UGA School of Music ensembles perform North American oratorio premiere

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University of Georgia students will perform the North American premiere of a new work from Australian composer Catherine Likhuta when the Thursday Scholarship Series returns to Hodgson Concert Hall on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m.

The premiere of “Scraps from a Madman’s Diary” brings together a rare pairing of major ensembles from the Hugh Hodgson School of Music: the Hodgson Wind Ensemble and the Hodgson Singers. Likhuta’s work, a 35-minute oratorio, is unique in a variety of ways for both ensembles.

“The piece is unusual in its demands on the choir in that it calls on the choir to be a staged, acting character/characters for the entire duration,” said Dan Bara, director of the Hodgson Singers.

Oratorios in the traditional sense are dramatic narratives with, typically, a biblical theme—another area where Likhuta breaks from tradition, as her narrative is a secular one—and in that traditional style, the choir is stationary, playing the role of an angry mob, angel chorus, chorus of the faithful or doubtful, etc.

“In this case, we collectively play the role of a man going insane, as recorded in his diary,” said Bara. “So aside from the challenge of the music for the choir—due to rhythm, dissonance, chromatic and disjunct voice leading, and independence of material from the instruments—the additional element of memorization, acting and staging add to the feat of performing the work.”

The wind ensemble players also have adjustments to make in this atypical work.

“It opens up the students’ ears to new timbres,” said Cynthia Johnston Turner, conductor of the Hodgson Wind Ensemble. “For wind players to collaborate with singers challenges us to listen on another level and adjust our sensitivity.”

The subject of the work is itself a rarity in its own way—a frank, fearless examination of mental illness through art.

“The piece explores a taboo topic in our society: mental illness,” said Johnston Turner. “But mental illness affects us all. Why don’t we talk about it? Music can help facilitate conversations about social issues. Music can spark emotions on a profound level.”

“This will hopefully be a gripping and graphic depiction of the pain, confusion, and tragedy of coming to grips with mental illness, a still all-too-stigmatized and misunderstood aspect of everyone’s overall health,” said Bara.

Other works on the program include “Lollapalooza” by John Adams, “Dragon Rhyme” by Chen Yi, and Steven Stucky’s “Funeral Music for Queen Mary,” all performed by the Hodgson Wind Ensemble.

Tickets to the concert are $20 each or $6 for students and children and can be purchased at pac.uga.edu or the PAC box office. Those unable to attend can watch the concert live on the Hodgson School’s website: music.uga.edu/streaming.

The Thursday Scholarship Series began in 1980 and, as the flagship concert series at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, continues the tradition of “Music Appreciation Programs” started by Hugh Hodgson himself in the 1930s. Proceeds from contributions and ticket sales to these concerts are among the primary means through which School of Music scholarship funds are raised each year.

The UGA Hugh Hodgson School of Music sponsors more than 350 performances each year. To view the performance calendar, subscribe to the weekly email concert listing, and learn more about the School of Music, go to music.uga.edu.