, the Germantown Friends School Concert Choir, and the festival ensemble Coro Mundi. Nick's works are published through Personage Press and ArrangeMe.
Nick holds a Ph.D. in pure mathematics from Rutgers University and has managed teams of software engineers for most of his career. He has sung with the International Orange Chorale of San Francisco (IOCSF) since 2007. Nick began composing for IOCSF in 2011 and in 2015-2016 served as IOCSF's inaugural Composer-in-Residence; the ensemble has performed ten of his works in all and recorded four on the albums The Unknown Region and Hope in Times of Disquiet. Nick's 2016 setting of "As kingfishers catch fire", commissioned by IOCSF, was awarded second prize in the Ithaca College Choral Composition Competition and was a finalist for the 2020 American Prize. Initially an autodidact, Nick took up private composition study with Joseph Stillwell in 2014 and now studies with Vince Peterson. Nick lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.
Soprano Amy Buckley has graced opera, concert and musical theater stages throughout the United States and Europe. A few of Amy’s favorite roles include Adele (Die Fledermaus), Despina (Così fan Tutte), La Fée (Cendrillon), Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), Marian (The Music Man), Mrs. Banks (Mary Poppins), Mary Sunshine (Chicago) and most recently Celeste #2 (Sunday in the Park with George). Amy received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Connecticut, where her study afforded her the opportunity to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. She then went on to receive a Master of Music from The Juilliard School. Amy resides in Connecticut where she has a private voice studio and plays her favorite role of Mom to daughter Viviana. Amy is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and currently serves as Vice-President of the NATS Connecticut Chapter.
Amy is thrilled to join Empire City Men’s Chorus under the baton of Vince Peterson to bring Nicholas Weininger’s cantata, Hakol Hevel (All Is Mere Breath), into the hearts of listeners to process the shared experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and honor the lives that were lost.
Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert has established herself as one of the preeminent interpreters of some of the brightest stars of new classical music. A true singing actress, she has received critical acclaim for her interpretations of both new and traditional repertoire in opera, concert, and chamber repertoire. “Gaissert gave a dramatically powerful, vocally stunning portrait of a woman growing increasingly desperate and delusional from lack of contact with the outer world. Gaissert’s development of Loats’s personality was utterly believable, and she gave a virtuoso performance of this very challenging music” (Arlo McKinnon, Opera News on THE ECHO DRIFT). Gaissert is known for her warm tone, powerful stage presence, and impeccable musicianship and technical prowess…."Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert was impossible to ignore.....She has a pure, powerful and appealing voice and a forceful stage presence to match." (Denver Post)
Recent performances include the Soprano in Marc Neikrug’s A SONG BY MAHLER with the ARC Ensemble in Toronto, Judd Greenstein A MARVELOUS ORDER at the Center for Performing Arts at PSU, Linda Larson in Laura Kaminsky HOMETOWN TO THE WORLD at Santa Fe Opera and at New York Town Hall, the role of Georgia O’Keefe in Laura Kaminsky TODAY IT RAINS with Opera Parallele and American Opera Projects, Sadie in Ricky Ian Gordon MORNING STAR with On-Site Opera, creating the role of Walker Loats in Mikael Karlsson THE ECHO DRIFT for American Opera Projects at the Prototype Festival, Hansel HÄNSEL UND GRETEL with San Diego Opera, the role of Hannah After in Laura Kaminsky AS ONE with Atlanta Opera, American Opera Projects, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, New York City Opera, Opera Colorado, Opera Columbus, Opera Idaho, Opera Memphis and San Diego Opera. Recent concert engagements have included Beethoven 9th Symphony with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Symphony and Sarasota Orchestra, Berio Folk Songs and Siegrune DIE WALKÜRE with the Dallas Symphony and Berlioz L’Enfance du Christ with the Orquesta Sinfónica y Coro RTVE conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Upcoming engagements include Katharine Wright in Laura Kaminsky FINDING WRIGHT for Dayton Opera.
Previous engagements have included the Israelite Man in Handel JUDAS MACCABAEUS with Los Angeles Opera under the baton of James Conlon, the title role THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA with the Aldeburgh Festival, Zweite Magd ELEKTRA at Cincinnati Opera, Mere Marie DIALOGUES DES CARMÉLITES with Des Moines Metro Opera, Maddalena RIGOLETTO at the Lyrique en Mer Festival in Belle-Ile, the title-role CARMEN with Opera Southwest and the Aspen Music Festival under the baton of Julius Rudel, Suzuki MADAMA BUTTERFLY with Opera Coeur D'Alene and Orlovsky DIE FLEDERMAUS and Maddalena RIGOLETTO with Sarasota Opera. At the Metropolitan Opera Ms Gaissert has covered Second Secretary NIXON IN CHINA, Siegrune DIE WALKÜRE and Margret WOZZECK.
Ms Gaissert has taken part in world premieres by John Adams, Tom Cipullo, Mohammed Fairouz, Renee Favand-See, Yotam Haber, Martin Hennessy, Gabriel Kahane, Laura Kaminsky, Jessica Meyer, Mikael Karlsson, Gilda Lyons, Jorge Martin, Robert Paterson, Glen Roven and Richard Pearson Thomas. Ms Gaissert’s debut album Home, comprised of world premieres written specifically for her, was released in 2021 to superb reviews and reached Number 1 in the Billboard Classical Charts.
Praised for his “handsome, light tone” (New York Times) and “direct and easy rapport with the audience” (Culture Vulture), bass-baritone Brian Mextorf is in demand as a recitalist, concert singer, and ensemble performer. Recent seasons have included performances as soloist in Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem in Washington, D.C., Mozart’s Requiem at Alice Tully Hall, Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli and Schubert’s Mass in G at Carnegie Hall, Messiah (“The Trumpet Shall Sound”) with The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and Raphael in Haydn’s Creation in Pennsylvania. A frequent collaborator with Brooklyn Art Song Society, recent recitals have included Barber’s Despite and Still, op. 41, Wolf’s Michelangelo-Lieder, selections from Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch, and Jolivet’s Trois complaintes du soldat. Ensemble performances include a 2022 tour of South Korea with the American Soloist Ensemble, as well as appearances with the New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Grand Rapids Symphony, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Musica Sacra, The Clarion Choir, and Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, among others. Other recent debuts have included Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater (Baron Duphol in La traviata) and National Sawdust (AIDS Quilt Songbook recital). Following his Aids Quilt Songbook performance, Culture Vulture praised Brian’s “strong stage presence, direct and easy rapport with an audience, clear enunciation, and a firm understanding of the text and how to project it”.
Noted for his “bright and powerful baritone” as well as the use of “the more muted, gentler colors of his palette”, past operatic seasons have seen Brian perform John Styx in Virginia Opera’s Orpheus in the Underworld, for which he was given “comic honors” (Richmond Times-Dispatch) and garnered praise for his “standout” performance (DC Metro Theater Arts), Aeneas in Opera Saratoga's innovative and acclaimed outdoor production of Dido and Aeneas, Marcello in an exciting production of La bohème performed in various non-traditional venues around the Hampton Roads, VA area, and the title role in a staged production of Handel’s Saul in Russell, Kansas. Other highlights include a New York City recital debut under the auspices of the Operamission Artist Recital Series and a debut concert with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, as well as being named a 2015 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, North Carolina District and the 2nd place winner of the Southeast Region.
Brian has been featured in the creation and first complete performances of three new operas: Robert Balaguer’s LYCIDAS, Clint Borzoni’s Antinuous and Hadrian and Edward Ficklin’s Flash of Recognition. As a 2012 Gerdine Young Artist with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Brian performed three roles in the North American Premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland, in which he “excelled” (Opera News). Additional performed roles include Giorgio Germont (La traviata), Don Alfonso and Guglielmo (Così fan tutte), Speaker (The Magic Flute), Keçal (The Bartered Bride), Publio (La Clemenza di Tito), Demetrius (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Lindorf/Coppelius/Dr. Miracle/Dapertutto (Les contes d’Hoffmann), Gianni Schicchi (Gianni Schicchi), Anthony Hope (Sweeney Todd), and Masetto (Don Giovanni).
Brian is a native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and is an alumnus of The Oberlin Conservatory of Music (B.M. 2012), Westminster Choir College (M.M. 2014), the Opera Theatre of St. Louis Gerdine Young Artist Program (2012), The CoOPERAtive Program (Fellow 2012/13), Opera Saratoga (Fest Artist 2015), and a 2014 winner of the Schuyler Career Bridges competition. He currently lives in Huntington Station, NY with his wife and son.
Rachel Ruggles* (concertmaster), Shawn Barnett, Audrey Lo, Thomas Purcell
Rachel Hauser*, Brian Thompson, Rachel Feldhaus, Katya Barmotina
Nora Krohn*, Alec Santamaria, Nicholas Pauly
Sarah Overton*, Halie Morris, Rohana Chase
Clyde Daley, Melissa Munoz
Adam Schommer, Peter DelGrosso
* principal performer
It’s so wonderful to sing live for you again! Did you know that transformative musical experiences like this are only possible with your generous support? From commissioning landmark new works for men’s voices, to programming ambitious concerts, and creating a diverse community of artists and audiences, your gift to ECMC is an investment in the power and potential of choral music to change minds and hearts. Please make a tax-deductible gift today.
ECMC welcomes our beloved listeners to our 29th season, “How to Sing Like A Planet.” Throughout this contemplative and revelatory season of tenor & bass choral music, our singers examine the space between us as tiny humans vs. the vastness of the universe. From the exploration of the night sky to the quietness amid the chaos of a bustling city, we’ll take you on a journey of mindfulness and awareness of each present moment. Together, we’ll examine our place and roles in today’s ever-changing world. What exactly is our social responsibility, and what are we doing to listen to each other and take care of those around us?
Experience warm and thoughtful work by composers including Orlando di Lasso, Joseph Gregorio, William Mathias, Theodore Morrison, Elizabeth Alexander, Saunder Choi, and new TB voicings of work by our Artistic Director, Vince Peterson.
Join us for the unforgettable and uplifting last concert of our season "Stars in our Bones" as we sing to the power of humanity to renew and revive.
Sarah Benvenuti, Mike Clemow, Justin Lockwood, Jacob McCoy, Emma Mooradian, Brian Thompson, Metro Baptist Church, Church of the Holy Apostles, Saint Peter's Church, and the Church of the Ascension.
A very special thanks to our donors, our subscribers, and our volunteers for this performance.
Rodrigo Bolaños - President
Bill Powell - Vice President
Daniel Weinberg - Secretary
Craig Goodwin - Treasurer
Jeremy Ritz - Director of Membership
David Ward - Director of Marketing
Emma Mooradian - Chorus Manager
Matthew Pisciotta - Marketing Consultant
Edward Angelo Enrique - Marketing Specialist
Benvenuti Arts - Grants and Development Consultants