Premiere of ‘Bonhoeffer’ reveals an important work

THOMAS LLOYD.... Director of Music at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral; Artistic Director at Bucks County Choral Society; Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities for Haverford and Bryn Mawr at Haverford College
By David Patrick Stearns, Inquirer Music Critic

POSTED: March 13, 2013

Sometimes you just don’t see a significant piece coming.

The composer was relatively untried, worked in an oddball genre, and explored an unexpected subject – a German pastor and theologian who battled Nazism and died for it. Nonetheless, Thomas Lloyd’s choral theater piece Bonhoeffer, premiered by The Crossing choir on Sunday at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, was a fully realized 70-minute work and a breakthrough for all concerned.

The piece’s artistic significance springs from (but doesn’t trade on) its subject, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the influential Lutheran theologian who was part of the “Stauffenberg Plot” to assassinate Adolf Hitler  . Texts were drawn not just from Bonhoeffer’s protests against religious institutions capitulating to the Nazis but letters to his ambivalent fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, who after Bonhoeffer’s 1944 execution lived in Bryn Mawr.

In his program notes, Lloyd, music director of the cathedral, envisioned “choral theater,” in which male singers in street clothes melted into the audience at times and made dramatic entrances at others. The musical envelope was filled out by a small chamber ensemble and three female soloists. With a loosely traced scenario conveying Bonhoeffer’s inner journey, no one voice was assigned to a particular character.

The main priority was effective articulation of the words, whether spoken (Nazi dictums that don’t deserve music) or choral recitatives. More formal sections had such a strong rhetorical element that they sounded half-chanted.

For the rest of the review…