‘Down Home: The Cantata’ premieres Sunday at Duke

Apr. 24, 2013 @ 02:35 PM

The Triangle Jewish Chorale will debut a cantata by a Greensboro composer on Sunday at Goodson Chapel at Duke Divinity School. “Down Home: The Cantata” is the latest way of presenting North Carolina’s Jewish history following the “Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina” book, DVD and exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History a few years ago. The cantata will feature recordings from oral history interviews.
Composer Alejandro Rutty was commissioned by Eric Meyers, religion professor and director of the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, with support from the Bernice and Morton Lerner Endowment for Judaic Studies at Duke University, the Duke Center for Jewish Studies and the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina. Singer and choral conductor Lorena Guillen will lead the performances.
Rutty is an associate professor of music at UNC-Greensboro, where he teaches composition. He has previously composed other works featuring oral recordings, most recently a project in New York featuring oral histories of World War II veterans.
“We integrated their voices within the fabric of some sort of musical context, so it’s not just a straightforward story, [but] something that can be listened to as music and carry the story forward,” Rutty said. Composing a work with existing oral recordings is really hard, he said, and a lot of work. The “Down Home” cantata features audio recordings from the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina archives. Rutty used some recent interviews from the “Down Home” project and some recordings from the 1980s on cassette tapes. The issue was how to edit very long ideas into manageable-size clips, he said, and include information while moving the story forward musically.
“I went against the old concept of having a story being told by third person. All the text is verbatim what the interviewees said, and we also get to hear their voices within the fabric of the music,” Rutty said. “You hear the orchestra and the people tell the story, and that’s the text the singers will be singing right after that.”
The seven numbers in the cantata vary. In the first number, audio clips appear throughout the whole piece, Rutty said, and the chorale reacts sometimes like a Greek choir, repeating what they hear. The only movement with text not something that’s been said uses a letter to a family, Rutty said. The performance Sunday includes an orchestra of about 10 musicians, he said, though “Down Home: The Cantata” could be done with full orchestra.
Rutty is extremely excited to see the Triangle Jewish Chorale premiere the cantata Sunday.
“For a composer, a work, especially a work of this size, it’s like a child you only see when the piece is being performed. One moment I will reunite with this child, during this performance. Parents with children who live away know the feeling. It’s very personal,” he said. Rutty said he is always grateful when his work is performed, and wouldn’t miss Sunday or the next two performances of “Down Home,” which will be in May in Raleigh and Greensboro.

WHAT: “Down Home: The Cantata”
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, April 28
WHERE: Goodson Chapel, Duke University, Durham
INFORMATION: The cantata will also be performed at 3 p.m. May 12 at Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh. Admission is free. Visit http://sites.duke.edu/downhomecantata.