The Savannah Philharmonic Chorus, led by Chorusmaster Matt Caine, is performing a unique program of music inspired by the works of two of America’s most beloved poets.
Caine came up with the idea for the program when he was looking for a way to restore some happiness in people’s lives through the stirring power of music.
“When we turn on our TVs or we go online and look at news or social media, we’re surrounded by so much negativity that I wanted to put together a program that would convey positive sentiments to an audience,” Caine said. “That people could leave feeling good, and not in a saccharine or sentimental sort of way, but with a legitimate, authentic sense of goodness and positivity.”
Rather than music, Caine’s thoughts went immediately to poetry, specifically the work of Walt Whitman and Robert Frost. The title of the program,“Frost on Leaves of Grass,” is a play on Robert Frost’s name and the title of Whitman’s most famous collection of poetry, “Leaves of Grass.” Four pieces by three American composers inspired by Frost and Whitman’s poetry are to be performed.
The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. April 27 at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts.
The first piece on the bill is “Song of the Open Road” written for chorus, piano and trumpet by Norman Dello Joio, who won a 1957 Pulitzer Prize in Music in for "Meditations on Ecclesiastes."
“The poetry is inviting the audience to come on a journey on the open road,” Caine explained. “The poem was written in the 19th century-thinking of the expansion of the United States westward. It was also written as a metaphorical journey, not just a literal journey. The piece, as one might expect, conveys a lot of openness and at times a bit of tension, because when people are going into something unknown there’s some beauty and there’s some mixed feelings at first. I think the composer really captures the essence of the poetry in his writing. His writing is tonal, but it’s not always based on the harmonies we expect to hear. I think that makes it unique and appealing.”
The next piece is “Invocation and Dance,” a two-part composition by living composer David Conte, for chorus, four-hand piano, and two percussionists. The Whitman poem that the piece is based on was a response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, as well as the trauma of the Civil War.
“In a sense, this invocation and dance function as a secular requiem in miniature,” Caine said. “It’s written to honor life and to think about death in a more positive light, and there is even beauty in the midst of that experience. It may sound morbid, but it is a very uplifting piece of music.”
Randall Thompson’s “Frostiana” puts seven Robert Frost poems to music. Many of the movements focus on separate parts of the chorus — some only featuring the sopranos, others only the men.
“It sets a very nice contrast by featuring different parts of the chorus,” Caine said.
Finally, the performance will end with a very energetic and uplifting Whitman inspired piece by Dello Joio called “A Jubilant Song.”
Joio’s composition layers different forms of music including ragtime, jazz, and 20th century classical.
“It makes for this really intriguing and exciting ending that with bring people to their feet because it will make them feel the jubilation that is expressed in the poetry,” Cain explained.
“Frost on Leaves of Grass” is an exciting and majestic finale for Caine’s first season with the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus.
"It has been absolutely wonderful,” he said. “I have really enjoyed not only working with the chorus of the Savannah Philharmonic, but also the musicians of the orchestra. I have been honored to be on stage conducting the whole forces of the chorus and orchestra together multiple times this season and it has really been a wonderful experience. The musicians are top notch and I’m honored to have this opportunity."