Music Review: CONSIDERING MATTHEW SHEPARD (Ford Amphitheatre)

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by Tony Frankel on June 16, 2018

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


An American requiem, an oratorio, and a choral masterpiece elegantly and movingly performed, Considering Matthew Shepard, which closes tonight at the Ford Amphitheatre, is not to be missed. The full-length work — containing hymns, Western music, spirituals, and other Copeland-esque evocations of American compositions — certainly mourns and honors Shepard, the twenty-year-old gay college student who was executed in Laramie, Wyoming twenty years ago, but it also celebrates community and its reaction to violence. But understand, while having the boy’s name in the title may scare you away, choral conductor, composer and arranger Craig Hella Johnson’s cycle of 21 uninterrupted pieces in three parts never feels maudlin or saccharine, even as some chilling moments will elicit tears. Culling from centuries of writers (Lesléa Newman, von Bingen, Ladinsky, Tagore, Merwin, Matthew’s mom Judy, et al.), Mr. Johnson’s libretto is emotionally charged and immediately accessible, and the tone is reflective throughout. (Make sure to grab a libretto booklet before you take your seat.) It’s a bit overlong and similar in a ruminative tone with multiple endings, but that doesn’t interfere with the extraordinarily lovely experience, sitting outdoors in such a glorious setting surrounded by nature. (A recitation of a statement made by Matthew’s father to the killers evokes the beauty and enormity of Wyoming’s nature with astonishing grace.) At the piano, Mr. Johnson is appearing at the Ford with Conspirare — his stunning chorus from Austin which is packed with powerful soloists — and an eight-piece ensemble executing pristine orchestrations. I want to see this inspiring work again.

Considering Matthew Shepard
Craig Hella JOHNSON | Conspirare (for CDs, visit Conspirare)
presented in association with Chris Isaacson Presents
Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East in the Cahuenga Pass
ends on June 16, 2018 at 8:30
for tickets, call 323.461.3673 or visit Ford Theatres

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Susanna Finnell June 20, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Thank you Mr. Frankel for your beautiful review. I have seen this performance 8 times now, and listened to the CD numerous times, and each time catch something new and surprising. It is a beautiful work of art!


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