But Who Shall Return Us Our Children: A Kipling Passion
A World War I Oratorio
by American composer
Great Lakes Premiere
Sunday, May 20, 2018
Saint Mary’s College, South Bend, IN
As the 2014–2018 centennial commemorations for World War I approached, composer John Muehleisen felt a deep desire to respond to the occasion with a major concert-length work. Muehleisen states, “In composing this work, I seek to honor those who served in the war as well as those who lost loved ones, friends, and family members.” The composer is not aware of other commissions of this scope that are currently underway in the U.S. as part of the 2014–2018 centennial remembrances of World War I, but he feels strongly that the occasion warrants the creation of a major new work to mark the anniversary and that such a work can serve as a major contribution to the World War I centennial commemoration.
The work Muehleisen is composing is a concert-length oratorio titled But Who Shall Return Us Our Children? – A Kipling Passion, and will focus on the historical account of the tragic death of Lieutenant John “Jack” Kipling during the Battle of Loos and on the impact that his death had on his family, particularly on his parents, Rudyard and Carrie Kipling. The Kiplings’ story represents, by extension, the story of many families during World War I—and for that matter in any war before or since. The story can also be extended to those who have lost loved ones under any tragic circumstances. The Kipling narrative unfolds within the context of the fervor and controversy of England’s entrance into WWI, touching on a number of issues relevant to our own time, including the consequences of nationalistic fervor; the challenges faced by military personnel who return home with severe physical, psychological, and emotional injuries including PTSD (known as “shell-shock” in WWI); and the high rate of military suicide both during that war and in our own time—currently 22 per day—a tragic trend that is both misunderstood and all but buried in our social and political discourse.
It is a parable of loss, love, reconciliation, resolution, and, ultimately, hope, that sustains a family in their nearly 2-year struggle to discover the fate of their son, who had simply been reported as “Missing in action, presumed wounded.” In focusing on this story, Muehleisen says, “Ultimately, my goal for the work is to develop in the audience a deep sense of empathy and compassion for the Kiplings and, by extension, an appreciation for the sacrifices that military personnel and their families make in service to their countries. In addition, I hope that it will provide hope and encouragement to those who have lost friends and loved ones in war, and in other circumstances as well, by experiencing the story of a family who loved their son deeply, who struggled to heal from their great loss, and who ultimately found at least some degree healing through the power of community and compassion.” Given current world events, A Kipling Passion is a timely work because the Kiplings’ story represents the story of many families whose sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and other loved ones have made great sacrifices in war. While it deals with the Kipling’s unspeakable personal loss, it ultimately explores how we all come to terms with that loss, ultimately providing a ray of hope and a way forward.
While the ultimate answer to “But who shall return us our children?” is “There is no-one who can return our lost children and loved ones to us,” that is not the end of it. As Kipling himself states in his poem London Stone, which is about a gathering of mourners around the Cenotaph in London, the national memorial to the unknown fallen soldiers of WWI: “What is the tie betwixt us two / That must last our whole lives through? / ‘As I suffer, so do you.’ / That may ease the grieving.” Kipling’s ultimate reconciliation with the loss that he and his wife suffered is that of compassion and the power of community in supporting one another through the grief. In this way, even profound personal loss can be transfigured and consoled through the comfort of compassion for one another.
The work is scored for soprano, tenor, and baritone soloists, SATB choir (divisi), and a small chamber orchestra of 2 woodwind players, who double on flute, clarinet, oboe, and English horn; trumpet, trombone, 2 percussion, and string quintet of 2 violins, viola, cello, and contrabass.
I. Family Portrait
II. The Gathering Storm
III. The Battle of Loos
IV. My Boy Jack
V. Armistice & Aftermath
VI. Reconciliation & Remembrance
Composer John Muehleisen is increasingly in demand for commissions and performances nationally and internationally, particularly from choral ensembles. John has served as Composer-in-Residence for Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble almost continuously since 1996, during which time Opus 7 has commissioned nearly 20 new choral works from him. John also had the privilege of serving as composer-in-residence for the Dale Warland Singers (2003–2004), as well as for Seattle-based Choral Arts, conducted by Robert Bode (2011–2012).
Performances, Residencies, and Recordings. John’s works have been performed and recorded by numerous ensembles in the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia, including Choral Arts (Seattle), Choral Arts Ensemble (Rochester, MN), Choral Chameleon, Conspirare, the Dale Warland Singers, The Esoterics, the John Alexander Singers, Kokopelli’s Òran choir, the Louisville Orchestra, Musa Horti (Belgium), Northwest Girlchoir, Opus 7, The Richard Zielinski Singers, Seattle Girls Choir, Seattle Pro Musica, South Bend Chamber Singers, Vocal Arts Ensemble (Cincinnati), and numerous college and university choirs, including the Yale Schola Cantorum. His compositions have been featured on new music festivals throughout the U.S., including June in Buffalo, the Ernest Bloch Music Festival in Oregon, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in Seattle, Indiana State University’s 22nd Festival of Contemporary Music, and the National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterworks Choral Festival in Austin, TX in 2007.
Awards, Grants, & Education. John was the 1988 recipient of the Louisville Orchestra’s Orchestral Composition Competition Award and has received awards from ASCAP, the University of Washington, and Indiana University. Commissions and performances of his works have been supported by grants from the American Music Center, Meet the Composer, the Jerome Foundation, the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. John was a finalist in the 2000 Dale Warland Singers Choral Ventures Program and subsequently served as composer-in-residence for the Dale Warland Singers for their final season (2003-2004). In 2013, John was awarded third place in The American Prize for Professional Choral Composition. In 2014 John and Dolce Canto, conducted by Peter Park, were presented with the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award sponsored by Chorus America and the American Composers Forum. John and Peter will be collaborating on the work with renowned poet and librettist, Charles Anthony Silvestri, who will create the text for the work.
John holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Saxophone Performance from California State University, Sacramento and a Master of Music degree in Composition from the University of Washington, where he studied with William Bergsma, William O. Smith, and Diane Thome. During doctoral studies at Indiana University, he studied composition with John Eaton, Eugene O’Brien, and Harvey Sollberger and orchestration with Donald Erb, with minors in Music Theory and Instructional Systems Technology. He has participated in master classes, seminars, and summer residency programs with Lukas Foss, Milton Babbitt, Yehudi Wyner, Earle Brown, David Felder, and Bernard Rands.
Visit the website of John Muehleisen.
Her 2016-17 season is one of world premieres and house debuts, including the role of Mrs. Fairfax in Center for Contemporary Opera’s world premiere of Jane Eyre, conducted by Grammy-winning conductor Sara Jobin; she also returns to Choral Arts Northwest to create the role of Carrie Kipling in John Muehleisen’s But Who Will Return Us Our Children – A Kipling Passion as well as collaborate as soloist with conductor Murry Sidlin in his Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin. Her 2015-16 season included Les Divas de L’Empire, a classical cabaret performance of Weill, Britten, Schoenberg, and Bolcom shared with mezzo Melissa Plagemann; a return to Tacoma Opera in her role debut as Rosalinde inDie Fledermaus, the title role in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta with Portland Concert Opera, and an evening with Michael Miropolsky and the Cascade Symphony Orchestra singing Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder.
Her 2014-15 season included the joyous Beethoven Symphony No. 9 with Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers, a Three Divas Mozart concert with Christophe Chagnard and the Northwest Sinfonietta, an innovative and intimate staging of Carmina Burana with the Spectrum Dance Ensemble, conducted by Dean Williamson and directed by Donald Byrd; and Haydn’s Messa in tempora belli with Kirkland Choral Society and Philharmonia Northwest.
In 2013-14 she performed the powerful Verdi Requiem with Thalia Symphony and Choir of the Sound, made a return to Washington Idaho Symphony in her role debut as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, appeared with Choral Arts – Seattle in the stunning Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, and debuted Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Yaniv Attar.
Her 2012-13 season included a return to Seattle Opera as Suor Osmina inSuor Angelica, her role debut as Fiordiligi in a concert version of Cosi fan tutte with Washington Idaho Symphony, and a return to the Thalia Symphony singing Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été. She also made her role and company debut with Seattle’s Music Of Remembrance, singing The Drummer in a new production of The Kaiser from Atlantis, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. Other recent season highlights include Elettra in Idomeneo with Puget Sound Concert Opera, Nedda in I Pagliacci with Tacoma Opera conducted by Carolyn Kuan, Strauss‘ Vier letzte Lieder with the Thalia Symphony, Santuzza inCavalleria Rusticana with Whatcom Symphony, her Seattle Opera debut inElektra (Die Vertraute), directed by Chris Alexander and conducted by Lawrence Renes; and Marguerite in Faust with Tacoma Opera.
Equally captivating on the concert stage, Ms. Giordano made her Carnegie Hall debut in Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem with the New England Symphonic Ensemble. She has performed Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder with the Thalia Symphony, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with both the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Helena Symphony, and Mozart’s C minor Mass with the Bremerton Symphony Association. A gifted performer of contemporary music, Ms. Giordano sang Pasatieri’s poignantLetter to Warsaw with Music of Remembrance as well as the role of Kelly in the West Coast premiere of Black Water, with music by John Duffy and libretto by Joyce Carol Oates. A lover of art song, she recently performed song recitals in Seattle and New York, with works by Bellini, Canteloube, Schubert, Hundley and Sondheim. She has been a performer of the National Anthem at Seattle Mariners games since 2013.
Ms. Giordano was a winner in the Lois Alba Aria Competition, and a finalist in the inaugural Irene Dalis Competition, the Nico Castel Master Singer Competition, The American Prize (Art Song Division), and the Altamura/Caruso International Vocal Competition. She holds a Master of Music degree in Voice from the University of Washington and a BFA in Music Theatre from Illinois Wesleyan University.
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A native of Virginia, Matt Kelly, tenor, makes his debut with the South Bend Chamber Singers after completing a Master of Sacred Music in Vocal Performance at the University of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame he conducted the Notre Dame Children’s Choir and performed regularly with the Notre Dame Vocale, Notre Dame Medieval Quartet, and OperaND. In the 2017-18 season, Mr. Kelly will sing Don Ottavio with the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival and join Virginia Opera as a Herndon Foundation Emerging Artist. Mr. Kelly is featured on a recording of “Frosty the Snowman” with the acclaimed gospel singer Emorja Roberson and Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Arturo Sandoval to be released in the fall of 2017.
Baritone Corey Crider is an alumnus of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center and recently returned to the company as Malatesta in Don Pasquale. Additional recent highlights include Marcello in La bohème with the Munich Philharmonic and Arizona Opera, Sharpless in Madame Butterfly with Dayton Opera, and Escamillo in Carmen with Lyric Opera of Kansas City. In the 2016-2017 season, Corey adds two important roles to his repertoire: Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff (Opera on the James) and the title role in Rigoletto (Mississippi Opera). Additionally, he sings Scarpia in Tosca with Intermountain Opera and Finger Lakes Opera, returns to Opera Roanoke to perform his acclaimed Emile DeBeque in South Pacific, and joins the Opera Company of Middlebury as Michele/Marco in Il tabarro/Gianni Schicchi. Future seasons include Escamillo in Carmen with Madison Opera, a return to Opera Roanoke, and an appearance with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra.
The 2015-2016 season included the reprise of his celebrated Sweeney Todd with Opera Roanoke, Sharpless in Madame Butterfly with Dayton Opera, Guglielmo in Così fan tutte with Sarasota Opera, Escamillo in Carmen with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, joining the Detroit Symphony as the First Nazarene in Staruss’ Salome, and Handel’s Messiah with the Jacksonville Symphony. Corey was also heard in recital in association with Dallas Opera and the Dallas Museum of Art, and debuted the role of Emile DeBeque in South Pacific with Ash Lawn Opera. In the 2014-15 season Corey debuted the title role of Sweeney Todd with Madison Opera, sang Marcello in La bohème with Opera on the James, Scarpia in Tosca with the New Philharmonic, Escamillo in La tragédie de Carmen with Opera Naples, the Sacristan in Tosca with the Detroit Symphony, and Dulcamara in The Elixir of Love with Finger Lakes Opera.
Learn more, visit the artists’ website.