The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 13, 2022 1:00 am

Composer encapsulates spaces, moments of life

Hal Atkinson | For The Journal Gazette

What do a green room, stadium, sanctuary, aviary and buttery bar have in common? They are all movements in “Spaces,” a new concerto composed by Manchester Symphony Orchestra conductor and artistic director Debra J. Lynn. She will conduct the orchestra in the world premiere Sunday.

Lynn says “each movement is an aural depiction of a space that has impacted my life,” so the concerto becomes a tour of some intriguing places and their sounds.

The green room is where performers warm up before appearing onstage, for example. And Lynn, a baseball fan, loves the sounds of a stadium – the echo effects, a crowd cheering and a bat hitting a ball. In “Spaces,” these sounds are musically woven together.

The Sanctuary movement presents sounds of safety and peace, such as Gregorian chants in a Gothic cathedral or a Tibetan gong on a mountainside. To refugees, Lynn points out, “even a tent can be a sanctuary.”

She also delights in the songs of birds and occasionally writes them into her music, such as the Aviary movement.

Meanwhile, Buttery Bar imagines the clanks, clatters, chatter and energy of English pubs. A buttery bar is a shelf that protrudes from a divided door over which mugs of ale are passed. Lynn says that this chapter of “Spaces” has “wild, crazy, drunken energy near the end.”

Written for a chamber orchestra, the concerto is “a handful of string players, four wind players and a little bit of light percussion sprinkled on top.”

Lynn composed “Spaces” for guest artist Derek Reeves, principal violist with Fort Wayne Philharmonic. She says not very many concertos for the viola exist, as the musical instrument can be hard to hear with a full orchestra.

“I wanted to write something for Derek because he's awesome,” Lynn says. They have worked together frequently during the past decade and Lynn says Reeves has made suggestions about “things I could do that would be exciting for a violist to play.”

In addition to “Spaces,” Sunday's concert includes the full Manchester Symphony Orchestra performing “La jolie fille de Perth” by Georges Bizet, “Die Hebrides Overture” by Felix Mendelssohn and “Knightsbridge March” by Eric Coates.

Lynn, chair of Manchester University's Department of Music, is also busy this month preparing to present her oratorio “A Family Portrait” at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. Her oratorio combines a choir, an orchestra and solo vocalists.

The inspiration for “A Family Portrait” came from a letter Lynn calls moving and beautiful. A woman dying of tuberculosis in the early 1800s wrote the letter to her sister asking her to raise her two little boys after she was gone. The woman's great-granddaughter passed the letter on to Lynn and asked her to set it to music.

Lynn says that as she was reading the letter she “could just hear the music. It just came to me. When I am composing, I am sort of just taking dictation in my head.”

More letters were sent to Lynn and she composed “A Family Portrait” from the writings of three successive generations of the family.

Lynn is bringing her choir from the university as well as alumni from past choirs to New York. They will be joined at Carnegie Hall by a high school choir from Boonville, Missouri, and a choir from Nampa, Idaho.

The choirs, totaling 150 singers, will have four-hour rehearsals on two consecutive days. The following day Lynn will conduct and rehearse with the New England Symphonic Ensemble without the singers. Then on Memorial Day, the entire group will convene in the morning for the dress rehearsal before that evening's live performance.

“Whew! It's going to be crazy,” Lynn says.

She is planning to sneak away and catch a performance at the Metropolitan Opera while in New York. Her friend, Grammy Award-winning baritone Daniel Belcher, performs there. They attended school together at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. The opera is loaning Belcher to Lynn to be the baritone soloist in “A Family Portrait.”

Lynn says he recently asked her: “Debra, when we were in undergrad in Missouri, did you ever imagine that we would be performing in Carnegie Hall together?”

Her reply: “Nope.”

If you go

What: “Spaces,” Manchester Symphony Orchestra

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Cordier Auditorium, Manchester University, 604 E. College Ave., North Manchester

Admission: $15; free for ages 18 and younger, and Manchester University students and employees;

Share this article

Email story

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required