Kicking off the 2018-2019 Performing Arts Series, the Grammy award-winning choir Conspirare returns to Sauder Concert Hall with “Considering Matthew Shepard” on Friday, Sept. 14.“Considering Matthew Shepard” is a 100-minute oratorio composed by Conspirare Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson to preserve the story of Matthew Shepard.
In October of 1998, Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming was abducted, severely beaten, and left for dead in a rural Wyoming field. Shepard passed away five days later because of his injuries. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Shepard’s passing, which resulted in the creation of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009.
“Considering Matthew Shepard” is one of many artistic responses to Shepard’s tragic legacy. Another response includes “The Laramie Project” by Mosiés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, which has been seen by more than 30 million people.
In his first concert-length composition, Johnson leads on piano, and the work features the vocal artistry of Conspirare’s singers, along with a chamber ensemble. Together, the musicians journey through a variety of styles including Gregorian chants, gospel, spirituals, rock, jazz and classical. The composition has been touring venues across the country since February 2018.
The oratorio “demonstrates music’s capacity to encompass, transform and transcend tragedy,” said writer Patrick Rucker in a review for the Washington Post.
Accompanying the music is a wide range of poetic texts by poets including Hildegard of Bingen, Michael Dennis Browne, and Rumi. Selected passages from Shepard’s personal journal, interviews, news clips, and writings by parents Judy and Dennis Shepard are also poignantly featured throughout the piece.
Conspirare, which means “to breathe together” in Latin, was established in 1991. The group features soloists from all parts of the country and has released 11 albums. Conspirare won the Grammy for Best Choral Performance in 2014 and acquired nominations for six other Grammy awards.
The performance marks the Austin-based choir’s sixth visit to Goshen. They have performed in Sauder twice and recorded four albums, including a set of “Considering Matthew Shepard” in February and March of 2016. The album recording debuted at #4 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart after releasing in mid-September, 2016.
Tickets are still available for the Friday event for $25, $35 or $40.