When the American Choral Directors Association began making plans for its 50th anniversary in 2009, the obvious choice was to commission a new work for the occasion.
Not only would the organization get to sponsor a world premiere, it could assist in adding a new work to the choral repertoire.
"When it came to choosing a composer, we came to a consensus rather quickly,” said association executive director Tim Sharp. "Dominick Argento has composed so many great works and we felt he was sort of without peer in the world of choral music. We were fortunate he agreed to the commission.”
The result, titled "Cenotaph,” will receive its world premiere this week as part of the association’s national convention in Oklahoma City.
Canterbury Choral Society and the Oklahoma City Philharmonic will be joined by choruses from Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Louisville for the premiere.
Ann Howard Jones, director of choral activities at Boston University, will conduct.
"The people at ACDA asked if I’d write a kind of anti-war piece,” Argento said recently by telephone from Minneapolis. "I told them I do people, not abstractions or concepts. But little by little, I discovered I could write an anti-war piece without being political. It turned out to be more of a memorial than a war requiem type work.”
"Cenotaph” is a seven-movement work for chorus and orchestra that features texts by Siegfried Sassoon, Laurence Binyon and Sara Teasdale. For the work’s central chorale, Argento paraphrased passages from Ecclesiasticus.
"I probably spend four-fifths of my time looking for the right text and I seem to have earned a reputation for making wise choices,” Argento said. "I do like literature and words but I also want something that is pleasing to the mind, something that makes sense and is not just a bunch of flowery language.